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The Year 1988 Was a Fateful Year in the Lives of Mike Tyson and Steve Lott

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PART TWO OF A TWO-PART STORY — The year 1988 was a fateful year in the life of Mike Tyson. On Feb. 7, Mike married Robin Givens. On March 23, two days after he knocked out Tony Tubbs in Tokyo, his co-manager Jim Jacobs died. Mike greatly admired Jacobs and the two were very close friends. On June 27, Tyson blew away Michael Spinks in 91 seconds before a star-studded crowd of 21,785 at the Atlantic City Convention Center, aka Boardwalk Hall. The event was a blockbuster, shattering all existing records for fight revenue.

Mike and Robin Givens were a strange match. Mike was a high school dropout who was 11 years old when he was first remanded to a reformatory. Robin, 17 months older than Mike, had attended an exclusive private high school in the ‘burbs, graduating at age 15, had majored in drama at Sarah Lawrence College, and was a cast member of “Head of the Class,” a TV sitcom set in the classroom of a high school for the academically gifted. When Mike married Robin, he inherited her 44-year-old mother Ruth Roper, a twice-married and twice-divorced businesswoman who made the papers herself in 1988 when she sued the married baseball star David Winfield for giving her an unspecified venereal disease. (The suit was settled out of court.)

The femme fatale is a stock character in literature. There’s an old saying that an alluring woman (I’m paraphrasing) can sink a battleship. Robin Givens came to be seen as the quintessential femme fatale. Iron Mike Tyson was the battleship.

Steve Lott subscribes whole-heartedly to this portrait of Ms. Givens. “She conned Mike into marrying her by saying she was pregnant,” says Lott, a remonstration made by many others. As to her insistence that she wasn’t a gold-digger, Lott cites the purchase of the Malcolm Forbes estate in New Jersey.

Within days after they were married, Mike flew to Tokyo to promote his fight against Tony Tubbs. “A few days later,” says Lott, “he received a phone call from Givens who informed him that she had just purchased the Malcolm Forbes mansion in New Jersey for $4.3 million. She never told Mike that she was going to do that. I could see that Mike was very unhappy when he heard the news.”

Only hours before Mike Tyson stepped into the ring to fight Michael Spinks, Robin Givens slapped Bill Cayton with a lawsuit seeking to terminate his contract on the grounds of stealing money from Mike’s purses and, moreover, make it retroactive so that Cayton couldn’t collect his share of the purse for the Tyson-Spinks fight. “Mike had no idea that Robin was doing that,” says Lott. “In fact, Mike had actually met with Cayton the day before the fight to ask Bill’s advice about starting a new merchandise business with a friend of his.”

The lawsuit triggered a Price Waterhouse audit of Cayton’s books. The examiners found that Mike had actually been overpaid.

“Robin didn’t have the assets to sue Cayton,” says Steve Lott. “Donald Trump jumped in to help her. He made his resources available to her, his attorneys and his accountants. Since Robin could not prove that money was missing, Tyson and Cayton renewed the fighter/manager agreement without going to trial. Trump then sent Robin a bill for $3 million.”

Cayton was still legally Mike’s manager, but he was kicked to the sidelines as others muscled in to exert sway over Tyson’s career. Two weeks after the Tyson-Spinks fight, Donald Trump announced that he planned to set up a corporation to manage Mike’s affairs and that he was doing it as a friend of the family. The announcement came in the ballroom of a swanky Manhattan hotel at a formal press conference orchestrated by Trump’s press agent Howard Rubenstein. Trump had ponied up an $11 million site fee to host the Tyson-Spinks fight (Boardwalk Hall was tethered to Trump’s hotel-casino) and it proved to be a smart investment as the casino drop was enormous.

In seeking to woo Tyson away from Bill Cayton, Trump was thought to be in cahoots with Don King who would pick up the cudgel from Robin Givens, suing Bill Cayton for underpaying Mike, an allegation he could not substantiate. It was no coincidence that Givens was seated next to Don King at the fight.

As we all know, Mike Tyson fell into the clutches of Don King. Steve Lott, trainer Kevin Rooney, and cut man Matt Baransky, all of whom had been with Tyson from the very beginning, going back to his amateur days, were kicked to the curb.

