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Every Joe Gans Lightweight Title Fight – Part 3: George “Elbows” McFadden

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This was the seventh meeting of the rival lightweights.  In all previous ones McFadden held his own, making a brave stand against the colored wonder. Since then, Joe Gans has been on the upgrade. – San Francisco Call, June 28, 1902.

Joe Gans celebrated winning the lightweight championship of the world by fighting. It was how he made money. As a rule, the bigger the fighter got and the whiter the fighter got, the more he might find himself making easy money in theatre and foregoing the ring. The likes of John Sullivan spent literally years milking the title in theatre productions that caused for little more in physical exertions than a pulled punch thrown at an over-awed actor. For an African-American champion in a lighter weight class, such opportunities were less common.

To see Joe Gans in the ring, though, the public would always pay.

Gans took four fights in two days back in Baltimore, all slated for four rounds, all victories inside the distance. One might sneer at the soft opposition but in fairness, they all managed to do more minutes than Frank Erne.

Real work was to begin though, and it came in a familiar form.

George “Elbows” McFadden, “a champion in any other era” according to Nat Fleischer, was a white lightweight who charged himself with a near impossible task in 1899: he set out to outfight not just Joe Gans, but Frank Erne and Kid Lavigne, too. He went 9-2-2 that year, and 2-2-1 against the trinity of Erne, Lavigne and Gans. He met Gans three times.

No lightweight has ever engaged a higher level of competition in a single year and although the likes of Harry Greb and Henry Armstrong probably had harder years overall, even in that company, McFadden’s 1899 is welcome.

Most extraordinary was his relative inexperience, remarked upon in the days before his first match with Gans. Boxrec sees him at 20-3-12; by contrast Gans had already amassed a record of at least 68-4-8. Most of all, McFadden was stepping up not by a single class, but by three, by five, out of the pack and into a ring that would birth a legitimate title contender.

“McFadden gave the most remarkable display of blocking ever seen in a local ring,” reported the Saint Paul Globe the morning following the fight. “Gans tried in every way to get in on the New-Yorker but was invariably stopped. If McFadden blocked with his left he sent his right to the body and sent the left to the face.”

McFadden, a defensive specialist, earned his nickname not for throwing his elbows, as might be expected, but rather as one who used them to pick off punches, a mobile guard that he used to protect his body, like a pioneering Winky Wright, but also his head, perhaps in an early incarnation of the cross-arm guard. “My elbows ensured their fists stayed away from my chin” was how McFadden himself put it. As an in-fighter and a counterpuncher, a fluid cross-arm guard deployed out of a crouch at close quarters makes sense, as ably demonstrated by Archie Moore some decades later. Whatever the specifics, McFadden relied heavily upon his defence in beating Joe Gans in their first meeting, on April 4th 1899.

McFadden was a slow starter. He never troubled Gans, really, in their six-round contests. Every time they contended over a longer distance though, McFadden made Gans miserable and never more so than in the first of their three New York contests. Once he achieved for himself a lead in the contest, he rarely let it slip. McFadden’s strategy was essentially to keep Gans physically close to him, buying his way in with his elite blocking and parrying, then being economical with his leads, minimising opportunities for Gans to punish him. It is an intimidating strategy and it worked for McFadden, forcing Gans to move continually. By the close of the 18th round of their first fight, Gans appeared tired to ringsiders. In the twenty-third, McFadden opened with two rights to the body and a left to face which visibly distressed Gans; McFadden then leapt upon him and delivered a right to the jaw followed by a hooked left to the chin and Gans was out.

McFadden, in his first fight at boxing’s highest level, had done what no man had done before and arguably what no man would ever legitimately do again until the very twilight of Joe’s career: he had knocked Joe Gans out.

Retrospectively, the enormity of this achievement cannot be overstated. Arguably, this is the best result under Marquis of Queensberry rules from the nineteenth century.

McFadden dropped a razor-thin decision to Frank Erne a month later and then met Gans in a rematch; this fight was close and not decisive. Gans worked left-handed, jabbing and hooking, McFadden pressured him and threw bodypunches. As the rounds progressed, Gans began the painful process of uncovering McFadden’s great weakness – an excessive reliance upon specific punches on offence. When he jabbed, it tended to be to the body; left-handed headshots seemed his shot of choice in clinches. Right-handed bodyshots, too, were expressly favoured, at least against Gans. The list of punches that required neutralisation was short. Having perhaps been unlucky not to be awarded a draw against Erne, in his second fight with Gans McFadden seems lucky to have received one, although he did pull out all the stops in an astonishing last round, fighting a stunned Gans “to a standstill” after being dropped himself in the twenty-fourth.

Gans finished the job he started in that second fight almost exactly three months later in the pair’s third meeting of the year, finally out-pointing McFadden over the twenty-five-round distance, but only after a difficult, bruising tussle. McFadden fought one of his most aggressive fights but despite great success to the body he was firmly outboxed by Gans who repeatedly tagged McFadden flush. “Elbows” confirmed his defensive prowess and punch resistance in seeing out the distance, but Gans had finally solved the McFadden problem. McFadden would manage another draw with Gans, over ten rounds in 1900, but he would never again defeat him.

