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Evander Holyfield’s Las Vegas Episodes (Part Two)

Arne K. Lang

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Seven weeks after announcing his retirement, Evander Holyfield had an about-face. The impetus was a two-day rally he attended in Philadelphia led by controversial televangelist Benny Hinn. During the services, Hinn “touched” Holyfield and pronounced him healed.

The reaction in the boxing community was overwhelmingly sarcastic. “I have a bum knee,” said New York State Athletic Commission chairman Randy Gordon, “that I would like (the faith healer) to look at.” But the wisecracks ceased when Holyfield went to the Mayo Clinic and the doctors there found no evidence of the heart defect. Evander had been misdiagnosed, or the problem had corrected itself organically, or – as Evander chose to believe – he had received a gift from God.

Evander began his comeback in Atlantic City in a 10-round contest with rugged Ray Mercer. Holyfield dominated Mercer in the late rounds, assuaging concerns about his stamina, and won a unanimous decision. Holyfield was too cheap to pay for a cut man (his trainer Don Turner assumed the responsibility), and it almost cost him when he suffered a bad cut over his right eye, but his triumph thrust him back in the heavyweight picture and set the wheels in motion for a rubber match with Riddick Bowe.

Bowe had never been knocked down until Holyfield knocked him to the canvas with a left hook in round six of the rubber match. But by then, Holyfield, out-weighed by 27 pounds, was “bone-tired.” Bowe stopped him two rounds later, reducing Evander’s record to 31-3. Interestingly, this was a non-title fight. Following his loss to Evander in their middle fight, Bowe had gone on to win the lightly-regarded WBO belt, but the promoter refused to pony up a sanctioning fee so no title was at stake.

Holyfield got back on the winning track in his next start, a match with Bobby Czyz at Madison Square Garden, Evander’s first appearance in the Big Apple since his pro debut 11-and-a-half years earlier. This was nothing more than a stay-busy fight. Czyz, 34, had won titles at 175 and 190, but he had begun his pro career as a middleweight and at 5’10” would be the shorter man by four-and-a-half inches.

Czyz retired on his stool after five rounds complaining of a foreign substance in his eyes. Holyfield was comfortably ahead when the bout ended, but he wasn’t impressive.

When it became known that Holyfield had landed a bout with Mike Tyson, it was immediately decried as a mismatch. Evander’s best years were behind him, or so it seemed, whereas Iron Mike had looked like his old self after returning from prison, scoring four fast knockouts while picking up the IBF and WBA belts along the way. In a poll of sportswriters by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, 47 of 48 respondents picked Tyson. (The apostate was Ron Borges of the Boston Globe who reversed course after originally picking Tyson by KO in a Boxing Illustrated survey.)

The Nevada Commission would not approve the fight until Holyfield underwent a more extensive battery of medical tests than he had received at the Mayo Clinic. Their qualms factored into the odds. The Las Vegas bookmakers opened Tyson a 25/1 favorite and suffered a bloodbath when Holyfield was victorious, stopping Iron Mike in the 11th round before a sell-out crowd at the MGM Grand Garden in a fight that had turned sharply in his favor. With the victory, Evander joined Muhammad Ali as a three-time heavyweight champion.

The rematch, also at the MGM Grand, was the infamous “bite fight,” a fight that has been hashed-over at length and won’t be re-hashed again here. Holyfield’s ears were an expensive comestible for Tyson who was fined three million dollars by the commission for his rampage.

Before the year was out, Holyfield renewed acquaintances with Michael Moorer. They met at the Thomas and Mack Center on the UNLV campus on Nov. 8, 1997.

Moorer, who no longer had Teddy Atlas in his corner, came in at a puffy 223 pounds, nine pounds more than in their first meeting. His recent efforts, although victorious, were lackadaisical and Evander, the would-be avenger, was installed the favorite.