The Tyson-Givens marriage was short-lived. She filed for divorce in October of 1988 on grounds of irreconcilable differences and Tyson counter-sued a week later, seeking an annulment. In his suit, Tyson accused Givens of “waging a campaign to publicly humiliate him, strip him of his manhood and his dignity.”

The catalyst was the Sept. 30 edition of the popular ABC show “20/20” wherein Givens and Tyson were interviewed by Barbara Walters. On the show, Givens said that although she still loved Michael, their marriage was a “living hell” because Mike was manic-depressive and prone to acts of domestic violence. She said this as Mike was meekly sitting next to her looking as if he taken some Valium.

BAWA

“The charge that Mike was manic-depressive was BS,” says Steve Lott. “Bill Cayton hired the top psychiatrist in New York (Abraham Halpern) to examine Mike and he determined that Mike wasn’t and had never been manic-depressive.”

Six weeks before his appearance on “20/20,” Mike cracked a bone in his left hand in a street fight with former opponent Mitch “Blood” Green. The altercation happened at 4:30 am on a Tuesday morning in front of Dapper Dan’s, an all-night boutique and after-hours nightclub in Harlem.

In June of the previous year, Mike scuffled with a 20-year-old parking lot attendant after attending a rap concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. The charges of assault and battery were dismissed by a municipal court judge but the parking lot attendant, whose nose and lip were bloodied, purportedly received a $105,000 settlement.

This incident is at odds with the narrative that Tyson didn’t become a loose cannon until after the last remnants of his original team were purged from his life. The feral child that Cus D’Amato and Jim Jacobs had supposedly molded into a solid citizen was still very much a work in progress.

Lott demurs. “When I was with Mike, he never did anything inappropriate,” he says. “Don King and his people undid all the great things that Cus did.”

Lott notes that before the separation Tyson was raking in big money in commercial endorsements. He had deals with Pepsi and Nintendo and Kodak and was a poster boy for the New York Police Department (“It takes a bigger person than me to be a New York City cop,” read the poster which was designed as part of a recruiting campaign). Tyson even did a public service announcement for the FBI encouraging kids to stay off drugs.

All those endorsements dried up in a hurry after Givens, Trump, and King entered his life and there was no going back even before he was convicted of raping an 18-year-old beauty queen in an Indianapolis hotel during the 1991 Miss Black America pageant. The conviction begat a six-year prison sentence that was cut in half for good behavior. He was released on March 23, 1995. Future co-managers, John Horne and Rory Holloway, old friends from his Catskill days who were now in the employ of Don King, were waiting at the gate. Lott believes that King had an inside man at the prison hired to keep Tyson in line. He was now a free agent as the legal wrangling between King and Bill Cayton stopped when Tyson was packed off to prison as the antagonists decided that it was better to reach a private settlement than to continue to spend thousands on legal fees when there was a possibility that Tyson might never fight again.

Looking back at his end days as Mike Tyson’s co-manager, Lott says, “we didn’t realize how vulnerable Mike was.”

“Vulnerability” is about as far as Lott will go in touching on the flaws in Tyson’s character. “He showed me many kindnesses when we were together. He will always be my friend.” And as for writing a memoir, Steve says that won’t happen: “A lot of stuff would be personal.”

Lott wrote Tyson hundreds of letters when Mike was incarcerated at the Indiana Youth Correctional Center and visited him there three times. “I told Mike, you don’t have to go back to Bill Cayton, but please don’t sign with Don King.” Lott regards King as the greatest con man of all time, an opinion likely shared by Mike Tyson who filed a one hundred million dollar lawsuit in federal court against King in 1998 to capture money skimmed from him.

Lott hasn’t seen Tyson in several years but they were reunited in 2014 when Lott became a consultant to Iron Mike Productions, a boxing promotional firm that was almost as short-lived as Tyson’s first marriage, going belly-up when Mike’s partner, the money man, ran out of cash.

