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Every Joe Gans Lightweight Title Fight – Part 9: Jimmy Britt

Matt McGrain

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Every Joe Gans Lightweight Title Fight – Part 9: Jimmy Britt

There is no difference between a white man and a colored man when they are in a ring. If a man acts wrongfully his color will not prejudice me in his favor.  – Referee Eddie Graney, Nov. 1, 1904.

On October the sixth, 1904, on the back page of the San Francisco Chronicle, an article appeared regarding the next lightweight world championship title fight to be contested by reigning world champion Joe Gans that to modern eyes seems strange.

“Unless Al Herford balks at the terms demanded by the Britts, there is now every prospect of a fight between Joe Gans and Jimmy Britt within the next thirty days. Last night Manager Willie Britt gave Herford his ultimatum in the matter of terms, and to-night the two will meet in the office of the Yosemite club to make further negotiations.”

It is hard, first, to imagine two superstars of the modern fight game agreeing to fight and then doing so within the month, but more than that, the arrangement seems backwards. It is Jimmy Britt, the challenger, who makes demands of the champion’s manager; it is Gans, not Britt, who is expected to accept these edicts.

Uncomfortably we know that this is because Gans was black and Britt, who had sworn never to cross the colour-line but nevertheless began to name himself “champion”, was white. This also made him the draw.

“[Britt] demands that the purse be split as follows,” continued the Chronicle. “75 percent to Britt if he wins…50 percent if he loses.  The weight stipulated is 133lbs.”

Herford’s statement the following day was short: “The terms proposed by Britt are acceptable. I am ready to sign the articles.”

“He is willing to get the fight on almost any terms,” said one San Francisco newspaper of Herford.  They may as well have been speaking of Gans.

Gans had wanted Britt for his entire reign, but it is notable that he became much more insistent after Britt began calling himself the “white champion.” Herford may have known what that meant for his bottom line, but for all that Gans conducted himself as a gentleman in public, he must have felt the bristle of the true king suffering another champion in his division. Seen properly, Britt at the very least represented the clear number one contender to Joe’s title and so Joe was determined to meet him. That he was on the short end of the money boxing in San Francisco, his challenger’s hometown, and had to make weight ten minutes before the gong seemed small matters by comparison.

“If this pair get into the ring,” as the San Francisco Examiner put it, “one of the greatest ring battles the world has ever seen will surely come to pass…the fistic world is agog…for two years the followers of the game have been waiting for the two men to come together and now their wishes to see the white man and [Gans] in the same ring are to be gratified.”

Thoughts turned now to how the technical matters of the affair might play.

“Britt has a wicked left to the body that has won for him all of his fights. No one has ever been able to block it. Gans is a great fighter on the defensive and the way he handled Walcott’s swings to the body in their fight opened the eyes of Britt as well as those who follow the game closely.”

Yes, Walcott.

Barbados Joe Walcott, “The Barbados Demon” remains one of the greatest fighters ever to have laced on a pair of boots. Whether he was cutting weight to the absolute limit of what was possible for the late 19th century to match the era’s best lightweights, or eating his way to within spitting distance of the middleweight limit to fight the 6’3” 215lb heavyweight Sandy Ferguson, Walcott was a fighter who sought the company of the most difficult challenges boxing could provide. Joe Gans was one of them.

As we saw in Parts Seven and Eight, a certain restlessness at the 135lb limit seemed to plague Gans and it was perhaps no coincidence that his performances at the weight were beginning to suffer. When he was matched in September of 1904 with Walcott, Gans, perhaps, had reason to focus.

It is rare that two of the greatest fighters in divisional history meet and rarer still that two of the very greatest fighters in history meet. Walcott and Gans absolutely qualify and in stepping up to welterweight to match the great man, Gans was responsible for staging a legitimate superfight.  For all that Walcott was no longer the machine of 1902 he was a terrifying opponent for a smaller man, especially one with a fight as big as Gans-Britt on the horizon. Nevertheless, four weeks before the bell for one of the biggest fights in lightweight history, the gong sounded for an even bigger fight.

The fight was a strange mix of thrills and disappointments. Gans was clearly the better man; Walcott hurt his wrist on Joe’s elbow in the third perhaps detaching or tearing a ligament, a debilitating injury for a prize-fighter. Named “spectacular” and including “cleverness of the highest order,” Walcott boring in, Gans tattooing him with punches that had dispatched a slew of lightweights but made little impression upon what remains one of the sport’s great chins.

In the sixteenth, Gans drove home a sizzling right-hand just as the referee stepped in to separate the two and absorbed a serious punch; Gans was mortified and spent much of the minute between rounds apologising to the referee. There were those present who believed the punch may have been the key in deciding the outcome.