Moorer looked good in the early-going and was winning the fifth until Evander knocked him down in the waning seconds of the round. Holyfield would knock him down twice more in the seventh and twice more in the eighth before the bout was halted on the advice of the ringside physician. This redemptive victory, coupled with his earlier triumph over Tyson, earned Evander The Ring’s Fighter of the Year Award, his third, a number surpassed by only Joe Louis (4) and Muhammad Ali (6).

All three significant belts were at stake when Holyfield squared off with Lennox Lewis at Madison Square Garden on March 13, 1999. This was the first “true” (unified) heavyweight title fight in a New York ring since the 1971 Fight of the Century between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Making the match more irresistible, the odds were “pick-‘em.”

The fight went the full 12 and Lewis would be credited with out-landing Evander in every round. There was a great snit when the bout was ruled a draw. The brunt of the vitriol was directed at  IBF arbiter Eugenia Williams who had Holyfield winning seven rounds. She was accused of being a puppet of Holyfield’s promoter Don King.

The do-over at the Thomas and Mack was an immense attraction. The fight broke the existing Nevada record for gate receipts and the existing record for pay-per-view buys.

Holyfield did better in the rematch than in the first fight, not that one would have gleaned that from a glance at the scorecards: 117-111, 116-112, and 115-113, all for Lennox Lewis. If this had been the first fight between them instead of the second, and if this bout had been scored a draw, hardly anyone would have complained. Regardless, an injustice was rectified.

Holyfield’s next three fights were against John Ruiz, the first two in Las Vegas. Evander went 1-1-1 against Ruiz who fought out of Chelsea, Massachusetts, but yet their trilogy wasn’t a big story outside New England. Ruiz had a bland personality, manifested in his nickname, “The Quiet Man,” and an awkward style that made for dull fights.

Constantly boring ahead, Ruiz did a good job smothering Holyfield’s punches and exhibited just enough offense to warrant the decision in the minds of many people. But the judges favored Holyfield, two of whom gave him the nod by a single point.

The bout was contested at the Paris Hotel. At stake was the vacant WBA title that Lennox Lewis had forfeited. With the victory, Evander became the first four-time heavyweight champion, not that the fourth title was considered  a significant achievement in the alphabet-fractured environment. The prevailing sentiment, articulated by Kevin Iole, was that Holyfield would have carved Ruiz to pieces if the bout had been held five years earlier.

Holyfield conceded that his showing wasn’t up to his standards. He blamed it on a broken eardrum which he said affected his balance and his timing. When the WBA ordered a rematch, Evander was all for it.

Typical of all great champions (with Joe Louis the classic example), Holyfield tended to perform at his best in rematches. But not this time. Despite severe swelling over both eyes and a bloody nose, Ruiz pulled away in the late rounds. He knocked Holyfield down in the 11th with a right to the temple and Holyfield, who had difficulty putting his punches together, barely survived the round. Many in the crowd left before the scorecards were read; the verdict was a foregone conclusion.

Holyfield was two weeks shy of his 41st birthday when he locked horns with James Toney on Oct. 4, 2003 at Mandalay Bay.

The 35-year-old Toney, who brought a 66-4-2 record, had won the IBF 190-pound title in his most recent outing, a fierce fight with Vassiliy Jirov. He came in at 217 for Evander, 60 pounds more than he carried when he upset Michael Nunn back in 1991. But Toney was a handful at any weight and he gave Evander the worst beating of his career. The bout was stopped midway through the ninth frame when Holyfield’s trainer  Don Turner entered the ring on a mission of mercy.

Evander Holyfield’s last fight in Las Vegas came six-and-half years after his defeat by James Toney and it almost didn’t happen. The Nevada commission debated long and hard before approving his match with 41-year-old Frans Botha, the so-called “White Buffalo.”

The fight was up for grabs after seven rounds with Holyfield trailing on two of the cards. In the eighth, Evander broke through, decking Botha with a big right hand and following up with a barrage of punches after Botha made it to his feet, leading the referee to call it off. It was a messy fight with a lot of clinching and a comical moment when Botha hit both of Evander’s ears simultaneously, a maneuver, said ringside reporter Steve Carp, that the “White Buffalo” borrowed from The Three Stooges playbook.

