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Fast Results from Las Vegas: Yordenis Ugas Upsets Manny Pacquiao

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Yordenis Ugas Upsets Manny Pacquiao

Las Vegas – Manny Pacquiao entered the ring tonight as a 4/1 favorite over Yordenis Ugas at the sports books at the MGM Grand, the host property of tonight’s welterweight title match at T-Mobile Arena. But the legendary Filipino fighter was unable to turn back Father Time once again. Ugas, who was naturally the bigger man but was thought by many people to be damaged goods because of an apparent swollen left biceps, copped a unanimous decision, winning by scores of 115-113 and 116-112 twice. This reporter had it a draw but most in the pro-Pacquiao crowd accepted the decision as fair.

Pacquiao started well, landing rapid-fire combinations and it was he who initiated the action throughout most of the fight. But Ugas repeatedly landed hard shots and the judges were not swayed by the crowd, a near-sellout which suggested that few people cancelled when Pacquiao’s original opponent Errol Spence Jr was forced to withdraw.

The Cuban won for the 11th time in his last 12 starts, elevating his record to 27-4. Pacquaio falls to 62-8 in what may have been his farewell fight, although he was non-committal in the post-fight interview.

Co-Feature

The co-feature was a 10-round welterweight contest between old war horses and former title-holders Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero and Victor Ortiz. On paper, this would be a fan-friendly fight, but to the contrary, it was a messy fight marred by frequent clinches and the crowd periodically booed. The best round was the 10th when both fighters went all-out to win.

When the smoke cleared, the 38-year-old Guerrero won his fourth straight and improved his record 37-6-1 by virtue of a unanimous decision: 96-94 across the board. Ortiz, who returned to the ring after a 42-month absence complicated by legal troubles, fell to 32-7-3.

In a well-matched 12-round featherweight eliminator that ended in a brutal knockout, Manny Pacquiao’s countryman Mark Magsayo knocked out Julio Ceja at the 50-second mark of round 10.

Magsayo dropped Ceja in the first 30 seconds of the fight, but Ceja, from Palmdale, California by way of Mexico, came back and returned the favor in round five. In fact, Ceja was ahead on all three scorecards through the completed rounds when the roof fell in.

The knockout blow was a crunching straight right hand that followed a left that just missed. Magsayo landed another right as Ceja was falling, but that was superfluous as Ceja was out cold before he hit the canvas.

In the pay-per-view lid-lifter, undefeated Phoenix featherweight Carlos Castro (27-0, 12 KOs) exploited his height and reach advantages to put away Colombia’s spunky Oscar Escandon. Referee Celestino Ruiz stopped the contest at the 1:08 mark of the tenth and final round after Escandon took a knee after beating the count, a sign he was disoriented.

Escandon came out like gangbusters and wobbled Castro with a hard left at the bell ending the opening round. But Castro did well when he was able to keep the fight at a distance and gradually assumed control. Castro knocked Escandon down with a chopping right hand in the seventh, but replays showed the Columbian was off-balance and the knockdown was expunged.

Other Bouts of Note

In a spirited 8-round featherweight match, Angel Contreras of Monterrey, Mexico, upset previously unbeaten John Dato of the Philippines, winning a unanimous decision. The judges had it 78-73 and 78-74 twice. Contreras improved to 11-4-2. Dato was 14-0-1 heading in.

Indianapolis lightweight Frank Martin improved to 14-0 (10) with a 10-round unanimous decision over Quincy, Massachusetts veteran Ryan Kielczewski (30-6). Martin won every round on all three scorecards, but Kielczewski retained his distinction of having never been stopped.

Steven Torres, a 23-year-old, six-foot-seven heavyweight from Reading, Pennsylvania, advanced to 5-0 (5) with a first round demolition of roly-poly Maine campaigner Justin Rolfe. Torres is trained by former fringe heavyweight contender Travis Kauffman. This bout went on before the doors to the arena were opened even though there were several people with Steven Torres T-shirts milling outside.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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This Week in Boxing History: Tyson Goes Bonkers, Sowing Mayhem Outside the Ropes

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This week marked the 25th anniversary of one of the most infamous fights in boxing history. On June 28, 1997, Mike Tyson was disqualified at the conclusion of the third round for “chomping” on both of Evander Holyfield’s ears. Iron Mike wasn’t the first boxer to go ballistic during a match and cause a riot, but no boxer ever imploded on such a big stage. Tyson-Holyfield II, contested before a full house at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, drew 1.95 million pay-per-view buys in the U.S. market alone, making it the largest audience in boxing history to that point in time.

The details of what happened inside the ring are well-documented; the aftermath less so. Before the night was over, portions of the MGM Grand were a battle zone. Fist fights erupted like brushfires. Two $100-minimum blackjack tables were overturned. $134,000 in casino chips disappeared and the gaming pit was shut down for two hours as a safety precaution.