“My decision was a just one,” referee and sole judge Jack Welch said of his drawn verdict. “Gans had a shade the better of the fight, but Walcott made up for it by his aggressive tactics…both men were on their feet and fighting hard at the end of the twentieth round…I know many people believe I gave a bad decision, but my conscience does not trouble me, as I am sure I acted properly. Gans may have shown greater cleverness than Walcott but his lead was not sufficient to earn him the decision…Walcott led as much as Gans.”

Gans did not agree.

“I don’t like to criticise the referee’s decision but I think I should have had it…there is now only one man in the world I want to fight and that is Jimmy Britt.”

Ten days later, twenty days before that fight, betting began in earnest at even money. Gans set up training camp at San Rafael, early for him, and on the same day Britt set up at Seal Rock on the west side of San Francisco. As the two entered training in earnest a hint as to the source of Britt’s reluctance to cross the colour-line emerged when comments his father made to a Chicago newspaperman began to emerge in the local press. Britt Senior had reportedly said that he would prefer to see his son dead than “to see him fight Gans or any other colored man.” Such was Britt Senior’s influence that there was some speculation as to whether the fight would go ahead. Upon his return to San Francisco though, he once again expressed his disgust but insisted he would not interfere. “Gans,” noted the Oakland Tribute, “is certainly the equal of any white fighter as a gentleman.”

Now two weeks from bell, the fight was being balanced as the champion’s generalship versus Britt’s left hand to the body and his relative comfort at 133lbs. Less discussed: as well as selecting the fight site, the poundage, that the fight should begin ten minutes after the weights were taken, and the purse split, the challenger had also insisted upon a local referee. This was to be a matter of some import. Eddie Graney, a San Francisco man, was the choice.

“There are no ethics in the prize-fighting business,” was a quote attributed to Britt on an unrelated matter, but certainly these words were fit to describe his conduct in dictating terms. Graney felt differently, as shall be seen.

Gans, meanwhile, seemed relaxed about the weight. He observed the Lord’s Day on the sixteenth and wrote his wife, who “had to have a letter every day.” He also chatted with newspapermen, something of a rarity for Joe.

“I never aim to hurt a man more than I have to,” offered Gans, a shocking admission for one of the most successful fighters in history, among the hardest hitting punchers of his generation, by now one of the best finishers of any. “I feel around for two or three rounds, size up the enemy and when I have the problem figured out I say to myself, ‘I’ll let this last eight or ten rounds to give the public an exhibition and then I’ll get this fellow.’ I have made mistakes. I have miscalculated and some times a fight has gone twenty rounds with the decision a draw when I have had it all figured out that I was the winner.”

Asked if he had the Walcott fight in mind with this last, Gans demurred. “I ain’t specifying.”

Hearing an elite fighter talk so openly and honestly about himself and his strategies and his shortfalls and his terrifying confidence in his abilities is quite something. It was abnormal for this era and it has remained so for the next 117 years.

Britt agreed with him on the point of weight.

“I am satisfied that Gans will be as strong at the weight as he is at any other, only he will not weigh a pond more than I do…I realize that in Gans I am meeting the hardest man of my career. He is a wonderfully stiff puncher and is an artist at the game, but I figure that by carrying the fight to him I can beat him down.”

Those words are prevalent, “I can beat him down.”

Joe Gans, meanwhile, had adopted “the sandman” from the James Jeffries camp to augment his indoor work. Vaguely manlike in appearance this sparring partner filled with sand allowed Gans to shift any stubborn weight while strengthening his stance and grappling skills, and is arguably a key point in his training methods. Britt worked more traditionally, running, walking, swimming in the sea before boxing and working with weights. Special emphasis was placed upon strengthening the wrist. Eleven days out Britt weighed just over 135lbs and claimed he had “never felt stronger.” Gans did twelve miles on the road that same day and ten the next, top end of what was normal for him but on the twentieth, Gans weighed 136lbs, well in sight of the weight. The next day, he weighed in just under 135lbs and took a day off roadwork, a little too near to be happy.

On the twenty-third both men sparred publicly. Britt appeared in glorious shape and his fast workout was called early after a sluicing left cut his opponent’s right eye. Gans, too, impressed, most of all with the news that he was within “a few ounces” of the required poundage. Still pressmen seemed obsessed with the question for it seemed to many the one that would decide the fight: what would Gans have left at 133lbs?

“There is nothing more to be stripped from his frame,” wrote WW Naughton for the Examiner on the twenty-sixth. “When I saw him yesterday after an interval of a few days the change in his appearance was striking. His features sharpened…his face seemed to have narrowed…his body looks as though the low water mark has been reached.”

There was a two-column piece on the front of the Chronicle’s sports pages the following day reporting that Joe Gans had eaten a chicken. Related or not, his weight reached over 136lbs the following day.

Britt stopped boxing on the twenty-seventh with three days remaining before the gong. “No more,” he told reporters, “I don’t need it. I am thoroughly loosened up and haven’t a stiff joint or sore spot about me. My hands are in particularly fine shape and it would be foolish to take risks.”