The fight was at the Thomas and Mack. In his previous fight in this building, Holyfield fought Lennox Lewis before an animated crowd of 17,916 swelled by a large delegation of singing and chanting British fight fans. His purse was $15 million guaranteed but he stood to make even more based on the pay-per-view numbers. His fight with Frans Botha played out before a subdued crowd announced at 3,127. Evander, who was coming off back-to-back losses, reportedly fought for a purse of $150,000.

To his credit, Evander ended his 17-fight Las Vegas run on a winning note. He would fight twice more before calling it quits, leaving the sport with a 44-10-2 record.

The word most often used to describe Evander Holyfield is the word warrior, a word that invariably comes prefaced by the verb “great” or a synonym of it.

Former Review-Journal sports editor Jim Fossum authored a nice tribute: “Holyfield displayed heart and conditioning virtually unparalleled in boxing…(He) securely established his place in every boxing book they will print from here to eternity.”

Fossum wrote those words in April of 1994, long before Evander’s two fights with Mike Tyson and 17 years before Holyfield’s final fight!

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Emanuel Navarrete Retains WBO Featherweight Title in a San Diego Firefight

David A. Avila

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SAN DIEGO-WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete won by unanimous decision over Joet Gonzalez in a slugfest that had fans cheering nonstop on Friday night. Fans were mesmerized by the savagery.

More than 2,000 fans saw Mexico City’s Navarrete (35-1, 29 KOs) and Southern California’s Gonzalez (24-2, 14 KOs) bounce brutal shots off each other for 12 successive rounds at Pechanga Sports Arena.

Both Navarrete and Gonzalez were about equal in height with the champion maybe a slight taller, but not by much. As soon as the first bell rang the two featherweights opened up in furious fashion.

Gonzalez was making his second attempt to grab a world title. His first attempt fell short a year ago. He was eager to atone for the defeat by clobbering Navarrete. Body shots were the weapon of choice.

The Mexican fighter Navarrete was accustomed to battling shorter fighters, this time the two were equal in size and in fury. Blows were flying in bunches and by the third round Gonzalez suffered a cut on his right cheek.

At several points Navarrete would connect with a solid blow and eagerly seek to finish the fight. Each time it happened Gonzalez would fight back even more furiously and beat back the champions attacks.

Gonzalez also connected with big shots and moved in for the kill only find Navarrete take a stand and fire back. Neither was able to truly gain a significant edge. After 12 rounds of nonstop action the decision was given to the judges. One scored it 118-110, two others saw it 116-112 all for Navarrete.

Fans were pleased by the decision and even more pleased by the breath-taking action they had witnessed.

Welterweights

Local fighter Giovani Santillan (28-0, 15 KOs) remained undefeated by unanimous decision after 10 rounds versus Tijuana’s Angel Ruiz (17-2, 12 KOs). The two southpaws were evenly matched.

San Diego’s Santillan was able to outwork Ruiz in almost every round. Though Ruiz has heavy hands he was not able to hurt Santillan even with uppercuts. It was clear very early in the fight that Santillan was the more technical and busier of the two. No knockdowns were scored.

After 10 rounds two judges scored it 100-90 for Santillan and a third saw it 99-91.

Other Results

Lindolfo Delgado (14-0, 12 KOs) battered and knocked down fellow Mexican Juan Garcia Mendez (21-5-2) in the last round of an 8-round super lightweight bout, but could not score the knockout win.

Delgado, a Mexican Olympian, was the quicker and stronger fighter yet discovered Garcia Mendez has a solid chin. All three judges scored it 80-71 for Delgado.

Puerto Rico’s Henry Lebron (14-0, 9 KOs) defeated Manuel Rey Rojas (21-6) by decision after eight rounds in a lightweight match.

Javier Martinez (5-0, 2 KOs) soundly defeated Darryl Jones (4-3-1) by decision after six rounds in a middleweight clash. Jones was tough.

