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A Big Upset in London as Oleksandr Usyk Outclasses Anthony Joshua

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Oleksandr Usyk gathered up all four meaningful cruiserweight belts before leaving the division. Tonight, on a special night at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, he acquired three of the four meaningful heavyweight belts to add to his rich collection. In a battle between former Olympic gold medalists, the 34-year-old Ukrainian cashed his ticket to the Hall of Fame (and on the first ballot) with a unanimous decision over Anthony Joshua. There were some strange scorecards turned in earlier in the evening so it was no sure thing that the judges would get it right, but they did. Usyk won by tallies of 117-112, 116-112, and 115-113.

There were no knockdowns but this was an entertaining fight with momentum shifts and the goosebumps that come whenever an underdog is acquitting himself well against a bigger man more capable of turning the tide with one punch.

Usyk, who improved to 19-0 (13) started strong. With his superior hand and foot speed, he actually looked a level above Joshua. But Usyk’s pace slowed in the fifth and Joshua started closing the gap. Usyk had a strong seventh round, but Joshua came back strong in the next stanza and it seemed as if he had more fuel in his tank and was capable of a Garrison finish. But no, Usyk closed strong and ended the match with a flourish.

Joshua, whose ledger declined to 24-2 (22), was expected to land the more damaging punches but it was Usyk, who suffered a cut around his right eye, whose punches were more damaging. At the end, Joshua’s right eye was swollen nearly shut.

Joshua’s defeat spoiled a lucrative match with his countryman Tyson Fury (assuming Fury gets past Deontay Wilder). That match will likely come to fruition someday, but it won’t be quite the mega-fight that it would have been under “normal” circumstances.

Co-Main

Lawrence Okolie drew a softie for the first defense of his WBO world cruiserweight title that he won with a smashing performance over Krzysztof Glowacki. In the opposite corner was Montenegro’s Dilan Prasovic who came in undefeated (15-0) but against suspect opposition and was out of his element. Okolie stopped him in the third round, improving his ledger to 17-0 (14 KOs).

A former McDonald’s burger-flipper who is co-managed by Anthony Joshua and trained by Shane McGuigan, Okolie decked Prasovic with a right hand in the second round and terminated the fight in the next frame with a body punch that didn’t appear to land especially hard. The official time was 1:57.

Standing 6’5 ½” with an 82 ½-inch reach, the ever-improving Okolie hopes to unify the division before moving up to heavyweight. He may out-grow the cruiserweight class before a unification fight presents itself.

Other Bouts

Liverpool’s Callum Smith, in his first fight as a light heavyweight and his first fight with Buddy McGirt in his corner, rolled back the clock to the days when he was running up a string of fast knockouts and sent Lenin Castillo to dreamland with a booming right hand in the second round. This was a scary knockout. Castillo’s leg twitched as he lay on the canvas. He was removed from the ring on a stretcher and taken to a hospital where, according to promoter Eddie Hearn, he was fully responsive.

Smith (28-1, 20 KOs) was making his first start since losing to Canelo Alvarez in a match in which he was reluctant to let his hands go. Castillo, from the Dominican Republic, had previously taken Dmitry Bivol the distance (albeit while losing virtually every round) in a bid for Bivol’s WBA 175-pound crown. He was 21-3-1 heading in and hadn’t previously been stopped.

Chicago middleweight Christopher Ousley (13-0, 9 KOs) stepped up in class and won a 10-round majority decision over former world title challenger Khasan Baysangurov (21-2). Baysangurov, a Ukrainian, did well in the late rounds but it was too little, too late. The judges had it 95-95 and 97-94 twice.

While Ousley, 30, didn’t look especially sharp, this was good win for him. He had been working with trainer Manny Robles and Anthony Joshua is one of his sponsors. Baysangurov had won four straight since suffering an 11th-round stoppage at the hands of Rob Brant.

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Mbilli Stays Unbeaten: Outpoints Gongora in a Bruising Tiff

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Camille Estephan’s “Eye of the Tiger” promotions returned to the Montreal Casino tonight with an 8-bout card capped by an intriguing match between super middleweights Christian Mbilli and Carlos Gongora, both former Olympians.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli (pictured on the left) represented France in the 2016 Rio Games. He was undefeated (23-0, 16 KOs) coming in and ranked #2 by the WBA. The Massachusetts-based Gongora, a two-time Olympian for his native Ecuador, brought a 23-1 (16) record, his lone defeat coming on the road in Manchester, England, to currently undefeated Lerrone Richards.

When the smoke cleared, Mbilli won a unanimous decision, but the scores (99-91, 98-92, and 97-93) were misleading as this was an entertaining fight and the granite-chinned Gondora, a southpaw, was always a threat to turn the tide with his signature punch, a left uppercut. In fact, he may have landed the best punch of the fight when he hurt Mbilli in the opening minute of the eighth round. But the muscular Mbilli shook off the cobwebs and stormed back, dominating the final minute of the eighth and then finishing strong, nearly forcing a stoppage with a non-stop assault in the final frame.