Superficially, the two camps were relaxed, but on the twenty-ninth with mere hours to go, tempers spilled over at a meeting between the two management teams and the press, the subject, once again, the champion’s weight. Rumours had been swirling that Britt would withdraw if Gans was overweight and Al Herford stoked these fires in a face-to-face meeting with Willie Britt where he claimed that the challenger wanted to “wriggle out” of the fight and would walk away “if Joe were half a pound over.” This was loose talk on the part of Herford, talk that could hurt the gate and was considered then, even more than now, bad form.  The language with which Willie exploded in turn though was something, Gans once again labelled a “coon” by a man named Britt. He then demanded that the forfeit for making weight – already colossal at $2500 – be doubled. Then trebled.

“The sentiment from both sides,” noted The Chronicle, “was significant.”

Battling Nelson arrived in town with money to wager on Britt. “He’s struggling to make weight,” was his opinion, one that seemed to be found on every street corner and in every newspaper. Herford seethed. In nothing less than a decree he informed press that “From now until the time Joe Gans steps on the scales at the ringside Monday night his weight must remain a mystery to all save himself, his trainer and his manager.”

“Britt is the man I’ve always wanted to fight,” said Gans the day before the contest. A claim made by many pugilists on the eve of many fights across the century, it is nothing but the truth when spoken by Joe. This was so often the case. “Now that the chance has come my way I’m not going to kick because I have to work pretty hard to make the weight. I don’t’ want to run Britt down but I can’t see how he figures on winning…I’ll be able to knock him down in ten rounds. It may go longer but that’s the way it’ll end.”

“I never was in better shape in my life,” claimed Britt. “I am stronger and bigger and know more about fighting than I ever did.  I expect to win…I intend to fight no waiting battle. I will rough it with Gans and will try to knock him out early – perhaps about the seventh or eighth round. He will have to do some talk footwork to get out of my way.”

Gans could not get out of Britt’s way, and he placed the blame squarely upon the weight.

“I was too weak to do myself justice,” he said immediately after the fight. “After I went to my corner in the second round I knew it. I would like to fight Britt again but I would not do it at 133lbs ringside.  It is the first time I did it in my life. I will fight Britt at 133 pounds weigh in at 3 o’clock or 135 ringside.”

Nevertheless, Gans remained the champion, though few title fights have been decided amid such total chaos.

Gans boxed his typical first, the first he described to pressmen two Sunday’s prior, watching, learning and measuring while Britt forced the fight. In the second, matters revealed themselves and the two went to war, slugging “like tigers” although already, according to the San Francisco Call, Gans seemed unlike himself. Slugging continued through the third and Britt began to find Gans to the body, shots that seemingly troubled him; in the fourth we have our first major divergence of accounts.

According to the Call, Gans took a knee in the fourth to escape punishment, clearly troubled by bodyshots but not so troubled as to go down involuntary. Britt himself agreed; Gans was falling “without a glove” being laid upon him. Gans, contrarily, stated that he was hit and hurt by bodyshots throughout and especially in the fourth. The Chronicle, meanwhile, states the first fall was a clear slip, but the second, third and fourth were dishonest, an escape of pressure, the Chronicle politely referring to as “generalship.” The Examiner has Gans being hit with a right hand to the heart for the first knockdown, and taking the second, third and fourth as rest.

The third and fourth of these though must be framed through what happened after the second.  Britt blasted Gans with a right hand as he kneeled upon the canvas. Referee Graney at this point was clear, and according to the Examiner reporter, who was in earshot, he told Britt: “If you do that once more, I will disqualify you.” That rejoinder “once more” may lend credence to the Examiner’s report that Britt struck Gans while down not once but twice.

The fourth then, ended in uproar, but things got significantly worse in the fifth.

According to the Call, Britt “sailed into Gans,” throwing caution to the wind and many punches with it. Gans was bowled to the canvas once more. The Call did not like it and makes a point of framing Gans as stalling once more; the Chronicle describes a right hand to the heart as the direct cause of knockdown and the Examiner saw the same punch: “a right-hand blow…caught [Gans] on the left side.”

Britt then attacked Gans once more as he kneeled, striking him at least twice with left then right and possibly three times.  Immediately Referee Graney followed through on his promise from the fourth round and waved the contest off, signalling Gans the winner by disqualification. Immediately, Britt drew back his right and smashed the referee in the face. Britt and Graney fell to the canvas, wrestling. The police stormed the ring and separated the two. Graney tore his tuxedo jacket from his frame as he was lifted and tried once again to attack Britt while gamblers rushed the ring demanding that all bets be cancelled – or honoured, depending upon where they had their money.

It was a weary, weary Gans that watched all this from his corner. There is no way to know for sure but based upon his own testimony of his weakened state and the bloodlust that was upon Britt, it seems that only one winner was possible. Either way, even as he watched Britt wrestle with the referee, Gans must have known that this fight would have consequences and he would be proven right – consequences for his reputation; for his grasp upon the lightweight title; even for his tomb.