McFadden’s 1899 performance, though, was astonishing. As well as defeating Gans and dropping the narrowest of decisions to Erne, he beat former champion Kid Lavigne, by knockout. Since, he had lost two six-round fights to Gans and one to Gus Gardner. He almost immediately rematched Gardner over a longer distance and won by disqualification. That his 1902 title shot against Gans was to be his only fight for a title is a testimony to the strength of the era. His continued absence from the Hall of Fame is an absurdity.

Although it would seem to make sense that the contender who most troubled Gans pre-title should be his first defence, the fight came about almost accidentally.

McFadden had a fight scheduled for San Francisco, but prospective opponent Jimmy Britt injured his hand; McFadden’s manager, Billy Roche, received a telegram inviting his charge instead to fight the newly crowned Joe Gans.

Although there are some stories that he was unhappy with the notion of yet another fight with Gans, McFadden accepted. He would fight anyone, and in the days of the colour-line appeared never once to have thought about it. Whatever the race or size of the prospective opponent, McFadden’s reply only ever concerned remuneration, although it should be admitted that McFadden may have preferred Britt. For his own part, Gans had “established a precedent for American pugilists to ponder” in meeting McFadden, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “one of the hardest propositions of his weight now in the game. Gans is not an actor, nor does not care to shine in any place but the ring.”

Both men were primarily motivated by money, but their willingness should not be overlooked.  Gans-McGovern VII was on.

McFadden arrived in San Francisco on the 9th of June 1902; Gans was just a few days behind him.  Gans was remarkably confident for a man who had previously been knocked out by his opponent, although as was almost always the case pre-fight, much of his talking was done by manager Al Herford.

If talk was cheap then the public were buying; Gans was made a significant favourite in the betting, which would nevertheless remain light. Herford was disgusted at the odds. “I think Gans will win sure,” he told pressmen, “but I have been at the ringside every one of the six times they have come together before and I know it is not a 2 to 1 bet that my man will win.”

As far as I can tell, the two-thousand dollars he wished to wager remained in his pocket.

“The fight will take place at Woodward’s Pavilion,” reported the San Francisco Examiner. “Both men are reported to be in splendid shape and should the contest be honestly fought those who attend will doubtless be treated to a boxing exhibition of the highest order.”

As we saw in Part Two, however, Chicago cast a long shadow.

“Unfortunately,” continued the Examiner, “…the remembrance of shady transactions in the career of Joe Gans have incurred a feeling of doubt in the minds of ring patrons that is difficult to remove. Of his several notorious fakes, the one with Terry McGovern in Chicago, on December 13, 1900, stands out from all the rest, and is still fresh in the memory of those familiar with his record.”

McFadden declared himself in the finest of condition; the Examiner agreed “his general appearance denotes the truth of his words.”

His general appearance, perhaps, was deceptive; then again, perhaps Gans really had improved beyond measure between 1899, when these two were marked as equals, and 1902 when Gans made himself forever McFadden’s superior. The fight was neither close nor difficult, but it nevertheless divided onlookers: was it real, or had Gans once again been involved in a fixed fight?

The wire report was both succinct and in essence tells the reader all they needed to know about the action as it occurred:

“The fight was an unsatisfactory one.  In the first two rounds McFadden was slow and did nothing but block. In the third, Gans landed a stiff left on the jaw, following it with a right in the same place, putting McFadden out.”

The devil though, as always, is in the detail. First and foremost, it must be noted that McFadden often started slowly and with an emphasis on defence and this was not uncommon when he met Gans. McFadden appeared to feel his way into fights in order to achieve his best results, which is why he had given Gans such terrible trouble over the longer distance. McFadden waiting and blocking was not unusual but drew ire in the light of the early stoppage.

 The Chronicle saw a legitimate fight, but a deeply unsatisfying one.

“Gans was declared the winner of the whatever the bout may be called,” ran the story on page four the day after the match, “certainly not a fight, for it takes two men to fight; perhaps assault would fit the case better.”

The Call, too, called it above board but below par:

“There is not the slightest possibility of the fight being a “fake” in the sense of being prearranged. It was simply an unfortunate match, which looked well on paper, only to prove a fizzle when the men faced one another in the ring.”

But the Examiner saw a different fight.

Under the headline “Sporting Public Swindled by Another Fake Fight” it printed that “The farce was kept up for three rounds…[t]here was not at any stage of the game enough pretence of fighting to delude the spectators. Before the first round was half over they began crying, “Fake! Fake!” These cries increased as the exhibition progressed, McFadden never letting go a blow that was intended to hurt and Gans declining to punch his opponent’s waiting jaw when it was held up to him.”