Mike Tyson, who once seemed destined to die a sordid death at a young age, has reinvented himself and is doing well. All of his misdeeds and tribulations from his fighting days have been swept under the rug and now the erstwhile Baddest Man On The Planet is almost cuddly (if one can get past the marijuana haze). And Steve Lott is also doing well.

Big Fights Inc. owned the rights to more than 17,000 boxing films, including many antiquarian films that were rescued and restored. Cayton sold the library to ESPN for $73 million but with the stipulation that he or his heirs could continue to display the films, but only within the confines of a Boxing Hall of Fame.

Cayton died on Oct. 4, 2003. His son Brian became the beneficiary of Cayton’s largess. In 2010, Steve Lott was named the President of the Boxing Hall of Fame Las Vegas and began to concentrate on social media to bring the Hall to the attention of the boxing world.

For a time, the World Boxing Hall of Fame Las Vegas had a brick-and-mortar location inside the Luxor Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip where it was part of an attraction called Score!, a multi-sports interactive exhibit with memorabilia associated with legends of various sports provided by various sports’ Hall of Fame and by private collectors. Score! opened in December of 2012 but its lease wasn’t renewed and Lott’s “Hall” now exists as a web site on key social media sites such as Facebook, youtube, linkedin, twitter, and Instagram.

Lott says that the Boxing Hall of Fame Las Vegas gets more views on Facebook than all the other sports’ Hall of Fame combined. So much for the notion that boxing is a dying sport.

Editor’s Note: The Boxing Hall of Fame – Las Vegas is working with a new high-end social media company named Official Boxing Odds that specializes in boxing media and will be integrating the entire Boxing Hall of Fame library of video and photographs in all of their social media platforms.

Tyson/Lott photo compliments of Steve Lott

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Abraham Nova and his Mascot are Back in Action on Friday Night

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With his black beard dyed gold, junior lightweight Abraham Nova is one of boxing’s most recognizable practitioners. Sometimes there’s two of him which makes him stand out even more. His twin is an inflatable mascot painted to look just like him. On fight nights they are inseparable. The mascot shadows Nova on his ringwalk, bouncing up and down and dancing to animate the crowd.

Some gimmicks are just plain hokey. Some are annoying. But there’s something whimsical about Nova’s invention that brings a smile to boxing fans of all ages. “Abraham Nova having his own mascot is one of the coolest things in boxing,” says fight writer Ryan Songalia.

“I played all sports in high school, football, baseball, track, and got the idea of it from other sports,” says Nova of his twin who he unveiled in January of 2020 at the Turning Stone Casino and Resort in Verona, New York, where he upped his record to 18-0 with a fourth-round stoppage of Mexican journeyman Pedro Navarrete.

He’s 5-2 since then, the smudges coming against future world featherweight champion Robeisy Ramirez (KO by 5) and defending super featherweight world champion O’Shaquie Foster where he came out on the short end of a split decision. This coming Friday, in his first assignment since failing to de-throne Foster, he opposes 21-0 Andres Cortes at the Fontainebleu in Las Vegas on a Top Rank card airing on ESPN+.

“I was the one who asked for this fight,” says Nova. “Top Rank offered me a match on their June 8th Puerto Rican Parade Weekend show at Madison Square Garden against an opponent who was 17-2, but I turned it down and asked for a better opponent and they accommodated me.” Las Vegas native Andres Cortes, who has been profiled in these pages, is ranked #2 at 130 pounds by the WBO.

In common with boxing’s historical pattern, Abraham Nova had a hardscrabble upbringing.

Born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic, the second-youngest of 10 children, he came to the U.S. at the age of 1 where the entire family was initially shoe-horned into a two-bedroom apartment in Albany, New York.

His father, Aquiles, had a friend here who was the pastor of a church and in need of an assistant pastor to help with his growing congregation. Aquiles eventually founded his own church in Albany, The Pentecostal Church of Unity & Prayer where services are held in both Spanish and English.

As a toddler, Nova lived briefly in Guatemala and Mexico where his parents were called to “spread the word” and to assist in redevelopment projects. The family traveled 5,500 miles in a rickety old school bus from Albany to Guatemala during the end days of the Guatemalan Civil War.

