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Remembering Lightweight Contender Frankie Narvaez, Boxing’s Peerless Riot-Maker

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Remembering Lightweight Contender Frankie Narvaez, Boxing’s Peerless Riot-Maker

The death earlier this month of Marvin Hagler evoked memories of his bout in London with Alan Minter. Hagler launched his middleweight title reign that night, a reign that would last through 12 successful defenses.

Minter was a bloody mess when his corner pulled the plug in the third frame, but the fight would be overshadowed by the aftermath. Alan Minter’s ardent following was pocked with hooligans. They showered the ring with plastic bottles and beer cans, many with their contents undisturbed. A cordon of police kept Marvin from being assaulted by the mob as he made his way back to his dressing room. Veteran British scribe Harry Carpenter called it the darkest day in British boxing history. Former heavyweight contender Henry Cooper, one of England’s most admired sportsmen, said, “I feel degraded to admit I am British.”

British boxing fans are (how should I put it?) notoriously un-phlegmatic. But the Brits certainly don’t have a monopoly on post-fight riots. Over on this side of the pond, the partisans of Frankie Narvaez were every bit as volatile as the partisans of Alan Minter, arguably more so as they were more persistent.

Frankie Narvaez was born in Puerto Rico. In common with many of his countrymen, he had one foot in New York City as he was growing up, often shuttling between the Big Apple and the island of his birth. He took up boxing in New York and made his pro debut in February of 1961 in a four-round bout at Madison Square Garden. He made great headway although he could not give the sport his full attention. His day job was that of a porter at the New York State Workman’s Compensation Bureau.

Narvaez didn’t pack a hard punch, but he was a high-pressure fighter who constantly bore in on his opponent. Standing only 5’3 ½”, he really had no alternative. His opponents were invariably taller and longer-limbed and he had to penetrate their guard to be successful.

In a story that appeared in the Syracuse Post-Standard, Jerry Izenberg said, “(Narvaez) is a straight-ahead type of fighter with very little deception and a vicious left hand.” Izenberg further alleged that there had been an “incident” at one of Narvaez’s amateur bouts when Frankie was on the wrong end of a rank decision. He did not elaborate.

Narvaez developed a nice rivalry with Johnny Bizzarro, the pride of Erie, Pennsylvania. He won their rubber match, elevating his record to 24-2-1, and that earned him a date with the great Filipino boxer Gabriel “Flash” Elorde. “Flash” was the reigning world super featherweight champion, but his title wasn’t at stake when he crossed swords with Narvaez in a 10-rounder at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 4, 1965.

The bookmakers actually installed Narvaez the favorite, but that didn’t dissuade people from betting on him, even after the odds were steamed up from 7/5 to 11/5. The lopsided betting wasn’t entirely a reflection of regional bias. The Filipino was only 30 years old, but he had a lot of mileage on him.

The fight was a bruising and bloody affair. In the late rounds, Narvaez appeared to be the fresher man. He had a style that played well in the cheap seats, but ringside reporters, in the main, also thought the decision should have gone his way. In a post-fight poll, the tally was 13-9-4 for Narvaez.

One of the judges scored the fight 7-2-1 for Narvaez but he was overruled by identical scores of 5-4-1 for Gabriel Elorde. When the scores were read, all hell broke loose. Narvaez’s partisans left the famous arena in shambles. The house organ was among the furnishings that were damaged. It was toppled from its perch in an alcove five feet above the floor. (This marked the first time, said the wags, that an arena needed an organ transplant.)

Riot police were called in to quell the disturbance. The last of the miscreants bolted for the exits after being doused with a fire hose.

There was another convulsion when Narvaez fought Panama’s Ismael Laguna at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 1987. The flashy Laguna, who had won and lost the lightweight title in bouts with Carlos Ortiz, was too slick for Narvaez, winning the 12-round bout by scores of 9-1-2, 8-3-1, and 7-5. But to Narvaez’s credit, he never took a backward step.

One would have thought that the clear-cut decision would have quieted Narvaez’s supporters, but not so. As Jim Murray phrased it, they were not incensed by the verdict, but by the arithmetic.

Unlike the first riot, the building wasn’t mutilated, but folks seated near the ring were in greater jeopardy. Many in the pro-Narvaez contingent, who streamed into the Garden from Spanish Harlem and the Bronx, smuggled bottles of liquor into the arena. The bottles crashed down from the balcony, littering the floor with shards of glass. Eleven people were cut by the shrapnel, five of whom, including a UPI reporter, were treated for minor lacerations at a hospital. TV announcer Don Dunphy, among other members of the media, stayed out of harm’s way by taking shelter under the ring.