In the following days, the Examiner worked hard to source proof of a fake but to no end.  They pushed referee Phil Wand right to the edge of agreement; he claimed calling the fight a farce would be “charitable” but saw no evidence of collusion. The Examiner is a minority report and although it cannot be dismissed, it should be noted that Gans had his enemies in San Francisco, not necessarily without reason but perhaps neither without bias.

Herford, concerned with the accusations against his charge, astonished the Examiner into begrudging retreat when he appeared at the newspaper’s offices with a thousand dollars in cash, the equivalent of thirty thousand today, offering it as a forfeit should anyone produce evidence of a fake. “It is not likely that anyone will accept Herford’s offer” concluded the Examiner.

Nevertheless, the stink was such that Hayes Valley Athletic Club announced that it would be withholding the fighter’s purses “until it was clearly shown that the fight was not a fake.”

Little more than a week later, George Siler, writing in the Chicago Sunday Tribune, reported an end to the matter:

“After a thorough investigation, in which every known angle was gone over carefully, the managers of the Hayes Valley athletic club, under whose auspices Joe Gans and George McFadden recently battled, concluded the above-named fight was strictly on the level. The cry of “fake” which went floating over the country immediately after the fight was caused by two reasons: One because McFadden was supposed to give Gans a terrific battle, and the other because the colored champion had been engaged in shady ring transactions.”

This, it seems to me, is exactly what happened. McFadden always gave Gans a fight and his shocking capitulation in combination with the controversy connected to the McGovern fight led to a response in fight fans that will not be unfamiliar to modern followers of the game. The simple truth was that the champion had improved since 1899, had gone from a fighter losing in a disorganised headclash in twelve to Frank Erne, to one who had destroyed the reigning champion in just seconds.  McFadden was being crushed as a part of the same ghost-wave that had drowned Erne.

“Gans,” stated the Call, “with his marvellous ability as a boxer, was all over McFadden from the first moment.”

“It seemed the fight would not last one round when Gans sent a right and left to the head, followed by another right that seemed capable of felling an ox,” the report continued. “He kept this rapid fire up for nearly a minute and it was a miracle McFadden did not succumb to it. At times it seemed Gans did not take advantage of all his chances.”

The Call was on hand, and we, unfortunately, were not, to see what reads like a seminal performance from one of the ten greatest fighters ever to draw breath. Therefore, we must take seriously the diagnosis of a failure in Gans to take advantage of all his opportunities. Nevertheless, it must be remembered what McFadden was, however one-sided the fight: a defensive specialist with years of experience, including nearly one-hundred rounds against Gans himself.

The Chronicle was near despairing in describing round two:

“Gans hit his man at will and without return. Twice the white man hit the floor. Neither time did he take the count. In fact, he seemed as though in a trance, and, when he arose, made no effort to protect himself.”

To a modern eye it wills seem clear that McFadden had been concussed by the vicious attack in the first. Even after the fight, McFadden remained alarmingly non-responsive.

“McFadden could hardly speak,” ran one report of his condition in his dressing room. “He had to be shaken roughly to get a word out of him.”

It may not be an exaggeration to say that his life was in danger as prime Joe Gans, as terrifying a pound-for-pound incarnation as had been seen in the ring, stalked him throughout the third, showing little in the way of mercy.

“Gans punished McFadden terribly,” wrote the Call of the third and final round. “He knocked him clean off his feet with a right to the jaw. McFadden was no sooner up than he was knocked down again. He was up again and staggered to the center of the ring. He tried to hang on, but the elusive Gans seemed never where he expected to find him. McFadden was knocked down twice before the end of the round.”

As the final seconds of the third round approached, McFadden second George Tuthill perched himself ringside and prepared to throw the sponge. As McFadden was battered around the ring. he tossed it, signalling the end of the massacre and of McFadden’s time as a contender to the title. In his future, still, there were impressive performances against the likes of Mike Sullivan and Patsy Sweeney, but never again would he reach the heights he displayed in achieving the result of KO23 Joe Gans.

Some years later, after his forty-two-round battle with Battling Nelson in Goldfield, someone asked Joe Gans if this had been his toughest fight. “No sir,” he replied. “Bat is tough, but I met a tougher fellow than him. That fellow was George McFadden.”

As an epitaph, it is far from displeasing.

The noise surrounding the purported fix was such that what Gans had achieved was obscured. Six weeks apart, he had smashed Frank Erne, champion, out of title honours in a round and then destroyed a chief contender and his chief rival from his pre-title days in three. Neither man had lain a meaningful glove upon him. My position is that Joe Gans boxed the greatest championship reign in all of boxing built primarily of dominance and over exceptional opposition, opposition better than that of other, numerically comparable reigns.

I will prove that to you over the coming weeks.

This series was written with the support of boxing historian Sergei Yurchenko.  His work can be found here.

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The Hauser Report: The Women Take Center Stage at Madison Square Garden

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The Hauser Report: The Women Take Center Stage at Madison Square Garden

When DAZN launched in the United States in 2018, it promised subscribers “HBO-quality fights” on a monthly basis for one low monthly fee. Now its most notable offerings in America are on pay-per-view and its boxing program (as announced on January 10) includes a partnership with Misfits Boxing that will see KSI “fight exclusively on DAZN for the next five years” and a rumored series of boxing matches to be promoted by Jake Paul.

