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The Future of Non-Traditional Boxing Events: A New TSS Survey

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For our latest survey, we came up with this question: “Fights between celebrities, boxing legends, cross-overs, and YouTube influencers have become more and more commonplace. Do you think this will prove to be a passing fad or something that will endure, and why?”

Here’s what 34 respondents had to say. They are listed alphabetically.

Russ Anber elite trainer, cornerman, and owner of Rival Boxing Equipment: I am afraid I don’t know what to think anymore! I never would have thought we would have seen what we are seeing now. The reverence and respect for boxing has been lost in a way it may never recuperate from. The facility in which ANYONE can be granted a PROFESSIONAL BOXING LICENSE is beyond insane!! Sadly however, we cannot blame these people, we can’t blame the networks or streaming sites, the fact that there is an abundance of people who are paying, and gladly paying, to watch these ridiculous sideshows is truly beyond comprehension!

David Avila– TSS West Coast Bureau Chief: Celebrity boxing has been around forever. It ebbs and flows and will continue to do so as long as boxing exists. It just takes someone willing to step into the ring like this kid Jake Paul. Gotta have the guts to do it.

Joe Bruno — prolific writer; Florida Boxing Hall of Fame inductee: Celebrity fights are akin to the circus coming to town. Will it continue? Of course, if it makes money.

Jeff Bumpus — former fighter; writer: It’s an insult to people who have devoted a large chunk of their youth learning the intricacies of the sport, only to have a You Tube fool swoop in and act like all that blood and sweat isn’t necessary. Apparently, if you have followers, BS trumps substance. I believe it’s a passing fad to be replaced by something even more offensive to purists.

Tracy Callis — noted boxing historian: The fighting of celebrities is interesting now but I believe it will become less so over time. It will become more like other shows that people enjoy very much at first and then the idea will fade. But who knows?

Steve Cantonauthor; President of Florida Boxing Hall of Fame: I do not like these types of fights in our sport and have to wonder if it’s because we have an unexciting era of boxing where the best avoid fighting the best. Fans are starved for good, exciting fights and promoters have tried to cash in by pitting celebrity names or YouTube fighters against each other instead. It ultimately hurts our sport because we no longer have quality fighters who are technically skilled. The more these type fights happen, the worse the situation will become. In addition, older, former top fighters are coming back, tarnishing their reputations and risking serious injury. These type bouts should be outlawed by commissions.

Jill Diamond International Secretary, WBC: A new and younger audience is always welcome. The question is, does this audience remain with us or are they as fleeting as the interest of the celebrity boxer? The return of our legends is more troubling. My concern for all is safety which is threatened by commissions willing to sanction fights that should not happen.

Rick FarrisPresident and Founder of the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame: I believe this is the worst possible situation ever for professional boxing. It is the ultimate low point in boxing history. These “clowns” being matched with ancient boxing champions in sideshow acts has taken boxing to it’s lowest form since the Marquis of Queensberry laid down the ground rules in the 1800’s. And I don’t care what anybody thinks, boxers over 40 should not be licensed! They are too old! Boxing is a young man’s game, and these circus act exhibitions are a bad joke.

Bernard Fernandez — lifetime Member of the BWAA; 2020 IBHOF Inductee: I guess, depending on one’s point of view, I am a stodgy traditionalist, curmudgeon or anachronism. Maybe I’m all three rolled into one. But I reject the premise that the Paul brothers, and other so-called “YouTube” sensations are good for boxing because they bring new and young fans to the sport that is admittedly hewing older. Having some strange sort of appeal to skateboarders and rasslin’ fans who can’t tell the difference between a real Sugar Ray (either of them) and a manufactured packet of Sweet ‘N’ Low is demeaning to legitimately skilled boxers who must recoil in horror at having to appear on one of these clowns’ undercards in order to get a half-decent payday. No disrespect to Nate Robinson, the 5”9″ former NBA player who is one of Jake Paul’s four “victims,” but there had to be at least a half-million everyday Americans who could have starched him just as readily as Jake the Fake. Enough of this nonsense.