Mbilli would love to fight the winner of Saturday’s tiff between David Benavidez and Caleb Plant, but that’s not likely to happen. A more likely scenario finds Mbilli opposing fellow unbeaten Vladimir Shishkin, the Detroit-based Russian.

Co-Feature

Simon Kean, a six-foot-five, 250-pound heavyweight from Three Rivers, Quebec, advanced to 23-1 (22 KOs) with a seventh-round stoppage of 40-year-old warhorse Eric Molina (29-9).

Both were tentative during most of the match. The end came rather suddenly when Kean knocked Molina down with an overhand right after landing a good left hook. The punch did not appear to land flush, but Molina was swaying as he made it to his feet and the referee called it off.

It was not a particularly impressive performance by Kean. Molina, a special education teacher in the Rio Grande Valley community of Edinburg, Texas, hinted before the bout that this would be his final fight. That would be a sensible idea. He has been stopped six times in his last 10 outings and nine times overall.

Also

In a 10-round bout contested at 140 pounds, Calgary veteran Steve Claggett improved to 34-7-2 (24) with a TKO over Mexican import Rafael Guzman Lugo (26-3-2) whose corner pulled him out after seven frames. This was a good action fight fought at close quarters, albeit Claggett was clearly in control when the bout was halted.

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A Conversation About Boxing with Author and Journalist Steve Marantz

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If you ask former sportswriter Steve Marantz when was boxing’s Golden Age, he’s quick with a response.

His answer just so happens to coincide with the period when he was on the beat as a boxing columnist for the Boston Globe (1979-1987).

“You could argue that boxing has had a few Golden Ages, but yes, that was an exciting and memorable era,” said Marantz, who sat ringside for many legendary matches. “The round-robin bouts amongst [Ray] Leonard, [Marvin] Hagler, [Thomas] Hearns and [Roberto] Duran, certainly was a major element.”

Those four legends are important but other weight division kings also played an integral role in boxing’s global popularity.

“Let’s not forget [Aaron] Pryor, [Alexis] Arguello, [Julio Cesar] Chavez, [Salvador] Sanchez, [Hector] Camacho, [Wilfredo] Gomez, Michael Spinks, [Dwight Muhammad] Qawi, [Donald] Curry, [Mike] Tyson and [Evander] Holyfield,” Marantz offered. “The key was competitive balance in most of the divisions.”

Marantz began his journalism career in 1973 at the Kansas City Star after graduating from the University of Missouri. After leaving the Globe, he worked for the Boston Herald (1999-2004) and ESPN (2004-2016). Nowadays, in addition to freelance writing for publications such as the Jewish Journal of Greater Boston, he produces the podcast “Championship Stories.”

Marantz recalled one particular moment that stood out while covering boxing and it happened at Aaron Pryor’s training camp.

“I have a vivid memory of his workout before he fought Arguello in Miami, November 1982. He had a hot funk song on the speakers, “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” and as it played, loudly, he shadow-boxed to its beat and lyrics,” he recalled. “A rope was stretched across the gym, four feet off the floor, and Pryor moved along the rope, ducking under and back, gloves flashing. He was hypnotized by the music, in a trance. Hypnotized me, too. A moment that made boxing so cool to cover.”

That classic matchup at the famed Orange Bowl was halted in the 14th round with Pryor winning by technical knockout.

Anyone at Caesars Palace on April 15, 1985, knows what happened over roughly eight minutes of hot action when Hagler and Hearns tangled. It was nonstop punches from both participants.

“Hagler and Hearns fought as if possessed,” recalled Marantz of that showdown. “The stark final image [for me] was that of Hearns, now helpless, semiconscious, looking very like a black Christ taken from the cross, in the arms of a solemn aide.

“Hagler’s pent-up bitterness found release in a violent attack, even as each crack of Hearns’ gloves reinforced a lifetime of slights. In the end, Hearns was martyred to absolve Hagler of victimization. The first round is legendary, among the most vicious and splendid ever fought on the big fight stage. Action accelerated so quickly that spectators were left breathless. Punches windmilled into a blur, though the actual count was 82 punches for Hagler and 83 for Hearns, about three times that of a typical round.”

While that fight has blended into boxing folklore, a 1976 Olympic gold medal winner from Palmer Park, Maryland, was the epitome of true greatness for Steve Marantz.

“The way Sugar Ray Leonard maneuvered [Roberto] Duran to ‘No Mas’ in their rematch was brilliant. His grit and toughness beat Hearns, one of the great fights of the 1980s. And he beat Hagler with brains and psychology. Not to overlook his win over [Wilfred] Benitez in 1979. He was gorgeous to watch, stylish and rhythmic. His combinations were a blur. And he strategized like a chess master. Smooth and cooperative in interviews, always aware of the marketing and promotional necessities. Leonard was the gold standard.”

Marantz re-visited the Hagler-Leonard fight and the drama that surrounded it in “Sorcery at Caesars: Sugar Ray’s Marvelous Fight,” first released in 2008 and now available as an eBook.

Boxing’s been called the cruelest and the most unforgiving sport, but it’s also filled with high drama.