Las Vegas bantamweight Floyd Diaz (3-0) knocked down Tucson’s Jose Ramirez (1-1) in the first round but was unable to end the fight early. Diaz won by decision.

Heavyweight Antonio Mireles (1-0) knocked out Demonte Randle (2-2) at 2:07 of the first round.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank for Getty Images

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Book Review

Russell Peltz’s “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye”: Book Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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Russell Peltz’s “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye”: Book Review by Thomas Hauser

Russell Peltz has been promoting fights for fifty years and is as much a part of the fabric of Philadelphia boxing as Philly gym wars and Philly fighters. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004 and deservedly so. Now Peltz has written a memoir entitled Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye that chronicles his many years in the sweet science.

Peltz started in boxing before it was, in his words, “bastardized by the alphabet groups” and at a time when “world titles still meant something.”

“I fell in love with boxing when I was twelve,” he writes, “saw my first live fight at fourteen, decided to make it my life, and never looked back.” He promoted his first fight card in 1969 at age 22.

Peltz came of age in boxing at a time when promoters – particularly small promoters – survived or died based on the live gate. Peltz Boxing Promotions had long runs at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia and both Harrah’s Marina and the Sands  in Atlantic City. His journey through the sweet science included a seven-year stint as director of boxing for The Spectrum in Philadelphia. At the turn of the century, he was a matchmaker for ESPN.

Along the way, Peltz’s office in Philadelphia was fire-bombed. He was robbed at gunpoint while selling tickets in his office for a fight card at the Blue Horizon and threatened in creative ways more times than one might imagine. He once had a fight fall out when one of the fighters was arrested on the day of the weigh-in. No wonder he quotes promoter Marty Kramer, who declared, “The only thing I wish on my worst enemy is that he becomes a small-club boxing promoter.”

Now Peltz has put pen to paper – or finger to keyboard. “The internet is often a misinformation highway,” he writes. “I want to set the record straight as to what actually went on in boxing in the Philadelphia area since the late-1960s. I’m tired of reading tweets or Facebook posts or Instagram accounts from people who were not around and have no idea what went on but write like they do.”

Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye is filled with characters (inside and outside the ring) who give boxing its texture. As Peltz acknowledges, his own judgment was sometimes faulty. Russell once turned down the opportunity to promote Marvin Hagler on a long-term basis. There are countless anecdotes about shady referees, bad judging, and other injustices. Middleweight Bennie Briscoe figures prominently in the story, as do other Philadelphia fighters like Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, and Matthew Franklin (later Matthew Saad Muhammad). Perhaps the best fight Peltz ever promoted  was the 1977 classic when Franklin knocked out Marvin Johnson in the twelfth round.

There’s humor. After Larry Holmes pitched a shutout against Randall “Tex” Cobb in 1982, Cobb proclaimed, “Larry never beat me. He just won the first fifteen rounds.”

And there are poignant notes. Writing about Tanzanian-born Rogers Mtagwa (who boxed out of Philadelphia), Peltz recalls, “He couldn’t pass an eye exam because he didn’t understand the alphabet.”

Remembering the Blue Horizon, Peltz fondly recounts, “”The Blue Horizon was a fight fan’s nirvana. The ring was 15-feet-9-inches squared inside the ropes. No fighter came to the Blue Horizon to pad his record. Fans wanted good fights, not slaughters of second-raters.”

That ethos was personified by future bantamweight champion Jeff Chandler who, after knocking out an obviously inept opponent, told Peltz, “Don’t ever embarrass me like that again in front of my fans.”

Thereafter, whenever a manager asked Peltz to put his fighter in soft to “get me six wins in a row,” Russell thought of Chandler. “I enjoyed promoting fights more than promoting fighters,” he writes. “If I was interested in promoting fighters, I would have been a manager.”

That brings us to Peltz the writer.