It could have been a lot worse. Management had sealed off the escalator that would have taken people on the second level to the closest exit. Those leaving the arena were funneled into the corridor that led into the casino. They were wedged together like New York subway riders at rush hour and had there been anything that would have triggered a stampede, it would have been catastrophic. Later that evening, there was an incident in the casino where a champagne bottle exploded, simulating the sound of a gunshot, and several people were injured in the ensuing chaos.

This reporter was among those logjammed in that corridor. I’m told that there was bedlam back in the arena, but no one said a word as those of us anxious to leave progressed in baby steps toward a place that offered more breathing room.

Back in those days, I usually hung around the press room after a big fight, chewing the fat with those of my colleagues who weren’t busy filing their stories. But one could sense that bad things were going to happen before the night was over — a Tyson fight attracted a different element than, say, a De La Hoya fight — and I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Eleven days after the fight, on Wednesday, July 9, the Nevada State Athletic Commission convened to determine what penalty to impose on Tyson. It was a public hearing in conformance with Nevada’s open meeting law and a meeting that would have normally been held in a boardroom was moved to a large auditorium in City Hall in an attempt to accommodate everyone that wanted to be there.

The press turned out in droves and that’s an understatement. The NSAC issued 175 media credentials. “This is a tougher ticket than the fight ticket,” quipped Athletic Commission Executive Director Marc Ratner. In his recently-published memoir, Ratner recalled that there were so many satellite trucks outside City Hall that it blocked the building.

Mike Tyson wasn’t obligated to be there and to the great dismay of the horde of reporters, he didn’t show up, nor did his charismatic promoter, Don King. Tyson was represented by the well-known mob attorney Oscar Goodman, the city’s future mayor, and Goodman’s law partner Marty Keach who did most of the talking. (Las Vegas was a lot smaller back then; Keach was my son’s Little League coach.)

The Commission slapped Tyson with the maximum fine that it could legally impose, $3 million (10 percent of his purse). That wasn’t merely the largest individual fine in boxing history, but the largest in any sport. (In Nevada, the previous record was the $35,000 fine assessed on Riddick Bowe’s manager Rock Newman for punching a photographer after the first Bowe-Holyfield fight.)

The Commission also suspended Tyson’s license for one year and mandated that he undergo a thorough psychiatric exam. This was performed at Massachusetts General Hospital. Predictably, the examiners concluded that Mike had psychological deficits including impulsivity exacerbated by low self-esteem.

The infamous “bite fight” had deep repercussions. The MGM Grand imposed an informal moratorium on boxing that lasted 566 days. Over at the Las Vegas Hilton, the bantamweight title unification fight between bitter Albuquerque rivals Johnny Tapia and Danny Romero, scheduled for July 18, was kicked out the door on the pretext that co-promoters Bob Arum and Cedric Kushner failed to provide evidence of insurance before the agreed-upon deadline. Arum, who went ballistic in his own way, calling upon fight fans to boycott all Hilton properties, was able to salvage the show by shifting it to the Thomas and Mack Center at UNLV where it played out before a well-mannered crowd.

It speaks reams about how larger-than-life Tyson was in 1997 that news gathering teams from around the world would turn up at a hearing where there was no guarantee that he would even be there. Mike Tyson on his best and on his worst days was front-page news in the print editions (there was no other kind) of the leading U.S. newspapers; not just the tabloids. Perhaps another boxer of his stripe will come along some day, but for now he represents the last of the breed.

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Jason Cunningham and Zolani Tete at the Crossroads This Weekend

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It is probable that one must go all the way back to the mighty Dick Tiger to find a fighter who courted the British public with the determination Zolani Tete has exhibited during the last decade.  Between the final days of 2015 and the final days – the disastrous final days – of 2019, he fought on this country’s soil on six occasions, dashing not the hopes of native sons but rather turning away Filipinos, Mexicans, Argentines and even a fellow South African. Slowly, surely, Tete was earning British trust, pounding out impressively one-sided decisions over the once dominant Omar Narvaez and Arthur Villanueva, dusting others with impressive punching power and a pleasing, aggressive style.

When Tete met John Riel Casimero in Birmingham, it was a fight he was favoured to win, despite their being ranked neck-and-neck by the TBRB. Tete, who had been scheduled to face Nonito Donaire for the right to meet Naoya Inoue earlier in 2019, had been forced to withdraw from that match with a shoulder injury. Donaire went on to lose to Inoue in the TSS Fight of the Year and Boxing News was far from alone in looking ahead to Tete’s seemingly inevitable showdown with Inoue in a preview of the Casimero fight. Tete was “granite tough” and Inoue’s “closest 118lb rival…he might also turn out to be his worst nightmare.”