“It’s a test of athleticism, intelligence, grit and character. At its best, it’s dramatic and unpredictable, exciting,” Marantz said of the fight game. “A rich history of iconic personalities and events. Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, for example. A window into history bigger than just sport, a window into popular culture and politics.”

Marantz fondly recalls some of the characters he met while covering the sweet science: “Promoters Don King and Bob Arum, both conniving quotable snakes. Trainer Ray Arcel, in his 80s, a pillar of honesty and integrity. Emanuel Steward and Prentiss Byrd, running the Kronk Gym as a beacon of light and hope in Detroit’s blighted inner city. In Brockton, Massachusetts, two Italian-American brothers, Goody and Pat Petronelli, formed a sacred trust with an African- American boxer, Marvin Hagler.”

Marantz went on: “On my first newspaper job with the Kansas City Times/Star, I met a kindly trainer, Peyton Sher, who welcomed me into his gym and taught me the basics,” he said. “Never will forget Daeshik Seo, the Korean therapist for Larry Holmes who two weeks before the Holmes-[Gerry] Cooney fight in June 1982, tipped me to a story that a member of Holmes’ entourage pulled a pistol on Cooney’s entourage at Caesars Palace. Caesars top brass had to call Holmes on the carpet to get his people under control. Holmes was incensed at the story. In his media session after he won, he said I wrote it because I was [expletive] … and that I worked in a racist city, Boston.”

Marantz has never been put off by the seedy elements of the sport. “I don’t feel polarized by it.,” he says. “Nobody is forced to box. Nobody is forced to watch it. The world has bigger problems than boxing.”

Marantz has fond memories of the people he met and the friendships he made while covering boxing. Does he miss not being rinigside? “Not really,” he says. “My time came and went. Journalism and life took me in other directions. I do have some nostalgia for that era, and for the people who were part of it.”

Having been around the sweet science for a spell, Marantz offered sage advice to anyone inclined to mix it up: “Be disciplined, work hard, find a good trainer, learn the subtleties, read the tea leaves and don’t be pig-headed.”

Actually, all of those traits are always handy, even if one doesn’t step into the ring.

You can read more about Steve Marantz at his website: www.stevemarantz.com

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Mercito Gesta Victorious Over Jojo Diaz at the Long Beach Pyramid

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LONG BEACH, CA.-Those in the know knew Mercito Gesta and Jojo Diaz would be a fight to watch and they delivered.

Gesta emerged the winner in a super lightweight clash between southpaws that saw the judges favor his busier style over Diaz’s body attack and bigger shots and win by split decision on Saturday.

Despite losing the main event because the star was overweight, Gesta (34-3-3, 17 KOs) used an outside method of tactic to edge past former world champion Diaz (32-4-1, 15 KOs) in front of more than 5,000 fans at the Pyramid.

The speedy Gesta opened up the fight with combination punching up and down against the peek-a-boo style of Diaz. For the first two rounds the San Diego fighter overwhelmed Diaz though none of the blows were impactful.

In the third round Diaz finally began unloading his own combinations and displaying the fast hands that helped him win world titles in two divisions. Gesta seemed stunned by the blows, but his chin held up. The counter right hook was Diaz’s best weapon and snapped Gesta’s head back several times.

Gesta regained control in the fifth round after absorbing big blows from Diaz. He seemed to get angry that he was hurt and opened up with even more blows to send Diaz backpedaling.

Diaz targeted his attack to Gesta’s body and that seemed to slow down Gesta. But only for a round.

From the seventh until the 10th each fighter tried to impose their style with Gesta opening up with fast flurries and Diaz using right hooks to connect with solid shots. They continued their method of attack until the final bell. All that mattered was what the judges preferred.

After 10 rounds one judge saw Diaz the winner 97-93 but two others saw Gesta the winner 99-91, 98-92. It was a close and interesting fight.

“I was expecting nothing. I was the victor in this fight and we gave a good fight,” said Gesta. “It’s not an easy fight and Jojo gave his best.”

Diaz was surprised by the outcome but accepted the verdict.

Everything was going good. I thought I was landing good body shots,” said Diaz. “I was pretty comfortable.”

Other Bouts

Mexico’s Oscar Duarte (25-1-1, 20 KOs) knocked out Chicago’s Alex Martin (18-5, 6 KOs) with a counter right hand after dropping him earlier in the fourth round. The super lightweight fight was stopped at 1:14 of the round.

A battle between undefeated super welterweights saw Florida’s Eric Tudor (8-0, 6 KOs) emerge the winner by unanimous decision after eight rounds versus Oakland’s Damoni Cato-Cain.

The taller Tudor showed polished skill and was not bothered by a large cut on his forehead caused by an accidental clash of heads. He used his jab and lead rights to defuse the attacks of the quick-fisted southpaw Cato-Cain. The judges scored the fight 80-72 and 78-74 twice for Tudor.

San Diego’s Jorge Chavez (5-0, 4 KOs) needed less than one round to figure out Nicaragua’s Bryan Perez (12-17-1, 11 KOs) and send him into dreamland with a three-punch combination. No need to count as referee Ray Corona waved the fight over. Perez shot a vicious right followed by another right and then a see-you-later left hook at 3.00 of the first round of the super featherweight match.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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