Looking at the larger picture, according to a January 11, 2023, report by Bloomberg, DAZN lost $2.33 BILLION in 2021 (a 79% increase over the previous year). That brought its total losses for the three-year period ending in 2021 to five BILLION dollars.

On February 4, DAZN limped into the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden with a nine-bout card promoted by Matchroom Boxing that featured five women’s bouts. Matchroom CEO Eddie Hearn was attempting to conjure up a sequel to his April 30, 2022, promotion that saw Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano captivate a sold-out main arena.

Words like “massive . . .epic . . . huge” were thrown about in advance of Matchroom’s February 4 promotion. But in truth, there wasn’t much pre-fight buzz. Tickets were selling for as little as $30 and a lot of freebies were given away to fill up the Hulu Theater. Serrano vs. Erika Cruz (the main event) was a good entertaining fight. The rest of the card was a “massive” disappointment with the favored fighter (coming out of the blue corner in each instance) winning nine out of nine bouts, often in lackluster fashion.

Hearn once told British boxing writer Ron Lewis, “If I put on a bad fight, I want people to say it’s a bad fight.”

For the most part, these were bad fights.

The men fought 32 rounds and the favorite won 31 of them.

Records can be deceiving. For example, in the opening bout, Aaron Aponte (6-0-1, 2 KOs) whitewashed Joshua David Rivera (8-1, 5 KOs) over eight tedious rounds. How did Rivera get to 8-1? As of last month, his nine opponents had a composite ring record of 22 wins in 254 fights with 150 KOs by.

That was followed by Harley Mederos winning every round en route to a sixth-round stoppage of Julio Madera. Yankiel Rivera Figueroa cruised to an eight-round decision over Fernando Diaz. And Richardson Hitchins won every round on each judge’s scorecard against John Bauza.

That brings us to the women.

One of the selling points for the Matchroom card was that it featured five women’s “championship” bouts. But let’s get real. John Sheppard (who oversees BoxRec.com) reports that, as of this writing, the four major sanctioning bodies have created 1,380 different women’s titles in 15 weight divisions that they offer to promoters (for a sanctioning fee, of course). Since there are 1,909 active women boxers, this translates to 1.4 titles being available for each woman’s fight.

Two of the fights on February 4 (Amanda Serrano vs, Erika Cruz and Alycia Baumgardner vs. Elhem Mekaled) were for “undisputed world championships,” meaning that all four major sanctioning body belts were on the line. “Undisputed” also means that the ring is littered with sanctioning body officials who position themselves on camera behind the ring announcer who, in turn, is obligated to introduce each of them and reference each sanctioning body.

Title unification is significant when the fighters are legitimate champions. Otherwise, it’s simply a marketing ploy that plays into the travesty of making belts more important than fighters. The stars of Ali-Frazier I, II, and III were Ali and Frazier, not the belts they were fighting for.

And let’s not forget; one reason that promoters have started putting women fighters on their cards is that the women get paid a lot less than the men.

The first women’s fight on February 4 saw Shadasia Green (11-0), 10 KOs) take on Elin Cederroos (8-1, 4 KOs) in a scheduled ten-round super-middleweight bout. Cederos is a big strong woman without much of a punch whose career has been built in large measure on the ability to take a punch. Green has a bit of Ann Wolfe in her and punched harder than Cederroos could take. KO 6.

That was followed by back-to-back dreadful fights characterized by 30-to-1 odds favoring two protected fighters. Featherweight Ramla Ali won nine of ten rounds against Avril Mathie in an encounter marked by a conspicuous lack of action and drama with each round evocative of Groundhog Day. Then Skye Nicolson (another featherweight) decisioned Tania Alvarez over ten equally long rounds. Writer Keith Idec put that bout in perspective, describing Alvarez as having an “ineffective strange style” before adding, “She often literally ran toward Nicholson and didn’t set her feet before throwing inaccurate punches.”

Baumgardner-Mekaled was more respectable. Ten rounds for Baumgardner’s WBC, WBO, and IBF 130-pound belts plus the vacant WBA women’s junior-lightweight title. Baumgardner (an 8-to-1 favorite) scored two knockdowns and won nine of ten rounds on the judges’ scorecards. I gave her all ten.

That set the stage for Serrano-Cruz.

Serrano, age 34, has held numerous titles, some of which genuinely matter. Her fight against Katie Taylor was arguably the most important women’s boxing event ever with Taylor winning a split decision that many observers (including this one) thought should have gone the other way. That night, Amanda was remarkably gracious in defeat.

Cruz (the WBA featherweight beltholder) lacks power (3 knockouts in 17 bouts). Serrano-Cruz was for the four major featherweight belts. Amanda was a 7-to-1 favorite.

It was a good action fight.

