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AIBA Confirms Corruption at 2016 Rio Olympics; in Other News, Water is Wet

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It has been said that it’s difficult, almost impossible even, to refute something you see with your own eyes. But the validity of the eye test carried little to no weight during the scandal-soiled boxing competition at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where what everyone saw was not always what everyone got. Two prime examples of the proof that corruption in Olympic boxing rings was again rampant were the gold medal that was awarded to Russian heavyweight Evengy Tischenko over far more deserving Vassiliy Levit of Kazakhstan and a hotly disputed early-round decision that went to another Russian, Vladimir Tikitin, over top-seeded bantamweight Michael Conlan of Ireland. Tikitin eventually came away with a bronze medal, but an enraged Conlan’s Olympic journey ended in bitterness.

“They’re cheating bastards,” Conlan, who reacted to his announced defeat by flashing one-finger salutes to offending ringside officials assigned by the International Boxing Association (AIBA), the much-maligned governing body for Olympic boxing. “They’re paying everybody. They’ve always been cheats. It’s a shambles, to be honest. Today just showed how corrupt this organization is.”

In indignant reaction to the complaints of Levit, Conlan and others who seemingly had had their bouts judged by officials who either were incompetent or complicit in skullduggery, the AIBA issued a statement that read: With regard to corruption, we would like to strongly restate that unless tangible proof is put forward, not rumors, we will continue to use any means, including legal or disciplinary actions, to protect our sport and its R&J (Referees and Judges) community, whose integrity is constantly put into question. The organization will not be deterred by subjective judgments made by discontented parties.

Five years later, some measure of delayed justice for wronged parties in Rio, who had ample reason to be discontented, was delivered in what was termed an independent report authored by Western Ontario University law professor Richard McLaren. The prof’s company had been hired by AIBA to ascertain, as best it could, whether what appeared to be an overflowing toilet of malfeasance needed to be spiffed up with a Tidy Bowl tablet and a bit of air freshener. Not that any forthcoming adjustments will alter the results of Rio 2016 for Levit, Conlan and other victims in the Legion of the Screwed. Those outcomes are in the books and forever confirmed for posterity’s sake, all eye tests to the contrary notwithstanding.

Owning up to one Olympiad’s worth of rotten officiating, the AIBA issued another statement, this one conceding that the McLaren group’s findings were being viewed “with concern” and that “extensive reforms have been implemented to ensure sporting integrity at current AIBA competitions.” It went on to state that McLaren will probe “not only the 2016 Rio boxing tournament but also all key events until now to reach full transparency.”

It is commendable that AIBA is finally shining an unfavorable light upon itself, but it is akin to opening the barn door after a raging fire has burned down the remainder of the structure. The International Olympic Committee, which has a few skeletons in its own closet, removed AIBA’s governance of the boxing tournament at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (actually staged this year because of COVID-19 concerns) amid all the bad vibes that seemed to be intensifying. It can be argued that AIBA, its absolute control of Olympic boxing slip-sliding away, has been dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right thing on the premise that some of whatever validity it once had might be salvageable going forward.

But it might be a case of too little and too late, and that is even if there is some degree of certainty that the current top administrators of AIBA – Russia’s Umar Kremlev has been its president since 2020 – can pump out the flooded areas of a ship that, in some astute observers’ estimation, has been incrementally sinking at least since the 1988 Seoul Olympics. There is a school of thought that the IOC might simply excise a problem sport that has been a part of the Olympic movement since the 2004 St. Louis Olympics prior to the 2024 Paris Games.

Legendary trainer Emanuel Steward, who was 68 when he died on Oct. 25, 2012, spent only one dissatisfying year as USA Boxing’s director of coaching before he stepped down in the early 2000s from what he perceived to be a mostly ornamental position.

“Are we prepared to just walk away? I don’t know,” Steward said of the possibility that the United States might become so disillusioned with the Olympics, or at least Olympic boxing, that the country might simply step away from the quadrennial event. “I do know that Olympic boxing is not what it used to be, and nobody in America is in agreement on what they want to do.