The first thing to be said here is that this is a book for boxing junkies, not the casual fan. Peltz is detail-oriented. But do readers really need to know what tickets prices were for the April 6, 1976, fight between Bennie Briscoe and Eugene Hart? The book tends to get bogged down in details. And after a while, the fights and fighters blur together in the telling.

It brings to mind the relationship between Gene Tunney and George Bernard Shaw. The noted playwright and heavyweight great developed a genuine friendship. But Shaw’s fondness for Tunney stopped short of uncritical admiration. In 1932, the former champion authored his autobiography (A Man Must Fight) and proudly presented a copy to his intellectual mentor. Shaw read the book and responded with a letter that read in part, “Just as one prayer meeting is very like another, one fight is very like another. At a certain point, I wanted to skip to Dempsey.”

Reading Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye, at a certain point I wanted to skip to Hagler.

There’s also one jarring note. Peltz recounts how, when Mike Jones fought Randall Bailey for the vacant IBF welterweight title in Las Vegas in 2012, Peltz bet five hundred dollars against Jones (his own fighter) at the MGM Sports Book and collected two thousand dollars when Bailey (trailing badly on the judges’ scorecards) knocked Jones out in the eleventh round.

“It was a tradition from my days with Bennie Briscoe,” Russell explains. “I’d bet against my fighter, hoping to lose the bet and win the fight.”

I think Russell Peltz is honest. I mean that sincerely. And I think he was rooting for Mike Jones to beat Randall Bailey. But I don’t think that promoters should bet on fights involving their own fighters. And it’s worse if they bet against their own fighters. Regardless of the motivation, it looks bad. Or phrased differently: Suppose Don King had bet on Buster Douglas to beat Mike Tyson in Tokyo?

Philadelphia was once a great fight town. in 1926, the first fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney drew 120,000 fans to Sesquicentennial Stadium. Twenty-six years later, Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott at same site (renamed Municipal Stadium) to claim the heavyweight throne.

Peltz takes pride in saying, “I was part of Philadelphia’s last golden age of boxing.”

An important part.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press this autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 156: A World Title Fight in San Diego and More

David A. Avila

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World championship prizefighting returns to San Diego.

Though the port city serves as a base for US Marines, US Navy and other fighting organizations, boxing has rarely held events in its city limits. But it’s no stranger.

WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete (34-1, 29 KOs) defends against L.A. native Joet Gonzalez (24-1, 14 KOs) on Friday night at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego, Calif. ESPN+ will stream the Top Rank card.

One reason boxing events are rare in San Diego lies in the simple reason it’s located a mere 20 miles from Tijuana, Mexico. It is cheaper to stage boxing shows across the border and common to see up to five shows taking place simultaneously.

A world champion like Navarrete wants to be compensated in world championship style and that means fighting on American soil.

Navarrete, 26, hails from Mexico City and has beaten back-to-back featherweight contenders from the USA in Christopher Diaz and Ruben Villa. Before that, he upset Isaac Dogboe to win the super bantamweight world title before making weight forced him to move up a division. He’s a fighting machine.

“I think this is going to be a tough fight. He is a tough opponent,” said Navarrete.

Gonzalez, 28, was raised in a fighting family and has previously fought for a world title but was unsuccessful against Shakur Stevenson. The Los Angeles native had an extensive amateur career and as a professional he’s steadily adapted to the professional style. This is his shot at the world title.

“Navarrete has a style that’s very unique, very hard to figure out, and that’s why he’s a champion,” said Gonzalez. “I’m planning on leaving Friday night with that belt.”

In a semi-main event local fighter Giovani Santillan (27-0, 15 KOs) meets Angel Ruiz (17-1, 12 KOs) in a clash between southpaw welterweights set for 10 rounds. Both fought numerous times on Thompson Boxing Promotion cards in Southern California.

Santillan has fought as the main event on many occasions and provided upsets in nationally televised events.

“It’s very special for me to be fighting here in San Diego. I grew up close by here. To all my family and friends that are coming, expect the best version of me. I’m coming with everything,” said Santillan.

