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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’ll blow a fuse.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FACTS ABOUT LEONARD-HEARNS I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Hauser Report: 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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