Not quite 10 weeks later, there would be another wild scene at Madison Square Garden when Dick Tiger, in a mild upset, successfully defended his world light heavyweight title with a razor-thin decision over Jose Torres. A Puerto Rico-born New Yorker, Torres did his best work in the late rounds but it was too little, too late, in the eyes of two of the judges.

The situation had become intolerable. In words that would not have passed muster with his editor today, New York Times sportswriter Dave Anderson, a future Pulitzer Prize winner, identified the root of the problem as “the flammable nature of the Hispanic temperament.” There was talk of barring Puerto Ricans from future boxing events at Madison Square Garden. Harry Markson, the arena’s director of boxing, said this wasn’t feasible. Roughly 800,000 first- and second-generation Puerto Ricans then resided in New York, 10 percent of the city’s population. The Garden could not afford to lose this demographic, but Markson agreed to a cooling-off period.

An interesting offshoot of the brouhaha was the August 16, 1967 world lightweight title fight between Laguna and Carlos Ortiz, the latter of whom, like Jose Torres, was a New Yorker born in Puerto Rico. This was the third and final meeting between the two great lightweights.

As a precaution, Madison Square Garden planted the fight at Shea Stadium in Queens, the home of New York’s newest professional teams, the Mets and the Jets. Two hundred special policemen were hired from private companies to assist the regular police detail. They were not needed. Ortiz regained his title before a peaceful gathering of 19,480. (This was likely the first fight in boxing history where the combatants embraced before the first bell. This was by pre-arrangement and meant as an encouragement to good sportsmanship.)

Believe it or not, Madison Square Garden invited Frankie Narvaez back again. On the surface this was insane, a prescription for more trouble, but when Narvaez fought Laguna’s protégé Antonio Amaya on August 20, 1968, the circumstances were far different. For one thing, this fight went early in the program, preceding bouts featuring Laguna and Benny Briscoe. That gave the hooligan element within Narvaez’s fan base less time to cast off their inhibitions.

Of greater importance, this was a new Madison Square Garden. The six-month-old building, which was erected atop Penn Station, had a different configuration than its predecessor. The folks in the cheap seats were farther away from the action. If some fool threw a bottle off the balcony, said Dave Anderson, it had scant chance of landing near the ring unless the fellow had an arm like Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente.

Narvaez’s fight with Amaya was a ho-hum affair. Frankie looked slow and lost a wide decision. He would have eight more fights before quitting the sport, finishing 39-11-1.

There would be more unseemly incidents at Madison Square Garden, incidents where one couldn’t point the finger of blame at Puerto Ricans. The first fight between Andrew Golota and Riddick Bowe, staged on July 11, 1996, engendered a riot that was among the worst of the worst in the annals of prizefighting in New York. But that’s a story for another day.

Frankie Narvaez was 64 years old when he passed away in 2004. He left this world quietly; there was no mention of it in English-language newspapers. That was quite a departure from his heyday as a main event fighter at the old Madison Garden where he was a lightning rod for noise that would shake the rafters.

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Abraham Nova and his Mascot are Back in Action on Friday Night

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With his black beard dyed gold, junior lightweight Abraham Nova is one of boxing’s most recognizable practitioners. Sometimes there’s two of him which makes him stand out even more. His twin is an inflatable mascot painted to look just like him. On fight nights they are inseparable. The mascot shadows Nova on his ringwalk, bouncing up and down and dancing to animate the crowd.

Some gimmicks are just plain hokey. Some are annoying. But there’s something whimsical about Nova’s invention that brings a smile to boxing fans of all ages. “Abraham Nova having his own mascot is one of the coolest things in boxing,” says fight writer Ryan Songalia.

“I played all sports in high school, football, baseball, track, and got the idea of it from other sports,” says Nova of his twin who he unveiled in January of 2020 at the Turning Stone Casino and Resort in Verona, New York, where he upped his record to 18-0 with a fourth-round stoppage of Mexican journeyman Pedro Navarrete.

He’s 5-2 since then, the smudges coming against future world featherweight champion Robeisy Ramirez (KO by 5) and defending super featherweight world champion O’Shaquie Foster where he came out on the short end of a split decision. This coming Friday, in his first assignment since failing to de-throne Foster, he opposes 21-0 Andres Cortes at the Fontainebleu in Las Vegas on a Top Rank card airing on ESPN+.