BN was far from alone in taking the bait, but it’s certainly possible to see strains of the defence of a British pugilist in the legendary London publication’s enthusiasm.

Casimero, with what seems retrospectively to be a certain inevitability, stepped in to wreck both these plans and Tete himself. The Filipino, who had been active while Tete recovered from injury, fought low-handed and in small, clever increments, popping Tete out in three with short sharp shots in what looked an awful lot like an exposure. Tete’s technical acumen seemed brittle and tired in the face of Casimero’s quickness.  Silence followed.

While Tete was recovering from an injured shoulder, Yorkshireman Jason Cunningham was in a rehabilitation of his own, overcoming the most hurtful sporting injury of them all: a series of hidings in the boxing ring. He picked up the commonwealth featherweight title in 2017 by way of split decision over Ben Jones in a close fight in which Jones was the aggressor. Cunningham lost the title by way of a brutal stoppage sixth months later to Reece Bellotti in a fight where he was clearly the quality operator but was mowed down by a bigger man throwing bigger punches. He betrayed a certain fragility in finding himself on the canvas in five before the fight was waved off in the sixth.  When he lost a British featherweight elimination match to Jordan Gill in 2018 and then dropped a harrowing decision to Michael Conlan that December, Cunningham teetered on the most desperate of ledges and in the eyes of some had already slipped. Still in his twenties and with a paper record of 24-6 he was now little more than a journeyman.

So, while Tete nursed apparent tendonitis, Cunningham nursed a broken career, turning out at the Doncaster Dome for a series of short fights at a series of random weights coming in just over bantamweight one minute, over the lightweight limit the next. Then he got a call from Gamal Yafai’s people.

Gamal, younger brother of former world champion Kal, was on his own comeback trail after losing out to the excellent Gavin McDonnell. For Cunningham it looked like something of a last chance at the big time and the odds were not in his favour.

“This has been probably the quickest camp I’ve had,” he told Boxing Social. “I’ve had three weeks’ notice…but this time I’ve had to renew my medicals, sort out kit and everything else, so I’ve been flat out for this.”

He was flat out in the ring, too, using his southpaw range and footwork to out-punch and out-work the younger Gamal for a clear twelve-round decision. It was the best fight he had been involved in, one of the best domestic matches of 2021 and it was, in his own words, his best performance. He had dropped the favourite three times on the way to restoring twelve-round status and much more importantly, respect. It brought with it the EBU European Super Bantam Title and a fight with Brad Foster where the British, Commonwealth and European titles would all be at stake.

Once more, Cunningham defeated a favoured house fighter in a raucous, dirty fight I saw 114-113 to Cunningham, victorious by the single point referee Foster had deducted for a range of fouls from heeling to low blows to headbutts. Better was to follow – in April of 2022, Cunningham defeated Frenchman Terry Le Couviour via sixth round stoppage on body shots. Cunningham has always had a nice line in body attack, often opening up the midriff with feints off the jab, but in these two fights it matured to a weapon of real substance. These punches had dragged Cunningham from the bottom of the pile to the top of the domestic heap.

And then the ostensibly world-class Tete hovered into view.

While Cunningham had been motoring, Tete had found himself in the doldrums. COVID-19 controls in South Africa made travelling nearly impossible and there were even rumours of a car crash.  Finally, just before Christmas 2021, in a tiny ring in the Booysens Boxing Club in Johannesburg, Tete returned against 14-4-1 Tanzanian Iddi Kayumba. Tete blew him out in fifty-five seconds.

What all this means is that Tete has boxed just under a minute in the best part of three years.   When he steps back into a British ring this weekend on the undercard of the Joe Joyce-Christian Hammer match in the Wembley Arena, he will be fighting a tough, primed fighter who has boxed the thirty toughest and the thirty best rounds of his career in the past fourteen months, while Tete cooled his heels and blasted out a sparring partner. That this fight is being ignored in favour of a stay-busy contest being fought by a heavyweight contender is strange and Sweet Science readers should not count themselves among the number: Tete-Cunningham is the real main event in London on Saturday.

What will occur?

Tete, at thirty-four, two years older than Cunningham, is no longer ancient for the weight – but he is old to be stepping out of the garage. Cunningham, who is running on high quality experience now, is as good a manifestation of himself as is likely ever to be seen and Tete, it must be presumed, will be at or around his worst. Tete is still likely to hit as hard as anyone Cunningham has boxed, featherweights included, but does he still have the technical apparatus and speed to get those punches to where they need to be?