Next time we will look in detail at the fallout from the Britt fiasco and at the long cold winter of the Joe Gans title reign, 1905.

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Serhii Bohachuk in Montebello and More News and Notes

David A. Avila

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Serhii Bohachuk leads an impressive lineup put together by 360 Promotions and returns to Southern California ready to resume an assault on the super welterweight division.

Asked how he intends to proceed?

“I don’t talk, talk, talk,” said Bohachuk. “I just show with action.”

Bohachuk (19-1, 19 KOs) meets southpaw Raphael Igbokwe (16-2, 7 KOs) in the main event on Thursday Sept. 16, at Quiet Cannon Events Center in Montebello, Calif. UFC Fight Pass will stream the boxing card that begins at 5:30 p.m. PST.

Early in the year Bohachuk, nicknamed “El Flaco,” was winning a showdown against Brandon Adams staged in Puerto Rico, when he was caught with a sneaky left hook. The fight was eventually stopped and the amiable Ukrainian fighter suffered his first loss.

But he’s back.

He scored a knockout win in July and now seems poised to make a run at the top, starting with Houston’s Igbokwe. For Bohachuk, 26, losing a fight actually could make world champions more inclined to accept a match with him. Who wanted to face a fighter with every win coming via knockout? Bohachuk just needs to continue winning.

Another contender looking to rebound is Ali Akhmedov (16-1, 12 KOs) who lost a bid for the IBO super middleweight world title to Carlos Gongora last December. No shame losing to the world champion from Ecuador.

Kazakhstan’s Akhmedov sits in the same situation as Bohachuk in that a loss actually makes him more alluring for a world champion to accept. Losing a fight did not hurt contenders like Sullivan Barrera or Sergey Kovalev.

Akhmedov, 26, meets Peru’s David Zegarra (34-5, 21 KOs) in an eight-round bout in the semi-main event. It should be interesting.

Rounding out the rest of the heavy duty card will be undefeated Adrian Corona (7-0) fighting undefeated Danny Robles (7-0-1) in a super featherweight six round bout. Also, undefeated female lightweights Elvina White (5-0) and Chelsey Anderson (3-0) clash in a four-round bout.

A special amateur feature pits national champion Chantel Navarro against Daniela Rojas for a special title to open the show that encompasses a total of eight pro bouts. Doors open at 4:30 p.m.

Previously 360 Promotions staged its boxing cards at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood, but they outgrew that venue. The Quiet Cannon venue in Montebello had been used for a couple of decades for boxing quite successfully. Now, 360 Promotions has picked up the gauntlet to provide boxing to that area in one of the best venues in Southern California.

For tickets and information go to: https://hollywoodfightnights.festivalsetup.com/ or to @360 Promotions on Instagram.

Coming Soon

Aside from Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder meeting on Oct. 9, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, several other shows are coming down the pike.

Oct. 15, at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego, Calif. a Top Rank show brings WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete (34-1, 29 KOs) of Mexico defending against Southern California’s Joet Gonzalez (24-1, 14 KOs). Also on the same card, San Diego’s Giovani Santillan meets Angel Ruiz

Las Vegas

Two weeks apart, two of the top Pound for Pound fighters in the world invade Las Vegas for their piece of the boxing pie.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (56-1-2, 38 KOs) shoves in all his multiple world titles against Caleb Plant (21-0, 12 KOs) and his IBF super middleweight belt in an attempt to claim the undisputed super middleweight world championship on Saturday Nov. 6, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Canelo has three of the four belts not including those he took at light heavyweight. It doesn’t seem like a fair trade but the Mexican redhead doesn’t care. Plant is a right-handed version of Billy Joe Saunders and will use the exact same method of attack.

Terence Crawford (37-0, 28 KOs) defends the WBO welterweight title against Shawn Porter (31-3-1, 17 KOs) on Nov. 20, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The Nebraska welterweight finally gets an opportunity to prove he’s at the top of the welterweight rung when he meets Porter. It’s a very good chance to compare how Crawford stands against Errol Spence Jr. who barely defeated Porter a couple of years ago in Los Angeles.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Serhii Bohachuk (19-1) vs Raphael Igbokwe (16-2).

Sat. Fox S1 4 p.m. Jose Valenzuela (9-0) vs Denier Berrio (22-3-1), Rajon Chance (5-0) vs Elon De Jesus (3-0).

Pictured left to right: trainer Manny Robles, Serhii Bohachuk, assistant trainer Ben Lira, Ali Akhmedov, promoter Tom Loeffler. Photo credit: Al Applerose

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40 Years Ago This Week: Sugar Ray Leonard TKOs Thomas Hearns in an Instant Classic

Bernard Fernandez

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Whoever coined the phrase that “you can’t please ’em all” might have been referring to someone like Doug Blackburn, one of the rare dissenters in assessing what he had seen during the classic welterweight unification showdown of Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns on Sept. 16, 1981, in the outdoor stadium at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace.