Cruz won the first two rounds, bulling her way inside and going effectively to the body (which one doesn’t see often enough in women’s boxing). She was acquitting herself well in round three when an accidental clash of heads opened an ugly gash on her forehead. Blood flowed from the wound thereafter despite the best efforts of Erika’s cutmen to stop it.

Serrano fought Cruz’s fight for much of the night, trading punches when she could have done more to evade the blows and set up her own punches by moving and jabbing. There were more than a few firefights.

As the rounds passed, Cruz tired and began to lose form, overreaching with her punches and extending her head beyond her front knee. That left her wide open for counters. By the late stanzas, she was fighting on heart and not much more. In round ten, Erika put everything she had into going for the knockout that she knew she needed to win. But her gas tank was down to fumes and her efforts were to no avail.

Serrano won a well-earned 98-92, 98-92, 97-93 decision. Next up, a rematch against Katie Taylor on May 20 in Ireland.

*         *         *

In round one of Richardson Hitchens vs. John Bauza at Madison Square Garden, referee Charlie Fitch made a mistake. The fighters’ feet got tangled, Bauza went down, and Fitch mistakenly called the incident a knockdown. It had been a close round up until that point. Fitch’s call could have resulted in a three-point swing on one or more of the judges’ scorecards.

Well-run state athletic commissions rely on instant video review to remedy errors of this nature. The New York State Athletic Commission isn’t well-run. Fitch’s call was allowed to stand. It didn’t change the outcome of the fight. But it could have.

Contrast that with what happened on January 14 when Guido Vianello (a previously undefeated heavyweight being groomed by Top Rank) fought journeyman Jonathan Rice at Turning Stone Resort and Casino (a facility on Native American land in Verona, New York). Vianello was comfortably ahead on the judges’ scorecards when a sharp right hand from Rice opened a horrific gash above Guido’s left eye in round six. In round seven, the fight was stopped because of the cut.

Referee Benjy Esteves (the third man in the ring for Vianello-Rice) blew the call. It’s understandable that Fitch might not have seen two fighters get their feet tangled. Esteves, by contrast, did something that no referee should do. He ruled that Vianello’s cut had been caused by an accidental head butt that Esteves couldn’t possibly have seen because it never happened. He then told the judges to score the partially-fought seventh round after which, in his view, the winner would be determined by the scorecards. That would have led to Vianello being declared the victor.

Fortunately, the Oneida Indian Nation Athletic Commission (which oversees boxing at Turning Stone) utilizes instant video review. ESPN put the punch on a monitor at ringside for commission officials to review and the result was a TKO in Rice’s favor.

There have been complaints in the past that the 68-year-old Esteves lets fights go on too long. The most notable examples of this are his handling (or mishandling) of Magomed Abdusalamov vs. Mike Perez and Arturo Gatti vs. Joey Gamache. His ruling in Vianello-Rice raises a different issue. A referee shouldn’t call a head-butt unless he sees one. Moreover, Rice delivered the punch in question from long range, so there was no question about the cause of the cut.

Instant video review is a valuable tool. More commissions should use it.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – In the Inner Sanctum: Behind the Scenes at Big Fights – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Amanda Serrano Wins Another World Title; Serrano-Taylor II confirmed for Dublin

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It was another bloody Puerto Rico versus Mexico war and Amanda “the Real Deal” Serrano powered her way to victory over the gutsy Erika “Dinamita” Cruz to win the undisputed featherweight world championship on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“Now I’m one of the undisputed world champions, but I’m the only seven-division world champion,” said Serrano.

Now it’s on to Ireland.

Serrano (44-2-1, 30 KOs) became the seventh female fighter to become an undisputed champion in defeating Mexico’s Cruz (15-2, 3 KOs) and now has a date set to meet Katie Taylor in Dublin on the 20th of May.

But it was not easy in this lefty versus lefty battle.

On a night with five female 10-round bouts, Serrano’s battle with Cruz proved to be the highlight of the night. The men also fought too.

In the main event with a history of multiple Mexico-Puerto Rico wars setting high expectations, Cruz and Serrano battled toe-to-toe with neither willing to give ground or change pace.

Each round was difficult to score because of the two-minute limit. It was not long enough for separation.

Both fired combinations and both refused to slow down until a clash of heads saw Cruz emerge with a cut on her braided parted hair. Serrano winced but no cut was caused. Soon, before round three ended, blood dripped readily over the Mexican fighter’s face.

It was a bad omen.

After the referee and ringside physician looked at the cut the fight was allowed to continue. Both fighters incredibly increased their punch output and the war resumed. Blood be damned, a fight is a fight.

“I’m just glad they let the fight go past the fourth,” said Serrano because anything less than four rounds and the fight would not have been long enough to rate a technical decision. Surprisingly the fight lasted 10 rounds.

Cruz refused to be out-punched by the heavier blows from Serrano and seemed to be able to match the Boricua’s blows until the sixth round when a right hook and left staggered the Mexican briefly. Serrano recognized the look of near paralysis on Cruz and stepped on the gas. Cruz held briefly and managed to rally slightly to keep from being overrun. But it was close.