Each of Nova’s four brothers boxed, but he was the only one to turn pro. As an amateur, he won the 2015 Olympic Trials Qualifying Tournament in Memphis, defeating Frank Martin and Richardson Hitchins in back-to-back fights, but failed to make the U.S. team for the Rio Games when he lost a split decision to Gary Antuanne Russell at the Olympic Trials in Reno. Those bouts were contested at 141 pounds.

A 30-year-old bachelor, Nova had his final amateur fights in Lowell, Massachusetts, a pillar of amateur boxing in New England, and has remained in the Boston area without losing his Albany identity. He is trained by ex-U.S. Marine Mark DeLuca, a boxer of some renown who sports a 30-4 record and may not be done with fighting quite yet at age 36.

Nova’s opponent, Andres Cortes, has won five of his last seven inside the distance beginning with a smashing first-round knockout of 34-2 Genesis Servania. On paper, it’s a 50-50 match-up. (The pricemakers are flummoxed; as of this writing, they have yet to establish a betting line.)

Abraham Nova’s mascot may never become as well-known as some of the costumed human mascots in college sports (e.g., West Virginia’s Mountaineer or Michigan State’s Sparty), let alone as beloved as the University of Georgia’s flesh-and-blood bulldog mascot Uga, but give the boxer credit for originality and for bringing a little levity to a sport too often besotted with incivility.

Note: Abraham Nova vs. Andres Cortes is the co-feature. In the main go, new Top Rank signee Rafael Espinoza makes the first defense of his WBO world featherweight title against Mexican countryman Sergio Chirino. Espinoza forged the 2023 TSS Upset of the Year when he got off the deck to defeat Robeisy Ramirez on Dec. 9 in Pembroke Pines, Florida, winning legions of fans with his unrelenting buzzsaw attack. Action from the Fontaineblue begins at 4:00 pm PST on ESPN+.

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A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

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A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

BY TSS Special Correspondent David Harazduk — A hundred years ago, ducking a worthy challenger wouldn’t simply stoke the ire of the fans, it came with the prospect of jail time.

On Thursday, November 3, 1927, 16,000 fans packed Wrigley Field in Los Angeles hoping to witness their local favorite challenge for the welterweight world championship. Nicknamed the “Nebraska Wildcat,” Ace Hudkins had relocated to the Pacific Coast where his devil-may-care style in the ring made him instantly popular among Angelino fight fans. He was set to battle Joe Dundee, the champion, an Italian immigrant who had settled in Baltimore at a young age. But there was one problem.

The champion refused to fight.

Members of the California boxing commission, along with promoter Dick Donald, raced to the Biltmore Hotel to plead with Dundee (pictured) and his manager Max Waxman to come to Wrigley Field and fight. Waxman steadfastly refused. Donald, a quick-witted cigar-chomping Irishman known as the “Boy Promoter,” had promised Max’s man the ungodly sum of $60,000, and Dundee wouldn’t enter the ring for a penny less.

Under the rules of the California commission, a fighter could only receive a guarantee of $500. The rest of the purse came from a percentage of the gate: 37.5% for the champion and 12.5% for the challenger. Waxman insisted that Donald had offered $60,000, but the commission couldn’t enforce this side deal.

Tickets in the bleachers were sold at $2.20 a pop while those closer to the ring went for $11. The most the gate could possibly produce would be $90,000. Add in Wrigley Field’s 15% usage fee and payments to the preliminary fighters, officials, and even to rent the chairs situated around the ring, and Dundee’s dreams of $60,000- $75,000 if he lost the title- never had a prayer of being realized. After all, 37.5% of $90,000, plus $500, is only $34,250.

Meanwhile, Eddie Mahoney, a preliminary fighter, entered the ring at 8:30pm. Mahoney was scheduled to fight Joe Dundee’s brother Vince, a future middleweight world champion. When Vince didn’t follow Mahoney into the ring, Mahoney soon left, much to the bewilderment of the crowd.