It is impossible to know, but therein lies the rub. Essentially this fight stacks a very good domestic fighter who is big at the weight against the remains of a world-class one. The question in these circumstances is always the same: how much does the world-class fighter have left? If it’s a lot, he will win (see Vitali Klitschko versus Samuel Peter); if it’s a little, he will lose (see Ricky Hatton versus Vyacheslav Senchenko). Then, of course, there is a sweet spot somewhere in between where the fight hangs in the balance. More, because the traditional strengths of Tete – power and technical competence on attack – line up so dramatically with Cunningham’s – grit, toughs, quick-footed, awkward persistence – we could be in line for a dual sweet spot.

But whether we see a sweet spot war, or Cunningham grinding out a decision, or even if Tete just marches in and bangs Cunningham out like he did Kayumba or Siboniso Gonya or the dozen others he’s dispatched in the first round, we will have seen something special.

Like so much of Jason Cunningham’s career this fight is dipping under the radar. Do not miss it.

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Bernard Fernandez, B-Hop’s ‘Boswell’, Was Showered With Accolades in June

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It’s been a month of accolades for longtime boxing scribe Bernard Fernandez, a regular contributor to these pages. On Sunday, June 12, he was formally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Last week he learned that he was the recipient of yet another Bernie Award for outstanding writing. Open to members of the Boxing Writers Association of America, the Bernie Award is an annual competition with the winners determined by a panel of judges.

Bernard Fernandez has been a familiar face at IBHOF induction ceremonies. He has covered sixteen of these events. But he was not there for his own induction. His beloved Annie, his wife of nearly 54 years, had taken sick and was too ill to travel. He chose to remain by her side.

The pandemic stole Fernandez’s moment in the sun. He was actually named to the Hall with the class of 2020 but the four-day festival that conjoins the induction ceremony was cancelled that year and again in 2021. Three induction classes were bundled into this year’s event.

Fernandez wasn’t on the stage with the other inductees, but when he was summoned in absentia to the podium it was one of the highlights of the afternoon. Standing in for him were his Philadelphia homeys Bernard Hopkins and BWAA president Joe Santoliquito. They called him at his home in Pennsylvania so that he could hear the roar of the crowd when his name was called. Hopkins was in something of a familiar role. He had presented the symbolic championship belt to Fernandez when Fernandez was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of fame in 2013.

The two Bernards — Fernandez and fellow 2020 inductee Hopkins – are boxing’s version of James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, the former a famous 18th-century British diarist who chronicled his friend Johnson’s life in a landmark biography. Hopkins had a career that spanned four decades. Fernandez was there for B-Hop’s first fight and for his last fight and for almost all of his fights in-between. In the course of their respective journeys, they became fast friends.

Hopkins made his pro debut on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 1988, losing a four-round decision to fellow novice Clinton Mitchell at Resorts International in Atlantic City. The main event was a 10-rounder between 41-year-old Saoul Mamby and 23-year-old John Wesley Meekins. In his ringside report, Fernandez used the phrase “ancient marvel.” Needless to say, he was referencing Mamby, not Hopkins who would become more of a marvel.

Fernandez could have watched the Mamby-Meekins fight at home on the fledgling ESPN network, but he was there in the building when Hopkins made his inauspicious debut. He was also in the building when Hopkins scored the most spectacular knockout of his glorious career, flattening poor Richard Quiles with a picture-perfect left hook 30 seconds into their scheduled six-rounder at a Philadelphia National Guard armory. Perhaps 500 people were in attendance.

That bout was in 1991. Twenty-five years later, Fernandez covered B-Hop’s farewell fight in Los Angeles for this publication.

Bernie Awards

The Bernie Awards recognize exceptional writing in six categories:  Event Coverage, Column, News Story, Feature Story Over 1,500 Words, Feature Story Under 1,500 Words, and Investigative Reporting. Fernandez achieved a first-place finish for a RingTV story titled “Don King at 90: A Legend Nears the Finish Line.”

Thomas Hauser, a perennial Bernie Award honoree, explored the same subject matter in a story for this publication that ran on Jan. 30. Titled “Don King – 2 Samuel 1:19, 1:25, 1:27 ‘How are the Mighty Fallen,’” it was accorded an “Honorable Mention” in the Event Coverage category. Another TSS story by Hauser, “The Script for Lamar Odom vs. Aaron Carter,” finished third in the category of Investigative Reporting.

The complete list of Bernie Award winners for stories published in 2021 can be found at the BWAA web site: https://www.bwaa.org/single-post/the-bwaa-is-proud-to-announce-its-2021-bernie-award-winners

We here at The Sweet Science congratulate all of the prize winners. The recipients will be formally recognized by their peers at the 94th renewal of the Boxing Writers annual dinner tentatively set for mid-September at Las Vegas in conjunction with the third fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin.

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