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Boxing’s Irish Traveler ‘Era’ Figures to be Long-Lasting

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Boxing’s Irish Traveler ‘Era’ Figures to be Long-Lasting

Levi Frankham, one of England’s top amateurs, turned pro this week, joining Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions team where his stablemates include his cousins Joshua and Charles Frankham, both of whom, like Levi, are recent signees. The Queensberry roster also includes Tyson Fury and his half-brother Tommy and their cousin Nathan Gorman. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in Queensberry Promotions phenom Dennis McCann.

What do all of these individuals have in common? They are all members of the Irish Traveler community, an official British ethnic group that is seen as a blight by much of the British middle class.

Travelers have been a major component of the British amateur boxing scene for decades. However, it wasn’t until 2014 that the community produced its first world champion when Andy Lee won the vacant WBO middleweight title.

Travelers tend to leave school early (very early) and marry young. Many Traveler men become parents in their late teens which has been cited as the main reason why so many of their top-shelf amateurs didn’t transition into the pros. It isn’t that they lacked the dedication, but rather that pressing financial needs took precedence. Without a wealthy backer, boxing doesn’t pay the bills while one is climbing the ladder. There is more money to be made, and a steadier paycheck, in the construction field. Moreover, until recently, there were few illustrious Traveler pros to serve as role models for the generation coming up behind them.

Andy Lee and Billy Joe Saunders broke the mold. Lee became the first Traveler to win a world title when he defeated Matt Korobov to win the vacant WBO middleweight belt in 2014. Saunders, a gifted amateur — an Olympian at the tender age of 18 — unseated Lee in the first world title fight in which both combatants were Travelers.

Andy Lee’s second cousin, the charismatic Tyson Fury, raised the bar. The “Gypsy King” is worshiped by his fellow Travelers. Thanks to him and to a lesser extent Lee and Saunders, the mere fact of being a Traveler now makes it easier for a standout amateur to command a nice bonus when he is ready to turn pro.

Frank Warren hardly has a monopoly on the top prospects in the Traveler community. His arch-rival Eddie Hearn roped in Leeds southpaw Hopey Price (currently 4-0), a super bantamweight with a high upside. Warren’s Traveler stable already included Commonwealth middleweight champion Felix Cash (13-0), former British and European super featherweight champion Martin J. Ward (21-1-2), heavyweight contender Hughie Fury, Tyson’s first cousin, and, of course, the aforementioned Saunders who will take a 30-0 record into his match with Canelo Alvarez on May 8 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Billy Joe is generally regarded as the slickest boxer to lock horns with Canelo Alvarez since Floyd Mayweather Jr back in 2013. (He and Tyson Fury are bosom buddies and frequent training partners, but they are tied to different promoters.)

As is well known, organized bare-knuckle boxing has been a distinctive feature of the Irish Traveler culture. As author Rafe Bartholomew notes, these extra-legal encounters, often brutal, function as conflict resolution. If a Traveler has a beef with a member of another clan, he would never think to get a lawyer involved.

Many of the booth fighters that traveled the fair circuit in old England, taking on all comers, were likely Irish Travelers. The most famous bare-knuckle fighter of recent vintage was Bartley Gorman (1944-2012), the self-styled King of the Gypsies. Nathan Gorman is his great nephew; Tyson Fury is a more distant relative.

Many of today’s Traveler fighters are second- or third-generation fighters. The Frankham brothers, Joshua and Charles, are the grandsons of “Gypsy” Johnny Frankham who won and lost the British light heavyweight title in back-to-back fights with former world title challenger Chris Finnegan in 1975. Tyson Fury’s volatile dad John Fury had a brief pro career, finishing 8-4-1 as a heavyweight, not to mention numerous undocumented bare-knuckle fights.

In the past, several ethnic groups made a big splash in boxing but their heyday was short-lived. During the Depression, the ranks of Jewish boxers in New York were so thick that it was virtually impossible for a matchmaker to cobble together a full program without including at least one.

Given the long tradition of fighting in the Irish Traveler community, their “heyday” figures to be long-lasting.

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Garcia Promotions’ Event in San Bernardino was a Showcase for Saul Rodriguez

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SAN BERNARDINO-Saul “Neno” Rodriguez, out of action for nearly three years, returned to the prize ring on Saturday in San Bernardino at the Club Event Center in a Garcia Promotions event. San Bernardino is in the Inland Empire which is two counties just east of Los Angeles.