Donald scrambled to find a plan B. He searched for welterweight contender Sergeant Sammy Baker to replace Dundee and fight Hudkins. When Baker couldn’t be located, Donald asked a preliminary fighter, Olympic gold medalist Jackie Fields, to take on Hudkins instead. Hudkins and Fields had been sparring partners when the featherweight champion of the 1924 Games in Paris was a nascent pro back in 1925. Fields’s manager, Gig Rooney, felt Hudkins was too big for the Olympic champ at this stage of his career and preferred to remain on the undercard against San Francisco’s Joey Silver.

With no plan B, Donald and the commissioners went back to Waxman in a last desperate plea to coax Dundee to defend his title. One commissioner, Charles Traung, offered Waxman an additional $10,000 check for Dundee to fight. Waxman stubbornly held out for more.

At 9:20pm, back at Wrigley, Donald signaled Jackie Fields and Joey Silver to enter the ring. Though Fields was wobbled twice, he opened up a cut over Silver’s left eye and split the San Franciscan’s lip on route to a convincing points victory in a ten-rounder. A few minutes after 10pm, Mahoney and Vince Dundee finally entered the ring for their clash. Dundee starched Mahoney inside of two rounds. When Waxman, who also managed Vince, heard of the second-round stoppage, he said “Vince knocked that guy out, eh? I told him to carry him along.” Waxman had hoped to stall for time.

Soon after the end of the Dundee-Mahoney fight, Ace Hudkins waltzed to the ring. He spent fifteen minutes seated in his corner, covered in a bathrobe and towels to keep him warm. Dundee never showed.

At 11:25pm, ring announcer Frank Kerwin slid into the ring and bellowed, “Owing to the fact that Joe Dundee did not receive his guarantee, he refused to go on with his match against Ace Hudkins.” The crowd was advised to “hold their seat checks and watch the newspapers for other announcements.”

The fans didn’t take too kindly to the announcement and hurled those rented chairs in disgust. Fights broke out all over the stadium, spilling into the ring. All available police officers in the area rushed to Wrigley Field, wielding their nightsticks in a bid to subdue the violent mob. Dozens of fans were injured in the fracas. To add insult to injury, those who had paid $2.20 for their seats in the bleachers were out of luck; they had never received a ticket in the first place.

The next day, Waxman and Joe Dundee checked out of the Biltmore Hotel at noon and made their way to the train station. Later that night, they were pulled off an eastbound train at Pasadena and arrested for false advertising.  Waxman posted a $1,000 bond for each of them.

A warrant was issued for Donald on the same false advertising grounds. He phoned into the police station promising to turn himself in once his feelings of humiliation subsided. The police agreed to wait.

Ultimately, all accused would be acquitted. Waxman would return the $22,249.43 that had been placed in his account and an $11,000 check.

Fans didn’t receive refunds as it was deemed unfair to give them only to those who had bought $11 tickets since the gallery patrons had no ticket stub and thus, couldn’t get a refund anyhow. After the preliminary fighters, Wrigley Field, officials, ushers, and the chair rental company were compensated, the rest of the money was placed into a community fund.

Because he had entered the ring for his title challenge, Ace Hudkins declared himself the new champion, but no commission accepted his claim. Dick Donald’s promotional career, once so promising, abruptly ended. In 1935, he took one last gasp in boxing, serving as matchmaker at the famed Olympic Auditorium for a brief spell.

Joe Dundee would never fight in California again. His championship reign ended dishonorably a year and half later when several commissions agreed to strip him of the title for refusing to fight any top contenders. When Jackie Fields won the vacant title, he and Dundee were matched for the undisputed crown on July 25, 1929. With Dundee a two-to-one underdog, Waxman and Dundee bet $50,000 on Joe to win, with fouls canceling the bet. Fields shellacked Dundee, knocking him down twice. In the second round, after the second knockdown, Dundee knew he was licked. He got up and hit Fields low as hard as he could. Dundee was instantly disqualified, losing any claim to the title as disgracefully as his hold-out against Hudkins.

If only some of the alphabet champions of today had to post bail under the threat of jail for ducking contenders, maybe boxing would be in a better state.