“To me, it’s been steadily declining since 1988. I don’t even have my amateur kids today pointing toward the Olympics. When I started coaching in 1961, that was everyone’s dream. It was my dream to make the Olympic team in 1964. Your first thought was trying to go to the Olympics, then you worried about turning professional.”

Steward’s mention of 1988 as the possible genesis of what has become a downward spiral is telling. It was at the Seoul Olympics that year that America’s 156-pound representative, Roy Jones Jr. – you might have heard of him – was on the short end of what arguably has been the most egregiously unjust result in the history of Olympic boxing. Jones battered his South Korean opponent, Park Si-Hun, from pillar to post from the opening bell to the end of the scheduled three-rounder, only to be stunned when the judges voted 3-2 that the gold medal should go to the home-nation fighter. That result continues to stand, although a consolation prize, the Val Barker Trophy as the Seoul Olympics’ “most outstanding boxer,” went to Jones.

If the shafting of Jones is the most obvious example of any funny business being done in ’88, succeeding Olympics offered evidence of the increasing brazenness of AIBA presidents Dr. Anwar Chowdhry of Pakistan (now deceased) and Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu of Chinese Taipei. Chowdhry remained in the top spot for a quarter-century until being voted out and replaced by Wu, who promised sweeping reforms, in 2006. If there were such reforms made, however, they were not evident to Teddy Atlas, who was the analyst for NBC’s coverage of four Olympiads (2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012). The unapologetically blunt Atlas was not retained in that position in 2016, possibly because he tends to speak the truth as he sees it and is not disposed to gloss over controversies.

Prior to the London Olympics, there had been a British Broadcasting Corporation report the previous September that Azerbaijan, an oil- and mineral-rich satellite country of the old Soviet Union, was prepared to pay millions of dollars to “buy” two gold medals in boxing. The BBC report found documents showing that a $9 million bank transfer, funneled through Switzerland, where AIBA is headquartered, went to a boxing organization owned by AIBA. Atlas mentioned the existence of the report to the American TV audience, but did not state whether it had validity since no certifiably provable links to wrongdoing had been established.

But if anyone needed a large mound of circumstantial evidence to ascertain that something indeed was amiss, it was presented when Atlas and broadcasting partner Bob Papa were calling a match during which a Japanese boxer, Satoshi Shimisu, knocked down Azerbaijan’s Magomed Abdulhamidev seven times, but amazingly, “the Azerbaijan guy’s point total kept going up!,” Atlas said for a 5,000-word story I did for this site that first appeared online on Aug. 25, 2016. “Bob and I were, like, `Can they really be this arrogant? This cold, this uncaring? Don’t these people have any sense of right and wrong, that they can do this before the entire world?’” It hardly seemed to matter much that Japan’s protest on Shimisu’s behalf was upheld in the face of vehement and widespread public outrage.

Fixing Olympic boxing, and maybe even the Olympics as a whole, may require more than a squeegee and a bucket of soapy water. The McLaren Report indicated its investigation focused primarily on Rio in 2016 (there also were signs the 2012 London Olympiad was affected) and any international tournaments since, but to appreciate the full scope of all that was subverted requires a longer, more thorough look at the multiple stains accumulated at least since 1988, and maybe even before then. There is a reason why Olympic boxing, the sport that first brought such luminaries as Cassius Clay, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Oscar De La Hoya and others to prominence, no longer merits prime-time exposure on NBC, instead being shuttled off to alternative, little-viewed TV outlets. There is also a reason why more and more young fighters, not just Americans, are turning pro earlier instead of hanging around to pursue Olympic dreams that are no longer quite so enticing.

“Key personnel decided that the rules did not apply to them,” McLaren determined, adding that there was a “culture of fear, intimidation and obedience in the ranks of referees and judges.” He further noted that senior AIBA officials used their power to select referees and judges and turned the commission, which was supposed to ensure they were assigned fairly, into “a mere rubber stamp … to ensure the manipulation of outcomes.”