After a 20-second delay due to excessive water in Cruz’s corner, the fight resumed and the war surprisingly continued.

Serrano was told from her trainer Jordan Maldonado to go back to using down-the- middle punches with straight one-two combinations. The change worked well against the wider punching Cruz.

Serrano said she was advised to “go back to basics 1-2, 1-2.”

Still Cruz refused to be over-powered and maintained her output with six- and seven- punch combinations. Her corner advised to go to three-punch combinations when Serrano began using that tactic late in the fight.

Though still willing to fight, Cruz was visibly tiring while Serrano’s blows still maintained power.

Despite blood on her face for seven rounds Cruz never slowed and seemed angry with her corner. She began shrugging off the cut man’s attempts to wipe her face and the trainer’s advice. She simply seemed to want to rest her mind to prepare for battle again against one of the most feared punchers in the world.

The last three rounds saw both Serrano and Cruz attack the body and head with the Puerto Rican brunette using jabs and one-twos to gain separation. Her punches remained strong and straight.

After 10 rounds two judges scored the fight 98-92 and a third 97-93 all for Serrano the new undisputed featherweight world champion. The sound of that announcement seemed to bring tears of emotion for the Brooklyn-based Serrano.

“I’m just emotional. I finally got the undisputed title for my island,” said Serrano. “Erika is Mexican. I knew she was not just going to let me take her title belt.

Now the rematch was formally set to meet Katie Taylor in her native Ireland. It will be the undisputed lightweight champion’s first professional match in her country.

Alycia Baumgardner Undisputed Too

Alycia “the Bomb” Baumgardner powered her way to victory over France’s Elhem Mekhaled to win the undisputed super featherweight world championship. She nearly ended the fight early in the third round but settled for a one-sided unanimous decision after 10 rounds.

Baumgardner entered the prize ring known as a dangerous right-hand hitter, but it was the left hook that stunned Mekhaled and a right dropped her in the third round. The French fighter survived but was delivered to the canvas again with a volley of blows by heavy-handed Baumgardner.

Somehow Mekhaled survived though hurt several more times during the 10-round fight. She even managed to win a couple of rounds when Baumgardner tired from the attempt to gain a knockout. But the American fighter still kept a firm control of the match to decisively maintain a big lead and win by decision 99-89 twice and 98-90 on a third card.

“I had to fight when I had to fight,” said Baumgardner. “Plus, I had my period today.”

Baumgardner was gracious about the battle Mekhaled gave, refusing to quit.

“Mekaled has plenty of heart,” Baumgardner said. “I was throwing bombs in there and using my jab.”

It was Baumgardner’s third defense of her titles and she acknowledged that a possible rematch with Mikaela Mayer, who was in the audience, is a strong possibility.

“We want big fights, mega fights,” Baumgardner said.

Other Fights

Richardson Hitchins (16-0, 7 KOs) won a rivalry fight over John Bauza (17-1, 7 KOs) to win a regional title and remain undefeated and gain position for a super lightweight world title bid.

Puerto Rico’s Yankiel Rivera (3-0) beat Riverside, California’s Fernando Diaz (11-3-1) in an eight round flyweight match.

Harley Mederos (5-0) battered Mexico’s Julio Madera (4-3) to win by decision after a six round lightweight match.

Featherweight clash

In an ugly fight driven by constant holding, Australia’s Skye Nicolson (6-0) won by unanimous decision against Spain’s Tanya Alvarez (7-1) to win a regional title.

Nicolson walked in the ring with all the advantages but resorted to grab-and-hold tactics to slow down the bull-rushing Alvarez who walked in with little regard for defense. The Aussie fighter was the sharper puncher but could not hurt Alvarez who bore in looking to connect with body and head shots.

Unable to hurt Alvarez, soon Nicolson began holding excessively from the third round on and that slowed down the fight and eventually allowed Alvarez to score to the body. Though Nicolson was scoring more than her foe, the gap got closer and closer each round.

From the sixth round on Alvarez began to connect more and more as Nicolson spent most of every round holding instead of punching. Though Alvarez was unable to land many big shots to the head, her attacks to the body were mounting.

Perhaps because of her grabbing tactics, Nicolson seemed to tire in the last three rounds and that allowed Alvarez to take more advantage. Each round Alvarez began scoring more and more as the fight proceeded. Though Nicolson landed some blows in between holding, the strong Spanish fighter was landing more blows, mostly to the body.

Nicolson was lucky to not be deducted a point for holding. She was warned but never penalized by referee Sparkle Lee. After 10 rounds Nicolson was deemed the winner by decision 100-90, 98-92, 97-97.

Is she ready for a world title fight?

Definitely not yet.

Super Bantamweights

The battle between super bantamweight models saw Ramla Ali (8-0) use accuracy to take away Avril Mathie’s undefeated record (8-1-1) and win by unanimous decision after 10 rounds.

Ali was deadly accurate from the first round on as she beat Mathie to the punch during the exchanges and was able to connect first and last. Still, Mathie was game.