“I was the one who asked for this fight,” says Nova. “Top Rank offered me a match on their June 8th Puerto Rican Parade Weekend show at Madison Square Garden against an opponent who was 17-2, but I turned it down and asked for a better opponent and they accommodated me.” Las Vegas native Andres Cortes, who has been profiled in these pages, is ranked #2 at 130 pounds by the WBO.

In common with boxing’s historical pattern, Abraham Nova had a hardscrabble upbringing.

Born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic, the second-youngest of 10 children, he came to the U.S. at the age of 1 where the entire family was initially shoe-horned into a two-bedroom apartment in Albany, New York.

His father, Aquiles, had a friend here who was the pastor of a church and in need of an assistant pastor to help with his growing congregation. Aquiles eventually founded his own church in Albany, The Pentecostal Church of Unity & Prayer where services are held in both Spanish and English.

As a toddler, Nova lived briefly in Guatemala and Mexico where his parents were called to “spread the word” and to assist in redevelopment projects. The family traveled 5,500 miles in a rickety old school bus from Albany to Guatemala during the end days of the Guatemalan Civil War.

Each of Nova’s four brothers boxed, but he was the only one to turn pro. As an amateur, he won the 2015 Olympic Trials Qualifying Tournament in Memphis, defeating Frank Martin and Richardson Hitchins in back-to-back fights, but failed to make the U.S. team for the Rio Games when he lost a split decision to Gary Antuanne Russell at the Olympic Trials in Reno. Those bouts were contested at 141 pounds.

A 30-year-old bachelor, Nova had his final amateur fights in Lowell, Massachusetts, a pillar of amateur boxing in New England, and has remained in the Boston area without losing his Albany identity. He is trained by ex-U.S. Marine Mark DeLuca, a boxer of some renown who sports a 30-4 record and may not be done with fighting quite yet at age 36.

Nova’s opponent, Andres Cortes, has won five of his last seven inside the distance beginning with a smashing first-round knockout of 34-2 Genesis Servania. On paper, it’s a 50-50 match-up. (The pricemakers are flummoxed; as of this writing, they have yet to establish a betting line.)

Abraham Nova’s mascot may never become as well-known as some of the costumed human mascots in college sports (e.g., West Virginia’s Mountaineer or Michigan State’s Sparty), let alone as beloved as the University of Georgia’s flesh-and-blood bulldog mascot Uga, but give the boxer credit for originality and for bringing a little levity to a sport too often besotted with incivility.

Note: Abraham Nova vs. Andres Cortes is the co-feature. In the main go, new Top Rank signee Rafael Espinoza makes the first defense of his WBO world featherweight title against Mexican countryman Sergio Chirino. Espinoza forged the 2023 TSS Upset of the Year when he got off the deck to defeat Robeisy Ramirez on Dec. 9 in Pembroke Pines, Florida, winning legions of fans with his unrelenting buzzsaw attack. Action from the Fontaineblue begins at 4:00 pm PST on ESPN+.

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A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

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A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

BY TSS Special Correspondent David Harazduk — A hundred years ago, ducking a worthy challenger wouldn’t simply stoke the ire of the fans, it came with the prospect of jail time.

On Thursday, November 3, 1927, 16,000 fans packed Wrigley Field in Los Angeles hoping to witness their local favorite challenge for the welterweight world championship. Nicknamed the “Nebraska Wildcat,” Ace Hudkins had relocated to the Pacific Coast where his devil-may-care style in the ring made him instantly popular among Angelino fight fans. He was set to battle Joe Dundee, the champion, an Italian immigrant who had settled in Baltimore at a young age. But there was one problem.

The champion refused to fight.

Members of the California boxing commission, along with promoter Dick Donald, raced to the Biltmore Hotel to plead with Dundee (pictured) and his manager Max Waxman to come to Wrigley Field and fight. Waxman steadfastly refused. Donald, a quick-witted cigar-chomping Irishman known as the “Boy Promoter,” had promised Max’s man the ungodly sum of $60,000, and Dundee wouldn’t enter the ring for a penny less.

Under the rules of the California commission, a fighter could only receive a guarantee of $500. The rest of the purse came from a percentage of the gate: 37.5% for the champion and 12.5% for the challenger. Waxman insisted that Donald had offered $60,000, but the commission couldn’t enforce this side deal.

Tickets in the bleachers were sold at $2.20 a pop while those closer to the ring went for $11. The most the gate could possibly produce would be $90,000. Add in Wrigley Field’s 15% usage fee and payments to the preliminary fighters, officials, and even to rent the chairs situated around the ring, and Dundee’s dreams of $60,000- $75,000 if he lost the title- never had a prayer of being realized. After all, 37.5% of $90,000, plus $500, is only $34,250.