Riverside’s Rodriguez (24-1-1) weighed much more than the designated weight and his match with Mexico’s Juan Meza Angulo was demoted to an exhibition because of the weight disparity. Despite wearing head gear, the popular Riverside fighter was able to stop Angulo (6-1) in his first fight since February 28, 2020.

Though Rodriguez looked slightly over-weight as a super lightweight, it didn’t dampen his sharp punching skills. He immediately caught Meza with a well-timed overhand right. Luckily, Rodriguez didn’t put muscle on it. The fight proceeded.

Because of inactivity, Rodriguez seemed to relish getting back to work. He moved around and tried different combinations. Everything seemed to be working in his favor. But Meza countered a left by Rodriguez with a strong right. It proved the popular Riverside fighter needs work on bringing back his left quickly.

After Meza connected things got serious.

Rodriguez immediately opened the third round at a quicker tempo and seemed intent on changing from a wait-and-see attitude to one of bad intentions. Meza didn’t notice the change and looked to catch Rodriguez with a combo and instead was caught with a monster counter-right. Down went Meza with a thud. The fight was stopped.

Fans, many of them wearing Team Neno t-shirts, were deliriously happy to see Rodriguez back in action.

In the co-main event, San Bernardino’s Leo Ruiz clashed with granite-chinned Cameron Krael.

Ruiz (11-0, 7 KOs) unloaded horrific bombs on Krael (19-25-3) who calmly kept his gloves covering his head and although some managed to connect flush, nothing fazed the Las Vegas fighter.

Round after round Ruiz unloaded on Krael only to quickly realize that attempting a knockout was futile. The reputation of Krael’s chin was correct and no need to break a knuckle trying to score a knockout. Instead, Ruiz went six rounds and won every one to take a win by unanimous decision by scores of 60-54 on all three cards.

Other Bouts

Gabe Muratalla (9-0) knocked out Michael Nielsen (6-3) with a four-punch combination in the third round of a bantamweight fight. Body shots dropped Nielsen in the second round.

Ventura’s Jose Delgado (10-1-4), a southpaw, overcome a sluggish start with body shots to defeat San Bernardino’s Jesus Beltran (6-3-1) by majority decision after four rounds in a lightweight fight.

Riverside’s Victor Pelayo (2-0) defeated Milwaukee’s D’Angelo Hopgood (2-1) by decision after four rounds in a very close super bantamweight match. Both fighters showed solid fundamentals in a fight that could have easily been scored a draw. Pelayo won by decision 39-37 on all cards.

Riverside’s Jose Rodriguez (2-0) stopped Henry Mendez (0-9-2) in the fourth round of a super welterweight bout. Mendez was deducted a point in the second round for incessant holding after numerous warnings.

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Alexis Rocha KOs Brave but Overmatched George Ashie on DAZN.

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Golden Boy Promotions’ potted their first offering of 2023 at the recently opened YouTube Theater, a 6,000-seat venue situated inside the stadium built to house LA’s two NFL franchises. The main event was a scheduled 12-round welterweight match between Alexis Rocha, a southpaw from nearby Santa Ana and George Ashie, a 38-year-old Ghanaian making his U.S. debut. Ashie was a late substitute for Anthony Young who reportedly suffered a nose injury in training. The match and supporting bouts were live-streamed on DAZN.

Ashie, who was fighting above his normal weight class and carried a career-high 146 pounds, was brave but out-gunned. Rocha knocked him down in the third frame with a right hook and hurt him several more times as the fight progressed although Ashie never stopped trying. In round six, an accidental clash of heads left Rocha with a nasty cut on his left eyebrow. He fought with more urgency after this incident and knocked Ashie out cold in the next round. The official time was 2:08 of round seven.

It was the fifth straight win for Rocha who improved his ledger to 22-1 (14 KOs). After the bout, he expressed an interest in fighting Terence Crawford. Ashie fell to 33-6-1 (25).

Other Bouts of Note

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a precocious 20-year-old lightweight, had Albert Mercado on the canvas in the second round but was unable to put him away despite hurting him multiple times and went 10 rounds for the first time in his young career.

Schofield, the 2022 TSS Prospect of the Year, improved to 13-0 (11), winning 100-89 on all three cards. Mercado, a 35-year-old Connecticut-born Puerto Rican, declined to 17-5-1 but retained his distinction of having never been stopped.