EDITOR’S: Author David Harazduk has run The Jewish Boxing Blog since 2010. You can find him at  Twitter/X @JewishBoxing and Instagram @JewishBoxing

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Results from the MGM Grand where Gervonta Davis Returned with a Bang

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After an absence of 421 days, Gervonta “Tank” Davis returned to the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In the opposite corner was Detroit-born Frank “The Ghost” Martin who has been training in Dallas under Derrick James. In previous fights, Gervonta, who holds the WBA world lightweight title, has shown a tendency to start slow before closing the show with a highlight-reel knockout. Tonight was no exception.

Martin, 18-0 heading in, fought off his back foot from the get-go, but had good moments and was arguably ahead after five frames. But as the fight moved into the middle rounds, Martin became more stationary and one could sense that the ever-stalking Davis was wearing him down. In Round 8, Davis trapped Martin against a corner post, discombobulated him with a left uppercut and then turned out his lights with a chopping left hand. There was no chance that Martin could rise before referee Harvey Dock completed the “10” count.

Davis (30-0, 28 KOs) celebrated by standing on the top strand of rope and doing a black flip. He has many lucrative options going forward and will be favored to defeat whoever his next opponent will be.

The Davis-Martin fight was the capstone of a four-fight pay-per-view, the second collaboration between Premier Boxing Champions and Amazon Prime Video.

Benavidez-Gvozdyk

In his first fight as a light heavyweight, David Benavidez scored a 12-round unanimous decision over former lineal light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

Benavidez, who improved to 20-0 (24), worked the body well and kept up the pressure in the early-going, building a substantial lead. His work output declined over the last third of the fight, but his punches still carried more steam than those of Gvozdyk, 37, who suffered his second loss in 22 pro fights, the other inflicted by the indomitable Artur Beterbiev, prompting the SoCal-based Ukrainian to take a long hiatus from the ring. The judges had it 119-109, 117-111, and 116-112.

Puello-Russell

In a major upset, Alberto Puello of the Dominican Republic saddled Gary Antuanne Russell with his first pro loss, winning a split decision. Puello appeared to have the edge in a furious final round, without which the bout would have ended in a draw. Puello, who improved to 23-0 (10), had to overcome a dubious call by referee Allan Huggins who took a point away from the Dominican in Round 7 for too much holding.

Russell, who was making his first start against a southpaw, is now trained by his brother Gary Russell Jr., the former featherweight champion, who replaced their late father. Russell Jr last fought in January of 2022.

Heading in, Gary Antuanne Russell had won all 17 of his pro fights by knockout. One of the judges thought he won handily. But his tally, 118-109 for Russell, was overruled by the115-112 and 114-113 scores awarded the underdog. Puello, who briefly held the WBA diadem at 140 but had it stripped from him when he tested positive for PEDs, won an interim belt in that weight class with his upset tonight.

Adames-Gausha

In the PPV opener, Alberto Puello’s countryman Carlos Adames successfully defended his WBC middleweight title in his first world title fight with a one-sided decision over former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha. Adames, whose late father reportedly sired 35 children, was the aggressor and landed many more punches. He advanced his record to 24-1 (19). It was the fourth loss in 29 pro starts for the 36-year-old Gausha. The judges had it 119-109 and 118-110 twice.

Adames’ triumph made it 2-0 for the Dominicans and their trainer Ismael Salas.

Other Bouts of Note

In a huge upset, Delaware’s Kyrone Davis overcame Arizona’s previously undefeated and highly-touted Elijah Garcia, winning a split decision. A 21-year-old father of two, Garcia, 16-0 heading in, was rated #1 by the WBA and seemingly one step removed from challenging Erislandy Lara for the WBA middleweight title. But Davis, trained by Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, had a solid game plan and although Elijah came on strong in the homestretch, it was too little, too late.

One of the judges favored Garcia 98-92, but his cohorts each gave seven rounds to Davis (19-3-1, 6 KOs) and the decision was fair.

Filipino junior lightweight Mark Magsayo, in his second fight back since losing back-to-back fights with featherweight belt-holders Rey Vargas and Brandon Figueroa, advanced to 26-2 (17) with a 10-round unanimous decision over Mexico City’s Eduardo Ramirez (28-4-3). Magsayo scored a knockdown in the third round with a straight right hand and won by scores of 99-90 and 97-92 twice.

Photos credit: Al Applerose

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