Meanwhile, Eddie Mahoney, a preliminary fighter, entered the ring at 8:30pm. Mahoney was scheduled to fight Joe Dundee’s brother Vince, a future middleweight world champion. When Vince didn’t follow Mahoney into the ring, Mahoney soon left, much to the bewilderment of the crowd.

Donald scrambled to find a plan B. He searched for welterweight contender Sergeant Sammy Baker to replace Dundee and fight Hudkins. When Baker couldn’t be located, Donald asked a preliminary fighter, Olympic gold medalist Jackie Fields, to take on Hudkins instead. Hudkins and Fields had been sparring partners when the featherweight champion of the 1924 Games in Paris was a nascent pro back in 1925. Fields’s manager, Gig Rooney, felt Hudkins was too big for the Olympic champ at this stage of his career and preferred to remain on the undercard against San Francisco’s Joey Silver.

With no plan B, Donald and the commissioners went back to Waxman in a last desperate plea to coax Dundee to defend his title. One commissioner, Charles Traung, offered Waxman an additional $10,000 check for Dundee to fight. Waxman stubbornly held out for more.

At 9:20pm, back at Wrigley, Donald signaled Jackie Fields and Joey Silver to enter the ring. Though Fields was wobbled twice, he opened up a cut over Silver’s left eye and split the San Franciscan’s lip on route to a convincing points victory in a ten-rounder. A few minutes after 10pm, Mahoney and Vince Dundee finally entered the ring for their clash. Dundee starched Mahoney inside of two rounds. When Waxman, who also managed Vince, heard of the second-round stoppage, he said “Vince knocked that guy out, eh? I told him to carry him along.” Waxman had hoped to stall for time.

Soon after the end of the Dundee-Mahoney fight, Ace Hudkins waltzed to the ring. He spent fifteen minutes seated in his corner, covered in a bathrobe and towels to keep him warm. Dundee never showed.

At 11:25pm, ring announcer Frank Kerwin slid into the ring and bellowed, “Owing to the fact that Joe Dundee did not receive his guarantee, he refused to go on with his match against Ace Hudkins.” The crowd was advised to “hold their seat checks and watch the newspapers for other announcements.”

The fans didn’t take too kindly to the announcement and hurled those rented chairs in disgust. Fights broke out all over the stadium, spilling into the ring. All available police officers in the area rushed to Wrigley Field, wielding their nightsticks in a bid to subdue the violent mob. Dozens of fans were injured in the fracas. To add insult to injury, those who had paid $2.20 for their seats in the bleachers were out of luck; they had never received a ticket in the first place.

The next day, Waxman and Joe Dundee checked out of the Biltmore Hotel at noon and made their way to the train station. Later that night, they were pulled off an eastbound train at Pasadena and arrested for false advertising.  Waxman posted a $1,000 bond for each of them.

A warrant was issued for Donald on the same false advertising grounds. He phoned into the police station promising to turn himself in once his feelings of humiliation subsided. The police agreed to wait.

Ultimately, all accused would be acquitted. Waxman would return the $22,249.43 that had been placed in his account and an $11,000 check.

Fans didn’t receive refunds as it was deemed unfair to give them only to those who had bought $11 tickets since the gallery patrons had no ticket stub and thus, couldn’t get a refund anyhow. After the preliminary fighters, Wrigley Field, officials, ushers, and the chair rental company were compensated, the rest of the money was placed into a community fund.

Because he had entered the ring for his title challenge, Ace Hudkins declared himself the new champion, but no commission accepted his claim. Dick Donald’s promotional career, once so promising, abruptly ended. In 1935, he took one last gasp in boxing, serving as matchmaker at the famed Olympic Auditorium for a brief spell.

Joe Dundee would never fight in California again. His championship reign ended dishonorably a year and half later when several commissions agreed to strip him of the title for refusing to fight any top contenders. When Jackie Fields won the vacant title, he and Dundee were matched for the undisputed crown on July 25, 1929. With Dundee a two-to-one underdog, Waxman and Dundee bet $50,000 on Joe to win, with fouls canceling the bet. Fields shellacked Dundee, knocking him down twice. In the second round, after the second knockdown, Dundee knew he was licked. He got up and hit Fields low as hard as he could. Dundee was instantly disqualified, losing any claim to the title as disgracefully as his hold-out against Hudkins.