The two tall super bantamweight fighters willingly exchanged with neither fighter looking to run and both taking shots when they landed. The first half of the fight belonged to Ali but Mathie seemed determined and was not slowing down.

Mathie never faltered in the punch output department but was lacking in accuracy. Though Ali used head movement and angles to avoid many of the incoming shots, Mathie just seemed inaccurate compared to Ali. But her heart was big and that kept her in the fight.

The last three rounds saw Mathie take advantage of Ali slowing down and began scoring more to make the rounds seem more difficult to score. No longer was Ali winning the rounds decisively and Mathie was not slowing down.

After 10 rounds the judges scored in favor of Ali and her accuracy by scores of 99-91.

Super Middleweights

Super middleweight contender Shadasia Green (12-0, 12 KOs) allowed former champion Elin Cederroos (8-2) to take the early rounds until she lowered the boom with powerhouse rights to win by technical knockout.

Green wins the elimination bout to be next in line for undisputed champion Franchon Crews-Dezurn who defeated Cederroos last year to become champion.

Cederroos looked good for a few rounds as she out-punched Green early in the fight. But early on it was obvious that the American fighter was looking to land counter rights and did occasionally in the third and fourth round.

Then, in the third round, Green connected with a counter right that floored Cederroos and the momentum changed dramatically. From that moment on, though Cederrroos tried to respond, Green took control and looked intent on scoring a stoppage.

Green walked in confidently in the sixth round looking to land the right. The former college basketball player opened up with sixth consecutive rights that stunned Cederroos and added a left and right that forced the referee to halt the fight at 1:08 in the sixth round. Green won the elimination fight by technical knockout.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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The Inevitable Triple Crown of Emanuel Navarrete: Demystifying Alphabet Titles

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The-Inevitable-Triple-Crown-of-Emanuel Navarrete-Demystifying-Alphabet-Titles

The Inevitable Triple Crown of Emanuel Navarrete: Demystifying Alphabet Titles

The thing which most needs to be understood concerning alphabet sanctioning bodies and the fighters who wear their belts is that the relationship is primarily one of customer and supplier.  Fighters pay to wear the alphabet belts that so profligate in the sport of boxing and they are in receipt of a service.  The service is twofold. Firstly, they are supplied with hardware. Belts for the “WBO Asia Pacific” middleweight title holder. Belts for the “World Boxing Council Silver flyweight title holder. Belts for the “World Boxing Association International” cruiserweight title holder. Belts for everyone.

Depending upon who you feel like recognising there can be around a thousand title belts floating around the world of boxing at any given time and the great percentage of these are not “world titles” but regional titles, pre-title titles (you read that right) and completely made-up titles for special occasions. Whenever you see a title, someone is paying a portion of their fight fee to the relevant sanctioning body. This is why fringe companies like the WBF and IBO spring into existence – where there is a belt there is cash.

This brings us to the second function served by the thousand belts sucking money out of boxing: they do make financial sense for the fighters and are directly profitable in the case of “world” titles.  Take the case of Padraig McCrory (16-0) out of Belfast.  He is a fine 175lb prospect with good power he has not yet quite harnessed into a fulsome skillset fighting just below national title level often on Michael Conlan undercards.  He’s also the light-heavyweight champion of the world according to the IBO, who crowned him for defeating Lean Bunn, a German who had never contested a fight longer than eight rounds before. He folded to McCrory in six.

Now McCrory can put “world light-heavyweight champion” on his fight-posters. For those that consider the IBO a body of minor reputation, that is fair, but boxing should not kid itself that IBO means more to most members of the paying public than WBA does – and nor should it, in this writer’s opinion. They are all in the same business and if it seems the fighter makes the title, keep in mind that Oleksandr Usyk wears an IBO heavyweight crown and Gennady Golovkin an IBO middleweight strap.

I was interested to see then that Emanuel Navarrete was set to step up to his third weight class and box for a “title” in the shape of the WBO 130lb world championship. The reigning 126lb WBO title holder, Navarrete is a fine example of a modern-day boxing customer to the bodies who are meant to police them. He has been paying the WBO for years.

I have to say here that there is no implication that Navarrete has done anything illegal nor even anything morally wrong within the culture of the industry he inhabits. Everyone pays sanctioning fees. Anthony Joshua, who is boxing’s second biggest earner since Floyd Mayweather’s retirement, is rumoured to have sunk well over a million dollars into sanctioning fees. Generally, champions and challengers will pay 2-3% of their fight purse to a roof of around $250,000 depending upon which ABC they are working with; some alphabets charge a registration fee to promoters, also. This means that for the likes of Joshua, Canelo Alvarez, and Floyd Mayweather the sanctioning fees can become quite prohibitive. Mayweather himself dropped belts to avoid paying these monies. The wonderful Erik Morales at one point completely ceased co-operating with his suppliers.