Writing for the Town Talk in that noted boxing hotbed of Alexandria, La., Blackburn, who saw the fight at a closed-circuit venue, wrote a column in which he offered his opinion that the matchup of two great champions in their prime “like many heavily-hyped, much anticipated meetings, failed to live up to prefight expectations. Despite Sugar Ray’s dramatic rally, neither man can be too satisfied with the way he fought.”

Yeah, well, there are still people here and there who insist that the Earth is flat and the sun revolves around the moon. But for most fight fans fortunate enough to have witnessed Leonard-Hearns I – there would be a too-long-delayed rematch, on June 12, 1989, which ended in a desultory split draw that many thought should have gone Hearns’ way – the classic original, in which Leonard, trailing on all three scorecards, staged a dramatic rally to win on a 14th-round stoppage, is a gold standard for what such megafights are supposed to be, but frequently aren’t.

Think not? In the 40 years since Leonard and Hearns made ring magic, similarly stratospheric hopes were tied to the Sept. 18, 1999, unification bout between undefeated welterweight titlists Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad, which was not exactly a thrillfest when measured against Leonard-Hearns I. The outcome was tinged in controversy, true, but only because De La Hoya, mistakenly thinking he was too far ahead on points to lose on the scorecards, coasted the last three rounds and was stunned when Tito was awarded a majority-decision victory. There would be no rematch.

In a financial sense, the May 2, 2015, pairing of celebrated welterweight champs Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao obliterated all revenue records with an overall take of $600 million, far outdistancing the then-high-water mark of $50 million-plus nearly 34 years earlier for Leonard-Hearns I, when the technology for milking every available dollar from fights of that scope was still comparatively primitive. But Mayweather, an indisputably great fighter whose strengths are pinpoint counterpunching and impenetrable defense, was content to craft another workmanlike performance in handily outpointing “PacMan,” who claimed he was hindered by a shoulder injury. Both fighters greatly enriched themselves, but the fight, which was generally conceded to be four to five years past its optimal date, did little to satisfy most fans’ craving for the kind of two-way action that was promised but not delivered.

Leonard-Hearns I, on the other hand, had more than its share of exclamation-point moments, for each fighter, the most obvious being the finishing flurry in which Leonard, his left eye badly swollen and increasingly aware that the victory he had presumed would be his was becoming less and less likely, seized command in the 14th round with, depending on whose count you choose to believe, 23, 25 or 28 unanswered blows. It was left to referee Davey Pearl to rescue the dazed and defenseless Hearns after an elapsed time of 1 minute, 45 seconds.

At the post-fight press conference, Leonard, his ugly, purplish left eye and puffy cheekbone hidden behind oversized dark glasses, explained why and how he had been able to mine a vein of toughness many had presumed the 1976 Olympic gold medalist lacked.

“I was afraid of the right hand of his until the very end,” Leonard admitted of Hearns’ vaunted power. “He dropped some real bombs on me, and I knew he had another one left.

“I pulled this one out by reaching down into my guts, into my heart. I knew I was behind. I knew I had to keep the pressure up. There wasn’t anything I could do but find out what was inside me.”

Sometimes, the beauty of boxing is most illustrated by the unsightly. Leonard, whose inner iron had been glimpsed most notably in his close, unanimous-decision loss to Roberto Duran on June 20, 1980, in Montreal, demonstrated to any remaining doubters that he was so much more than the possessor of a dazzling smile, matinee-idol looks and a glib way in expressing himself.

John Schulian, the outstanding sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, described Leonard’s come-from-behind surge thusly:

After all those miles and all those smiles, Sugar Ray Leonard wasn’t pretty any more. He was a one-eyed man in an ugly fight that had nothing to do with the glitz and glamor that have been his calling card. There had been a time when he could have avoided this grim marathon, a time in the sixth and seventh rounds when he could have added Thomas Hearns to his list of victims. But the moment had passed and Hearns had escaped, and now Leonard, his handsome face a scowling bruise, was struggling for survival.

And this, from the New York Daily News’ Mike Lupica:

Away from the ring he fools you with the con man’s smile and the smooth patter and the slick attitudes about his own high finance …This is Ray Charles Leonard, child of hype, maker of millions, the 25-year-old man who will soon be the richest fighter in the history of the game. And that is why he fools you when he steps out of Dun and Bradstreet and into a pair of boxing trunks and becomes Sugar Ray Leonard. Boxing will never seem hard enough, dirty enough, bloody enough for Sugar Ray Leonard. Only in special moments will we see the man’s steel, and heart, and extraordinary ability to bang and grapple when a fight is on the line. Only when someone tries to take his title away from him will we realize there is a hoodlum inside the tuxedo.