If only some of the alphabet champions of today had to post bail under the threat of jail for ducking contenders, maybe boxing would be in a better state.

EDITOR’S: Author David Harazduk has run The Jewish Boxing Blog since 2010. You can find him at  Twitter/X @JewishBoxing and Instagram @JewishBoxing

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Results from the MGM Grand where Gervonta Davis Returned with a Bang

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After an absence of 421 days, Gervonta “Tank” Davis returned to the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In the opposite corner was Detroit-born Frank “The Ghost” Martin who has been training in Dallas under Derrick James. In previous fights, Gervonta, who holds the WBA world lightweight title, has shown a tendency to start slow before closing the show with a highlight-reel knockout. Tonight was no exception.

Martin, 18-0 heading in, fought off his back foot from the get-go, but had good moments and was arguably ahead after five frames. But as the fight moved into the middle rounds, Martin became more stationary and one could sense that the ever-stalking Davis was wearing him down. In Round 8, Davis trapped Martin against a corner post, discombobulated him with a left uppercut and then turned out his lights with a chopping left hand. There was no chance that Martin could rise before referee Harvey Dock completed the “10” count.

Davis (30-0, 28 KOs) celebrated by standing on the top strand of rope and doing a black flip. He has many lucrative options going forward and will be favored to defeat whoever his next opponent will be.

The Davis-Martin fight was the capstone of a four-fight pay-per-view, the second collaboration between Premier Boxing Champions and Amazon Prime Video.

Benavidez-Gvozdyk

In his first fight as a light heavyweight, David Benavidez scored a 12-round unanimous decision over former lineal light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

Benavidez, who improved to 20-0 (24), worked the body well and kept up the pressure in the early-going, building a substantial lead. His work output declined over the last third of the fight, but his punches still carried more steam than those of Gvozdyk, 37, who suffered his second loss in 22 pro fights, the other inflicted by the indomitable Artur Beterbiev, prompting the SoCal-based Ukrainian to take a long hiatus from the ring. The judges had it 119-109, 117-111, and 116-112.

Puello-Russell

In a major upset, Alberto Puello of the Dominican Republic saddled Gary Antuanne Russell with his first pro loss, winning a split decision. Puello appeared to have the edge in a furious final round, without which the bout would have ended in a draw. Puello, who improved to 23-0 (10), had to overcome a dubious call by referee Allan Huggins who took a point away from the Dominican in Round 7 for too much holding.

Russell, who was making his first start against a southpaw, is now trained by his brother Gary Russell Jr., the former featherweight champion, who replaced their late father. Russell Jr last fought in January of 2022.

Heading in, Gary Antuanne Russell had won all 17 of his pro fights by knockout. One of the judges thought he won handily. But his tally, 118-109 for Russell, was overruled by the115-112 and 114-113 scores awarded the underdog. Puello, who briefly held the WBA diadem at 140 but had it stripped from him when he tested positive for PEDs, won an interim belt in that weight class with his upset tonight.

Adames-Gausha

In the PPV opener, Alberto Puello’s countryman Carlos Adames successfully defended his WBC middleweight title in his first world title fight with a one-sided decision over former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha. Adames, whose late father reportedly sired 35 children, was the aggressor and landed many more punches. He advanced his record to 24-1 (19). It was the fourth loss in 29 pro starts for the 36-year-old Gausha. The judges had it 119-109 and 118-110 twice.

Adames’ triumph made it 2-0 for the Dominicans and their trainer Ismael Salas.

Other Bouts of Note

In a huge upset, Delaware’s Kyrone Davis overcame Arizona’s previously undefeated and highly-touted Elijah Garcia, winning a split decision. A 21-year-old father of two, Garcia, 16-0 heading in, was rated #1 by the WBA and seemingly one step removed from challenging Erislandy Lara for the WBA middleweight title. But Davis, trained by Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, had a solid game plan and although Elijah came on strong in the homestretch, it was too little, too late.

One of the judges favored Garcia 98-92, but his cohorts each gave seven rounds to Davis (19-3-1, 6 KOs) and the decision was fair.

Filipino junior lightweight Mark Magsayo, in his second fight back since losing back-to-back fights with featherweight belt-holders Rey Vargas and Brandon Figueroa, advanced to 26-2 (17) with a 10-round unanimous decision over Mexico City’s Eduardo Ramirez (28-4-3). Magsayo scored a knockdown in the third round with a straight right hand and won by scores of 99-90 and 97-92 twice.

Photos credit: Al Applerose

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