But generally, fighters do as Navarrete does and they pay for the gold. The proliferation of minor regional titles I describe in paragraph one was something that Navarrete neatly sidestepped. That is because he was very much the opponent for his 2018 fight with Isaac Dogboe, who had paid for regional title belts since 2015 at one point somehow being named both the WBO “African Featherweight” champion and the WBO “Oriental Featherweight” champion. Dogboe is British but was born in Ghana. Paying for these titles got him onto the WBO on-ramp, establishing him as a customer of this organisation and allowing relationships to be built between the WBO and Dogboe’s promotional organisation – again, if this sounds like a form of corruption, it should be noted that this is normal, no accusations of legal wrongdoing are being made.

When Dogboe surprisingly dropped his 122lb title to Navarrete, the WBO had a new customer – and a good one. Navarrete boxes in America and on American television, which is still the best way to enhance a purse without a pay-per-view audience. His most recent paydays are estimated at around a million dollars. This meant that when Navarrete decided that he could no longer make 122lbs, the WBO had a problem, namely that it was losing money on Navarrete’s purses as he no longer held a WBO strap. Navarrete also had a problem – he couldn’t leverage television or the paying public with a “world championship.” So, after boxing a fighter named Uriel Lopez Juarez who had lost his last three fights, Navarrete was deemed for a title shot at 126lbs, against another WBO customer, Ruben Villa, who had been paying to wield a regional WBO strap for the past year.

Villa was in no way qualified to face Navarrete. There is absolutely no question of the WBO fixing fights, but there they mandated a contest that would have genuinely shocked had it produced a Navarrete loss. This type of match-making is as old as the sport, where lesser fighters are sacrificed at the alters of the sport’s cash cows to fatten their records and progress their careers: but it is not, until recently, that this became normal for sanctioned “world title” fights.

Villa had never boxed over twelve rounds before in his career. Although he was clearly able to defend himself, Villa was dumped twice by Navarrete who won a clear points decision win. What we saw this Friday night in Glendale was a repeat of this exercise as Navarrete, once more struggling with the weight limit in his new division, departed for pastures new and 130lbs. The soft opponent this time would be Liam Wilson, an Australian, like Villa before him a loyal WBO customer having wielded both their “WBO Asia Pacific” 130lb title and their “WBO International” 130lb title in his short career (now 11-2). This is the first piece of the alphabet puzzle when trying to decipher who the most valued customers of an alphabet organisation are: is the championship match against a soft opponent who is expected to lose?

Look closer though, and you can sometimes see more.

Liam Wilson was astonished at the weigh-in when he was announced at just over 126lbs, nearly four pounds below the divisional weight-limit.

“Something happened with the scales,” he told Australian media.  “I’m sure they’ve been tampered with. I weighed in 20 minutes prior to the weigh in. I was just under weight. I went on the official scales for the official weigh-in and I was four pounds under, magically. So, in twenty minutes I lost four pounds, two kilos in Australian weight.”

Fighters sometimes sit in saunas forgoing water and sweating the best part of themselves into a tightly wrapped arrangement of plastic to lose this sort of weight. It is an enormous difference for Wilson, a man who has not weighed in close to 126lbs since the Oceanian Youth & Junior Championship – in 2012.

“I think he’s come in overweight and they tampered with the scales to make it seem like he made it.”

This is a significant accusation, and one that has not been proven. From the WBO’s own regulations:

The President of the Organization shall attend or designate a WBO Supervisor to attend every World Championship contest sanctioned by the WBO. The duties of said Supervisor shall be to represent the WBO at the Championship Match and prefight events including the weigh in…if a World Champion fails to make the prescribed weight for his category, the Champion shall lose the title at the scales, and the Championship shall then and there be declared vacant, whether or not the challenger makes weight.

The WBO then, is responsible for making sure the weigh in is conducted fairly to both parties.  Currently, there is no evidence that this was not the case.

Happily, the fight itself was a good one and a competitive affair before Navarrete lifted the vacant strap by technical knockout in the ninth. Navarrete, with limited experience of the 130lb punch was caught with a flush left hook in the fourth which Wilson followed up with good pressure and punching to ditch his man. Navarrete had the experience to spit the gumshield out while receiving a standing eight, clearly in trouble; Wilson did not have the experience to follow up against a hurt Navarrete who had bought himself some extra time.

That is why good customers tend to get inexperienced opponents when fighting for a favoured organisation’s strap. Imagine Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov or Roger Gutierrez chasing a hurt Navarrete across the ring in what, after all, is supposed to be a world-title fight. That is the key. There was nothing wrong with making Navarrete-Wilson; it was a good fight conducted in what were difficult circumstances for the Australian and one he nearly won, but for a world-title to be perpetrated upon the boxing public at the end of it is unreasonable.

It is also inevitable. As soon as the people who are policing the fighters become a service industry for those fighters, the type of easy night we repeatedly see for WBO favourites becomes nothing less than a part of the fabric of the sport. Even so, a fighter becoming a triple-crown champion by defeating not one but two fighters who have never boxed the championship distance seems shocking, even for this sport.

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