To the winner go the spoils, or at least that is what usually happens. While Leonard added another layer to his burgeoning reputation as a special fighter, a historically significant fighter, the vanquished Hearns – not known as a fount of nifty sound bites and attention-grabbing quotes – might have gained nearly as much in defeat as had the triumphant Leonard. It had been generally conceded going in that, were the fight to end in the early rounds, it would be Hearns who would have his hand raised. If enough rounds tolled by, perhaps all the way to the conclusion of the scheduled 15, the momentum would necessarily shift to Leonard (30-1 with 21 KOs entering the bout), widely seen as a less devastating puncher than Hearns (32-0, 30 KOs) but also as a more polished stylist and executor of strategical options. That scenario was repeated so often during the run-up to the bout that it almost came to be accepted as incontrovertible fact.

Team Leonard, for the most part, rolled with the notion that Hearns was a human robot whose Plan A was to land that pulverizing overhand right, as early as possible and as often as necessary. His Plan B would be … well, there really wasn’t one, if Leonard and his crafty trainer, Angelo Dundee, were to be believed.

“This is the first time in my career I’ve had visions of a fight,” Leonard said a few days before he would get the opportunity to implement his imagination. “I see thousands and thousands of people. I see Hearns missing and being aggravated and frustrated. I see me raising my hands. I’ve had this dream, this vision, for over two months. It just has to come true.

“I’ve said Hearns fights one way and can’t fight no other way. I heard he might try to box me. I wish he would try. Hearns is a puncher. With that reach of his, well, he’s a freak, really. He comes straight at you. He doesn’t need to think.”

And if the “Motor City Cobra” did find that he might need to think?

“He’ll blow a fuse.”

Added Dundee: “Hearns might be 6-foot-2, (actually 6’1”) but he spreads his legs and that will bring him eyeball-to-eyeball with Leonard. He tries to sucker you by carrying the left real low like Bobby Foster used to do, and then he rears back and nails you with the right. But Leonard isn’t going to fall for any of those traps. It will be interesting to see what happens to Hearns if he sees he can’t take Leonard out in a few rounds. Will he panic and punch himself out like Foreman did against Ali?”

Like Ali, Leonard was a master of mind games meant to mentally discombobulate an opponent if possible. But Hearns’ manager-trainer, Emanuel Steward, had worked with Hearns since he was 12, and he insisted that Leonard’s taunts and posturing would have no effect on his guy.

“Both (Wilfredo) Benitez and Duran took a lot out of Leonard, physically and mentally,” Steward suggested. “I know that after the Benitez fight Leonard was mentally exhausted. Besides, now that he has made all those millions from all those fights, he no longer has that burning ambition. The fire is gone out of him.”

Perhaps the most prescient prefight comment came from Ferdie Pacheco, Muhammad Ali’s longtime personal physician, who insisted that Hearns was hardly the one-trick pony described by Leonard. Pacheco predicted that Hearns’ 78-inch reach, unusually long for a welterweight, would help Hearns control the flow of the fight until the proper moment presented itself for him to deliver a put-away right.

“Leonard will have to pay an awful toll to travel down that 78-inch speedway,” Pacheco said. “Thomas will control him with his long, hard jab, and somewhere along the way Leonard will move into a right hand he won’t see. It will be like a fuse going off in his brain. All the lights will go out.”

Truth be told, Steward’s fight plan did indeed call for heavy usage of Hearns’ jab, the presumed key which would serve to open the door to Leonard’s chin for that concussive right. And even if a terminating detonation of the right never occurred, what exactly would be wrong if Hearns confounded all the prefight conjecture by outboxing Leonard over the long haul? He’d still come away as the unified 147-pound champion, adding Leonard’s WBC and The Ring magazine straps to his own WBA strap. It was the same conservative mindset De La Hoya had in putting as much distance between himself and the dangerous Trinidad in those final three rounds 18 years later, with one difference – De La Hoya’s lead was not as wide as Hearns’. Leonard had won only four of the 13 completed rounds on two judges’ cards at the time Pearl waved the fight off, and five of 13 on the third judge’s tally.

But in the 14th round Hearns – who had overcome shaky rounds in the sixth and seventh to again gain the upper hand — chose to engage Leonard in another in-tight exchange, and got popped with a hard left hook that instantly shifted momentum. Leonard tore into Hearns with a renewed sense of purpose, and it wasn’t long before Pearl stepped in.

“It was kind of silly,” Duke Durden of the Nevada State Athletic Commission said. “All Hearns had to do was either stay away, or grab and hold Leonard – spit in his eye, or anything – the rest of the way, and the fight was his.”

Although he never could hope to match Leonard as a media darling, in losing his first bout as a professional Hearns demonstrated that he had ample charisma of his own, and a willingness to go for broke where it counted, inside the ropes, stamping his future fights moving as must-see events. Now 62, he is as fondly remembered for losing his epic, throw-caution-to-the-wind three-round war with Marvelous Marvin Hagler on April 15, 1985, as for his spectacular, second-round stoppage of Roberto Duran on June 15, 1984.

