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

Arne K. Lang

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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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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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