Jeffrey Freeman (AKA KO Digest) — TSS writer: It’s all a part of the professional wrestlingization of boxing into something more resembling sports entertainment but it’s not fair to lump Holyfield-Belfort into that mix because those were real fighters coming to fight and that’s better than the future of fake fights no matter what the critics say. Real boxing tells us the truth (Holyfield is utterly, completely shot and Belfort fights to win regardless of his opponent’s frailty) while “celebrity” boxing obscures the truth and traffics in lies. The Tyson-Jones “draw” was just such an example of sports entertainment.

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“…When the sideshow draws more than the circus, you’re in trouble” Don Majeski

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Lee Grovesauthor, writer: A generation ago, there was a burst of “celebrity boxing” matches involving the likes of Tonya Harding, “Brady Bunch” star Barry Williams and Danny Bonaduce of “The Partridge Family” and so on, and those ran its course before fizzling out. The difference between then and now is money and social media, and these, more than anything, will extend their stay. Its ultimate fate will depend on the two audiences they’re trying to serve; boxing people are already sick of it, but it’ll be the more casual followers — who are probably larger in number — who will determine how long it lasts. If they tire of it in large enough numbers, which I think will happen, the trend will end.

Henry Hascuphistorian and President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame: I hope it’s just a fad, but it will continue until someone gets seriously hurt, then it will be too late!

Jim Lampley2015 IBHOF inductee; renowned boxing broadcaster: Fights which are predicated not on proven skill but on sheer social media recognition are the product of social media’s growing influence and omnipresence in the global information pool. Are social media a passing fancy whose allure will gradually fade in the face of that which is proven, time-honored and legitimate?? Or will traditional standards of proven legitimacy in every field of endeavor be swamped by clickbait?? I don’t know the answer to that question. I only know the question itself is no compliment to our progress as a global community. Boxing is an easy target because it is entrepreneurial and only loosely organized. But at what point will the Rams’ starting quarterback be chosen on Twitter or Instagram?? At that juncture we might conclude that legitimacy has lost ALL the games, and popular chaos has won. Right now we are in the first quarter, but I would have to say chaos is leading.

Every popular new technology changes society in ways both predictable and unpredictable. Someday we may look back and say no other technology produced more cataclysmic change than that engendered by social media. It all seemed so innocent back at Harvard when Zuckerberg envisioned a way for students to keep up with their classmates on their laptops. He didn’t know he was opening a Pandora’s Box that could engulf vulnerable institutions like boxing.

Jimmy Lang former boxer and promoter: I like it. I am all for someone doing what he has to do to promote himself into position to do what these guys are doing and make the money they’re making.

Arne LangTSS editor-in-chief, author, historian: The recent Triller card in Miami with Evander Holyfield was an abomination. I’m reminded of something that the late, great British sports journalist Hugh McIlvanney said to Thomas Hauser: “The whole circus approach to boxing that we see so much of these days appalls and depresses me. And the more I see of that show business rubbish, the more I feel I could turn my back on the sport.”

Ron Liptonactive referee; inductee into the New Jersey and New York Boxing Halls of Fame: As long as these contests are sanctioned with participants who are not just physically fit or pass a cursory physical exam but prove themselves to be in condition to withstand the impact trauma of a strenuous boxing match then it can be acceptable within limits of experience attained and, of course, age constraints. I refereed Holyfield twice on HBO and PPV at his zenith. What I saw the other night left me as numb as when I watch the film of Joe Louis being knocked onto the ring apron by Marciano. Thank God Evander was not injured badly. The boxing world felt nothing but despair at the spectacle of it.

Great warriors of the past earned a pittance compared to what is available with the right kind of hype today. If you can get the money, OK, but sanctioning a fight where someone is on the periphery of being a senior citizen is a dangerous roll of the dice.