Given all that they had shared, and the place each holds in the other’s legacy, it should not come as a surprise that Leonard was Hearns’ presenter when his former arch-rival was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in Las Vegas in Aug. 2017.

“We’re friends now,” Leonard said in introducing Hearns. “Tommy had the whole package. He was a freak of nature with his height, with his reach, with his power, with his speed.”

FACTS ABOUT LEONARD-HEARNS I

*Main Events president Dan Duva served as lead promoter, another building block in the march toward big-time status for the New Jersey-based company, which was founded in 1979 as a mom-and-pop operation. Main Events took another major leap forward following the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics when it signed U.S. Olympians Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Mark Breland and Tyrell Biggs.

*Leonard opened as a 2-to-1 favorite, but by fight time enough money had come in on Hearns that he went off as a 13-10 wagering choice.

*At a Leonard workout in Vegas, Muhammad Ali was asked who he liked in the fight. “I pick Leonard ’cause he’s just like me, fast and pretty. He’ll dance circles around Hearns,” Ali replied. Then, at a Hearns workout an hour later, Ali said the Detroit scrapper “is awesome, man. Tommy Hearns is sooo big to be a welterweight. He should knock out Sugar Ray.”

*Celebrity quote of fight week came from Charo: “I think the beeg one – Hearns – will cuchi-cuchi Sugar to sleep.”

*The live attendance at Caesars Palace was 24,083, with 1,100 credentialed media members.

*Hearns’ best quote during fight week: “Everybody talks about how great a boxer Ray Leonard is, especially Ray Leonard.”

*Because of the television lights, the temperature in the ring at the time the main event started was right at 100 degrees.

*According to Emanuel Steward, preliminary negotiations for a rematch began on Sept. 21, five days after the fight. Hearns-Leonard II, however, did not take place until June 12, 1989, nearly eight years later.

Editor’s Note: Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Vol. 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, arrives this fall. The book can be ordered through Amazon.com, in hard or soft cover, and other book-selling websites and outlets.

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The Hauser Report: Oscar Valdez, Phentermine, and the Larger Issue

Thomas Hauser

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The-Hauser-Report-Oscar-Valdez-Phentermine-and-the-Larger-Issue

On September 10, Oscar Valdez successfully defended his WBC super-featherweight title with a twelve-round decision over Robson Conceicao in a bout contested under the auspices of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Tucson, Arizona.

That’s the short version of what happened. The long version is more complicated.

After their fight was signed, Valdez and Conceicao enrolled in the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) drug-testing program. Top Rank, which promotes both fighters, forwarded their paperwork to VADA and contracted to pay for the VADA testing. This was in addition to the fighters’ mandatory participation in the World Boxing Council Clean Boxing Program (CBP).

In late-August, a urine sample taken by VADA from Valdez tested positive for phentermine – a prescription medication used as a stimulant and appetite suppressant. The use of phentermine is classified by VADA as prohibited at all times.

VADA does not adjudicate performance enhancing drug matters. It tests fighters and reports its findings to contractually mandated parties. In this instance, after receiving the test result, VADA notified Top Rank, the World Boxing Council, and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe commission of the adverse finding.

Athletes rarely say, “I was using a PED and you caught me.” Valdez didn’t either. “What I can say,” he told Mark Kriegel of ESPN, “is that I’m a hundred-percent clean fighter. I don’t know how that got into my body.”

Patrick English (the attorney who represents Valdez) voiced the view that herbal tea, innocently ingested, was the most likely source of the phentermine and that various supplements Valdez took during training are being tested for any hint of contamination. He further noted that only a trace amount of phentermine was found in Valdez’s system and that all other blood and urine samples taken from Valdez by VADA tested negative.

Those arguments aren’t persuasive. Victor Conte (the nutrition and conditioning guru whose involvement with PEDs decades ago is a matter of record) states, “There is no connection between any herbal tea and phentermine in terms of molecular structure. No tea has ever been reported as being contaminated with phentermine. Ever in history. If you google ‘herbal tea phentermine,’ a company called their product by this name as a marketing ploy. But there’s not a shred of credible evidence I’m aware of to support the notion that phentermine is present in herbal tea. There has never been a positive test associated with any herbal tea. There is zero connection between herbal tea and phentermine.”

Conte also makes the point that, in today’s world of micro-dosing, drugs quickly leave a fighter’s system. All a negative test result means is that a fighter was clean on a particular day.

But Valdez had an ace in the hole. For purposes of drug testing, athletes are considered either “in competition” or “out of competition.” In competition begins at 11:59 PM on the night before an event.

When fighters enroll in VADA, they’re told that VADA has one prohibited list and that it doesn’t distinguish between in competition and out of competition drug use. Thus, VADA classifies phentermine as a prohibited substance at all times.