Ruiz also has fought on nationally televised events and upset a fighter or two. Southpaw versus southpaw can be puzzling. It usually comes down to who has the better right hook.

“He’s a great fighter. I’m a great fighter, too,” said Ruiz.

Doors open at 5 p.m.

Mikey Garcia Returns

It’s been almost two years since Mikey Garcia (40-1, 30 KOs) last fought. He returns on Saturday, Oct. 16, to face Sandor Martin (38-2, 13 KOs) a slick fighting southpaw from Barcelona, Spain. Their super lightweight bout takes place in Fresno, Calif. at the Chukchansi Park. DAZN will show the fight.

Garcia has been one of the boxing masters and has captured world titles in four weight divisions. Very few can match his wisdom inside a prize ring. The last time he fought was on February 2020 when he defeated Jessie Vargas in a welterweight clash.

Now Garcia is back down to super lightweight. He had hoped to entice Manny Pacquiao for a big money fight, but the Filipino superstar chose another.

Martin has never fought on American soil and has only ventured out of Spain twice. He’s a big question mark when it comes to ability. Can he match skills with Garcia who has won world titles as a featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight and super lightweight?

We shall see.

The co-main event features WBO light flyweight titlist Elwin Soto (19-1, 13 KOs) of Mexico defending against Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Gonzalez (24-3-1, 14 KOs). As most of you know, anytime Mexico fights Puerto Rico anything can happen.

Heavyweight Examination

Tyson Fury’s victory over Deontay Wilder proved to be the best of the trilogy that began three years ago in Los Angeles. Anytime you see multiple knockdowns it exemplifies the fight game to its core. It’s a battle of wills and the best man wins.

Only once before had two larger heavyweights exchanged blows when seven-footer Nicolai Valuev and Jameel McCline battled in 2008. But that heavyweight match was held at Switzerland and only seen in Europe. And there was another fight between NBA size power forwards in Los Angeles that was equally exciting when Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko clashed in the Staples Center on June 2003. It turned out to be Lewis’s farewell fight and a classic.

Wilder and Fury put on another classic.

The 1990s seemed to be the last decade where heavyweight rumbles regularly took place. You had Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield torching each other with massive blows and skill to match. There was Lennox Lewis, of course, and his gentleman killer ways. And, of course, there was still Mike Tyson whose best decade was the 1980s, yet was the heavyweight with the biggest following.

In this age of social media driven world of entertainment, Fury and Wilder did participate in a lot of seemingly useless drivel. But once inside the ropes, they delivered like FedEx truck drivers on the clock.

Those old enough to remember recall the three battles between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Nothing tops their three clashes, especially the “Thrilla in Manilla” in 1975. If you get a chance, take a look at that savagery. Though no knockdowns were scored, it was that mesh of skill and intensity for nearly 15 rounds that mesmerized sports fans and made both fighters legends for all time.

This past Saturday, Fury and Wilder reminded sports fans that heavyweight splendor still exists. And that no other sport comes down to the basic man-versus-man in a boxing ring. The biggest and baddest slugged it out and the winner was Fury.

Boxing is the ultimate sport.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Lester Martinez (8-0) vs Raiko Santana (8-2).

Fri. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Santiago Dominguez (24-0) vs Jesus Antonio Rubio (13-4-1).

Fri. ESPN+ 6 p.m. Emanuel Navarrete (34-1) vs Joet Gonzalez (24-1); Giovani Santillan (27-0) vs Angel Ruiz (17-1).

Fri. Telemundo 11:59 p.m. Axel Aragon (14-4-1) vs Armando Torres (26-19).

Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Hughie Fury (25-3) vs Christian Hammer (26-7); Savannah Marshall (10-0) vs Lolita Muzeya (16-0).

Sat. DAZN 2 p.m. Mikey Garcia (40-1) vs Sandor Martin (38-2).

Sat. FITE.TV 3 p.m. Cletus Seldin vs William Silva

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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