Paul Magnowriter, author, ring official in Mexico: I don’t think exhibitions and fluff celebrity fights have ever really gone away. They’ve always been a part of boxing. This current craze, however, will die down as the bankability of the celebrities getting involved diminishes and as the fan base tires of paying PPV prices for garbage programming. For me, all of this celebrity/legend boxing stuff tells me that the mainstream WANTS to buy into the boxing product, but they’re simply not being sold on the actual elite-level fighters on the scene today. This is a clear indication that today’s boxing promoters are just not doing their job and that the business model is not conducive to building new stars. The issue needs to be addressed. It’s like a one-on-one half-court exhibition between two retired NBA legends out-drawing Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The NBA execs would freak out. Boxing’s boss men should be freaking out similarly.

Don Majeskimatchmaker, historian; affiliated with RING 8 and the NYSBHOF: I would hope it is a passing aberration brought on by the forced isolation of the Covid virus and the cancellation of so many cards that has turned the fans into voyeurs of the aberrant and senescent boxers to break out into some weird St. Vitus’ dance .If there is no market, there would none of these perverse exhibitions that lure faded names back into the ring for the benefit of no one in long run but the titillation of some in the short. It should run its course — particularly after the Holyfield fiasco. When the sideshow draws more than the circus, you’re in trouble 

Gordon Marino – philosophy professor, Wall Street Journal boxing writer, trainer: I am pretty much out of the boxing writing business but for what it is worth… I think boxing has always had its carnival acts — e.g. Wepner vs Andre the Giant. There are more of them now with the Paul bros circus. But I am hopeful that the steam will run out of these spectacles soon. Spectacles are a disgrace to boxing, make boxing look even more like WWE, and alas take the attention away from a multitude of good competitive fights that should be in the offing.

Given all that we know about CTE, I do, however, find the likes of the Holyfield “fight” and the upcoming Toney fight.. absolutely deplorable.. or maybe criminal would be a better word.

Layla McCarter- multi-divisional world champion. I really don’t like the trend, i.e. crossover fights, celebrity boxing. I don’t think it’s safe or meaningful to the sport of boxing. However, I believe this trend will endure because it sells and that’s what entertainment is about. They don’t care about the “integrity” of boxing or integrity period. It’s all about the $$.

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                                     “Enough of this nonsense.” Bernard Fernandez

Bob Mladinich — actor, former  fighter, writer, author: You don’t have to look past the Holyfield-Belfort  debacle to realize this will pass quickly and end badly. Old fans will be disgusted and potential new fans will be dismayed.

Harry Ottyhistorian, author: It seems this area of ‘boxing’ can grow legs and the sport itself may be partially to blame. Too many governing bodies, multiple belts per body, and sub-standard cards and PPV events. With live-stream technology (helped somewhat by COVID-19 lock-downs) Youtubers/influencers have an ‘easy in’ to multi-million-dollar sales – though they still have to train hard to get in shape at least – and sometimes it’s easy for the average fan to get carried away along with it all.

With the same live-stream technology, Holyfield, Tyson et al, have a bigger platform today than they had in their day so it is hard to blame them for getting involved. I know some who have said it is great because they never got to see (for example) Mike Tyson fight live, well – I never got to see the likes of Ken Buchanan fight live either, and I wouldn’t want to see him do it now – for his sake.

The bottom line is the almighty dollar. I don’t care for media ‘celebs’ getting involved, but good luck to them while they play boxing. But there should be some kind of regulation against veterans getting into the ring

Joe Pasquale — elite boxing judge: I have worked a few fight cards that featured a celebrity gloved-up. One show included Tanya Harding as the main event. She showed some skills and won her fight. The rest of that show was Pro Boxing but her fight was considered an exhibition. The show was a success. I think that you can look at these fights as Amateur Boxing events, which is almost always the case. If part of a pro Boxing card, the celeb participant helps boost the ticket sales, and now even PPV. Support Amateur Boxing! The sport begins there.

John Raspanti — author, editor, writer, historian: Money drives everything. YouTube guy “Jake Paul” is cashing in. His marketing talent is pretty extraordinary. He’ll be around until he loses. Soon, I hope.