But – and this is a big but – while phentermine is banned in competition under the World Anti-Doping Agency code, its use out of competition is not prohibited by WADA.

Adjudication of Valdez’s case was left to the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Athletic Commission (which had jurisdiction over the fight) and the World Boxing Council (whose title belt was at stake). There was one hearing overseen jointly by both organizations. The tribal commission opted to follow the WADA standard and allowed the fight to proceed without punishment of any kind. The WBC’s position was a bit more complicated because the WBC Clean Boxing Program is, in theory, guided by VADA standards and the use of phentermine – even out of competition – is a violation of the CBP.

However, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman found a way around this inconvenience, declaring, “This substance [phentermine] does not give you any competitive advantage. It is the equivalent of having three energy drinks.” Sulaiman also noted that only a trace amount of phentermine was found in Valdez’s system.

The WBC then ruled that it would officially sanction Valdez-Conceicao as a title fight. But at the same time, it placed Valdez on probation for twelve months. In addition, Valdez was ordered to take part in and pay for several unspecified educational programs, undergo an unspecified number of random drug tests, and make a minimum of six personal appearances as a WBC Ambassador to promote and educate others with regard to principles consistent with clean boxing.

The WBC ruling ruffled a lot of feathers. Victor Conte is among its foremost critics.

“I’ve given phentermine to athletes in the past,” Conte says. “I know what it does. It’s a powerful central nervous system stimulant and one of the most effective PEDs a boxer can use. It increases heart rate and enables the heart to pump more oxygen to muscle tissue which delays the onset of fatigue and helps increase speed, strength, and stamina. It also suppresses appetite and burns calories to help with weight loss. And its use can lead to serious heart problems. Athletes in other sports are suspended for using phentermine. A player in the NBA [Lindsey Hunter] was suspended after he tested positive for phentermine. Jockeys in horse racing are suspended if they use phentermine to cut weight.”

Why does WADA allow for the use of phentermine out of competition if it has the performance-enhancing and dangerous qualities that Conte says it does?

“Let’s get real about this,” Conte answers. “First, WADA’s protocols were put in place with an eye toward protecting sponsorship dollars. Too many adverse test results are bad for business. And second, WADA’s protocols aren’t designed for boxers. If a stimulant is on the banned list on fight night and you acknowledge that it enhances performance, why would it be legal in training camp? Does this mean that someone can use all the phentermine they want up until the day of a fight? That would be dangerous and allowing it to happen would be negligent.”

“When Oscar Valdez signed up for VADA testing,” Conte continues, “he agreed to follow VADA’s protocols, which include not using phentermine in or out of competition. The WBC didn’t want to lose its sanctioning fee. The tribal commission didn’t want to lose the money that would come in from Valdez-Conceicao and future fights. It’s as simple as that.”

In 2018, Billy Joe Saunders tested positive for the stimulant Oxilofrine, which (like phentermine) is allowed by WADA “out of competition” but is on VADA’s prohibited list at all times. Saunders claimed that the Oxilofrine came from a nasal spray. The Massachusetts State Athletic Commission denied him a license to box and his planned WBO title defense against Demetrius Andrade was cancelled.

“It is the classic case of rules in one place count for nothing in another,” Boxing News editor Matt Christie writes. “The problem lies with a complete lack of uniformity across the governing and sanctioning bodies. Even more problematic is that the sanctioning bodies appear to pick and choose what rules suit them on a particular day.”

Christie is right. There are too many variables. Is there PED testing for a given fight? Which tests? Which commission has jurisdiction over the fight. Who’s administering the tests? Is a sanctioning body involved? To cite one example of an absurd situation, human growth hormone and EPO are still not on the New York State Athletic Commission’s list of banned substances.

In so far as phentermine is concerned, California State Athletic Commission executive director Andy Foster says, “The California State Athletic Commission views the use of phentermine out of competition in the same way as the World Anti-Doping Agency. Phentermine is not a banned substance out of competition by WADA, so it is not banned by the CSAC either.”

Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett says that Nevada also adheres to the WADA list.

Does this mean that Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Canelo Alvarez and Caleb Plant can use all the phentermine they want prior to their upcoming fights in Las Vegas as long as it isn’t in their system on the day of the fight?

“Not exactly,” Bennett answers. “Phentermine is a prescription drug so, if a fighter uses phentermine, he must declare its use on a pre-fight form and answer questions as to where he got the prescription and why he’s taking it.”

I don’t know what Oscar Valdez did and didn’t do. I do know that most of the moneyed interests in boxing couldn’t care less about protecting the health and safety of fighters except to the extent that they’re protecting their own financial interests. Clean fighters have to stand up and take control on this issue. As part of their effort, they should demand one national standard.

As Andre Ward stated during ESPN’s coverage of Valdez-Conceicao, “We can’t keep moving the goal posts.”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – will be published this autumn 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, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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