Perhaps the current AIBA president, Kremlev, will have the resources and will to cleanse all or most of his organization’s blight. Not that anyone’s nationality should be held against them, but being a Russian might not be construed as a positive now insofar as the Olympics and particularly AIBA are concerned. The 2014 Winter Olympics, President Vladimir Putin’s pet project, were staged in Sochi, Russia, and were the costliest ever with a price tag of $51 billion. It later was ascertained that nearly every Russian competitor in Sochi had benefited from the administering of state-sanctioned performance enhancing drugs. Make of that what you will, or that Putin and his “good friend,” IOC President Thomas Bach of Germany, were seated together at ringside for Tischenko’s gift decision over Levit in Rio, a miscarriage of justice almost on the level of Si-Hun over Jones in 1988. Neither man seemed surprised nor concerned about the dubious outcome.

“AIBA hired Professor McLaren because we have nothing to hide,” Kremlev indicated in a statement. “We will work to incorporate any helpful recommendations that are made. We will also take legal advice with regard to what action is possible against those found to have participated in any manipulation. There should be no place in the AIBA family for anyone who has fixed a fight.”

Encouraging words to be sure, but we have repeatedly heard more or less the same tune in the past. The question is, will Olympic boxing actually be able to dance to it instead of stumbling over its own feet?

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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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 280: Matchroom Snatches ‘Boots’ Ennis and More

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 280: Matchroom Snatches ‘Boots’ Ennis and More

It was bound to happen in professional boxing.

A British promotion company lured one of America’s top, if not the top, welterweight prizefighter in the world in Jaron “Boots” Ennis it was announced this week by Matchroom Boxing. It’s a multi-fight deal.

Ennis (31-0, 28 KOs) holds the IBF welterweight title after knocking out Venezuela’s Roiman Villa last July in Atlantic City. The Philadelphia-based fighter has long been considered one of the most talented and complete boxers in the world. And now he’s signed with Matchroom Boxing based in London.

“I’m excited for this partnership with Eddie Hearn, Matchroom and DAZN,” said Ennis. “I can’t wait to continue making my mark and becoming undisputed world champion.

It was just a matter of time before British promoters latched on to America’s best talent. Instead of pitting British fighters against American fighters, why not sign American fighters too.

Most fans in America fail to realize that boxing in the United Kingdom is a bigger more popular sport in that nation. Boxing ranks high in England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. It also ranks high in British Commonwealth countries like Australia.

Now Matchroom Boxing which streams boxing cards through DAZN will have another American star on its platform. The company previously had boxing’s biggest star, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, until his contract ran out. Signing Ennis could be the answer in finding the next big thing in boxing.

“I’ve watched this young man for many years, and I always believed he would become a pound-for-pound great, and I have no doubt he is already the greatest fighter in the division,” said promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing. “To win the race to sign Jaron is a massive coup for Matchroom Boxing and DAZN.”

Matchroom already has Conor Benn and the addition of Ennis gives the British promotion company two of the best welterweights in the division.

The signing of an American star like Ennis in some ways represents the international competition for sports talent whether its soccer, boxing or baseball as what we saw in the signing of Japan’s two biggest baseball stars by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Streaming has replaced television and the ability to watch fights live from any spot in the world has changed how we watch boxing and other sports.

A massive struggle by streaming giants has commenced and DAZN along with ESPN and Prime Video have joined the battle.

Manchester Card on Saturday

Two female world title fights lead the charge this weekend for Matchroom Boxing along with a men’s super featherweight clash between two former EBU titlists Jordan Gill and Zelfa Barrett.

IBF super bantamweight titlist Ellie Scotney (8-0) meets France’s Segolene Lefebvre (18-0) the WBO super bantamweight titlist in a unification match on Saturday April 13, at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

Also, Rhiannon Dixon (9-0) meets Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-1) for the vacant WBO lightweight title.