Super middleweight Bektemir Melikuziev, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist for Uzbekistan who lives and trains in Indio, California, overpowered San Diego’s Ulises Sierra who was on the deck twice from body punches before the fight was waived off at the 2:59 mark of round three. It was the fourth straight victory for Melikuziev (11-1, 9 KOs) after suffering a stunning one-punch knockout at the hands of seemingly shopworn Gabriel Rosado with whom he is pursuing a rematch. Sierra was 17-2-2 heading in with eight of his wins coming in Mexico.

In a match framed as a WBO minimumweight title eliminator, Oscar Collazo (6-0, 4 KOs) scored an impressive fifth-round stoppage of Yudel Reyes. Collazo knocked Reyes down twice in the fifth round, the second with a vicious right hand that put Reyes down so hard that the referee didn’t bother to count. The official time was 2:59 of round five.

In theory, Collazo’s next fight will come against the Filipino Melvin Jerusalem who won the title earlier this month with a second-round stoppage of Masataka Taniguchi in Osaka. Reyes, a 26-year-old Mexican making his U.S. debut, declined to 15-2.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Artur Beterbiev TKOs Anthony Yarde in a London Firefight

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The presumption, echoed by ESPN boxing commentator Bernardo Osuna, was that tonight’s bout at Wembley Arena in London between Artur Beterbiev and Anthony Yarde would be explosive and entertaining for as long as it lasted. That proved to be true and when the smoke cleared, Beterbiev, the rugged Montreal-based Russian had retained his three light heavyweight title belts and had added another knockout to his ledger, his nineteenth as a pro in as many opportunities.

Both men landed hard shots during the fight and both were marked up at the finish. Yarde had a cut under his right eye and Beterbiev had a cut on his left eyelid.

A chopping right hand from Beterbiev late in the first minute of the eighth round marked the beginning of the end for Yarde, the muscular 31-year-old Londoner who entered the contest sporting a record of 23-2 with 22 knockouts. The punch sent him reeling backward toward his corner where he landed on his knees. He beat the count, but turned toward his corner rather than referee Steve Gray.

Gray let the bout continue, but Beterbiev pressed his advantage and after a few more unanswered punches Yarde’s trainer Tunde Ajayi stepped up on the ring apron and summoned Gray to stop it. The official time was 2:01 of round eight.

Beterbiev hasn’t lost since losing a decision to amateur nemesis Oleksandr Usyk in the quarter finals of the 2012 London Olympics. At age 38, he shows no signs of slowing down.

In his post-fight interview, the self-effacing Russian said, “I hope some day I will be a good boxer,” and acknowledged that he would welcome a unification fight with fellow Russian Dmitry Bivol, the WBA title-holder.

WBA Title Fight

In a bout that was in theory the co-feature but went off during the earlier portion of the ESPN+ livestream, Artem Dalakian (21-0, 15 KOs) retained his WBA world flyweight title with a unanimous and somewhat controversial 12-round unanimous decision over Costa Rica’s David Jimenez (12-1). The judges had it 116-112 and 115-113 twice.

An Azerbaijan-born Ukrainian, Dalakian was making the sixth defense of the title he won in 2018 with a 12-round decision over Brian Viloria in Los Angeles in his lone previous appearance at a venue in the English-speaking world. His five title defenses were in Kiev. Jimenez was coming off a 12-round majority decision over Ricardo Sandoval in what ranked as one of the bigger upsets of 2021.

A Split for the Itauma Brothers

Promoter Frank Warren’s newest signee, 18-year-old heavyweight Moses Itauma, made a big splash in his pro debut, blasting out Czechoslovakia’s Marcel Bode (2-2) in 23 seconds. Moses and his older brother Karol Itauma are sons of a British citizen of Nigerian ancestry and a Slovakian mother.

In a shocking upset, Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna, a 36-year-old Argentine who had lost six of his previous eight fights, forged a fifth-round stoppage of well-touted Karol Itauma who was 9-0 (7 KOs) as a pro coming in. Itauma ate numerous straight right hands before a straight right hand knocked him down for the count. The official time was 1:04 of round five. Maderna improved to 29-10 (11).

Also

The Frankham cousins, super welterweight Joshua and super featherweight Charles, improved their ledgers to 7-0 with 6-round shutouts over their respective opponents. The cousins are grandsons of John “Gypsy Johnny” Frankham, a former British light heavyweight champion.

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