Legendary fighters doing a cash dive is understandable but, in many ways, pathetic. I hate it. The recent Evander Holyfield freak show is a perfect example of how LOW some will go for the almighty dollar. I hope that the result and negative publicity will make “them” think twice. My thinking is that this “fad” is fading – but then I remind myself that Riddick Bowe will be fighting soon. It can’t be gone soon enough.

Dana Rosenblatt — former world middleweight champion; inspirational speaker– I do not like it at all. Makes the sport look like a side show. Not good

Ted Sares –TSS writer: It’s simple economics. The frequency and “popularity” of this new wrinkle will endure as long as “fans” will pay for it. But fans are fickle and Bowe vs. Odom could reverse the current trend.

Iceman John Scully– manager, trainer, commentator, writer, historian, former world title challenger: I have no interests in this and I’ve never watched it. I have never seen Mayweather versus McGregor or Mayweather against that Japanese kickboxer and I’ve never seen Jake Paul fight. It is not real.

Peter Silkov—writer at ‘The Boxing Glove’: I think these Triller promotions and the Paul ‘fights’ are the last nail in the coffin of sanity for the game. The new eyes are not boxing fans but You Tubers with little appreciation or understanding of the sport and with their main aim being to be entertained by some outrageous trash talk and then a farcical spectacle in the ring. This is the reason why a week before AJ vs Usyk many people don’t even know or have forgotten it is even taking place.

Michael Silver — historian, author, writer: Hard to say. The internet has changed everything. I don’t know if these sideshow fights would take off like they have without the internet audience and the army of clueless fight fans (not to be confused with boxing fans) who shell out sucker money for the pay-per-view circus. Legitimate professional boxing has been in the toilet for so long and is such a confused mess thanks to the thieves and scumbags who control it. As long as the sideshow bouts can draw they will continue.

Alan Swyer — filmmaker, writer, and producer of the acclaimed El Boxeo: Nonsensical match-ups have long been a part of sports. Think of Jesse Owens racing a horse. In contemporary boxing, however, the combination of over-the-hill fighters in search of one last paycheck, ridiculous crossover mismatches, plus bogus exhibitions featuring pseudo-celebrities has overshadowed the actual sport of boxing. What a world when a bout featuring Jake Paul garners more attention than a Terence Crawford championship fight, and where the Trumps pay homage to 9/11 with gibberish that makes me long for the likes of Merchant, Bernstein, Foreman, Pacheco, or even Howard Cosell. I’m with Jim Lampley, who wisely chose not to sully his Hall of Fame status by participating in the Holyfield/Belfort debacle.

Bob Trieger – fight publicist; President, Full Court Press agency: I hope it’s a passing fad because it’s disrespectful to real boxers I see today who work so hard for relatively chump change. Old timers should stay retired. Do signings and appearances to make money. And internet “fighters” should just stay online and never lace up a pair of gloves. Boxing is poetic when done properly. This stuff is nothing but a sad joke.

Harold Westonformer two-time world title challenger: Everybody wants to know how to fight. It is something in life that people want to say, that “I can fight, I was a ‘fighter.’ It’s “The World We Live In.”

Gary “Digital” Williams–The voice of boxing on the Beltway: Unfortunately, I think this will be something we will have to endure until the real sport of boxing rights its own ship. We can’t keep having bad judging and mismatches that hurt the real sport.

Peter Woodformer fighter, author: These mixed-matches aren’t new. In 1940 — 81 years ago — a 45-year-old Jack Dempsey knocked out an arrogant wrestler named Cowboy Luttrell. (A brutal fight horribly refereed by Nat Fleischer.) The problem is boxing itself. It is no longer a major sport as it was in 1940. Mixed-matches starring “media sensations” are simply filling the void and people’s vapid heads.

Observations: The respondents were almost unanimous in their strong dislike (disgust) for what’s going on in boxing. After all the dust has been cleared, Layla McCarter’s comment, namely “It’s all about the $$”, pretty much reflects the consensus.

Ted Sares is a member of Ring 8, a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He is an active power lifter in the Master Class. He enjoys writing about boxing and can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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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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