R.I.P.

Promoter Gary Shaw passed away this week according to several sources including WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman.

I first met Shaw when he was COO of Main Events in the late 1990s after Dan Duva passed away. At the time Ferocious Fernando Vargas was a rising star and the promotion company was a major player in the boxing scene. They also had Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, and Arturo Gatti on their roster.

Later, he moved on to form his own company and with fighters such as Rafael Marquez, Diego Corrales and others he staged many fights on Showtime. If I recall correctly, Shaw was connected with the Diego Corrales vs Jose Luis Castillo battles and the Israel Vazquez vs Rafael Marquez wars.

The fights between those warriors are considered the best for that period in the early 2000s.

Another sports figure, OJ Simpson passed away too.

I mention OJ because I often came across the USC Trojan football running back who lit up the gridiron during the 1960s and 70s.

As a college student I lived a few blocks from Simpson in the Brentwood area and often saw him with his family. Once while in New York City visiting a friend I ran into him again at La Guardia Airport.

Simpson was accused and acquitted of murdering his wife and her friend in 1994.

Fights to Watch

Sat. DAZN 9 a.m. Ellie Scotney (8-0) vs Segolene Lefebvre (18-0)).

Sat. ESPN 7 p.m. Jared Anderson (16-0) vs Ryad Merhy (32-2); Efe Ajagba (19-1) vs Guido Vianello (12-1-1).

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Resurgent Angelo Leo Turns Away Eduardo Baez on a Wednesday Night in Florida

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Resurgent Angelo Leo Turns Away Eduardo Baez on a Wednesday Night in Florida

The latest in the series of bi-monthly Wednesday Night Fights played out tonight at the ProBox TV Events Center (formerly Whitesands) in the Tampa Bay area community of Plant City, Florida.

In the main event, featherweight Angelo Leo improved to 24-1 (11) with a unanimous 10-round decision over stubborn but outclassed Eduardo Baez (23-6-2). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Leo, from Las Vegas by way of Albuquerque, was formerly a key member of Floyd Mayweather Jr’s “Money Team.” He briefly held a version of the world super bantamweight title, a diadem he lost to Stephen Fulton in his first title defense. Baez, a former world title challenger, never stopped trying, but Leo was stronger and sharper while scoring his third straight win at this venue following stoppages of Nicolas Polanco and Mike Plania.

Leo has his sights set on IBF world featherweight title-holder Luis “Venado” Lopez.

Co-Main

In a well-matched, 8-round super featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Jaycob Bradley Gomez (10-0-1) kept his unbeaten record intact with a hard-fought majority decision over scrappy Jose Arellano (11-2). The scores were 76-76 and 77-75 twice.

Gomez, whose father was a former cornerman for Miguel Cotto, was making his sixth appearance at this venue. Arellano, a Mexico-born Coloradoan, fought most of the fight with a deep cut over his right eye. Without that impediment, he just might have sprung the upset.

Other Bouts

In another super featherweight match, also slated for “8,” Puerto Rico-born Dominic Valle, a local product, improved to 9-0 (7 KOs) with a second-round stoppage of Mexico’s Angel Vazquez Lupercio (12-2). Valle hurt Lupercio with a body punch and then backed him into the ropes and unleashed a barrage of punches, leading referee Alica Collins to waive it off. The official time was 2:27 of round two.

A third-generation prizefighter who has a side gig as a model, the 23-year-old Valle is managed by the influential David McWater who also handles Valle’s brother Marques, a junior middleweight who fights here in two weeks.

Yoel Angeloni, a 20-year-old welterweight, stamped himself a fighter to watch with a 74-second blowout of obscure 42-year-old Michael Williams. The son of an Italian father and a Cuban mother, raised in Italy, Angeloni was purportedly 140-2 as an amateur (9-2 per boxrec).

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