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

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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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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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