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Vonda Ward: Much More Than a Highlight Reel

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Anyone who can beat 235-pound Martha Salazar three times is someone who can flat out fight. An ex-basketball player named Vonda Ward defeated her three times (all by decision).

Salazar was an immensely popular and talented female fighter out of San Francisco, CA by way of Jalisco, Mexico. On November 8, 2014, she won the WBC world heavyweight title against Tanzee Daniel by unanimous decision. She lost the title in March 2016 to Alejandra Jimenez in Mexico and retired the following year.

Bottom line: Martha Salazar was a pioneer in legitimizing the heavyweight division in Female Boxing.

“Some girls like to play soccer. Some like to play tennis. Some play volleyball. But we don’t play – we box. So, it’s a very big difference between other sports knowing that someone else is going to hit you. So we want everybody to feel secure, safe, and know that this is what we do, this is what we are and no one can change us.”  — Martha Salazar

Vonda Ward

The 6’6” Ward played basketball at Trinity HS in Garfield Heights, Ohio, and was twice named Ohio’s “Ms. Basketball. She made the prestigious Parade All American team twice and was named an All American by USA Today. In 1991, she joined the University of Tennessee basketball team coached by the legendary Pat Summit.

During her four years at UT, Ward started 49 of 125 games, averaging 6.7 points and 5.6 rebounds while blocking 98 shots – still the 10th most by a Tennessee player. During her time there, the Lady Vols put together a 122-11 record and won three Southeastern Conference championships. Ward was a member of the 1995 squad that played in the NCAA championship game, losing to perennial powerhouse Connecticut. Ward then competed with USA Basketball as a member of the 1993 Jones Cup Team that won the Bronze in Taipei.

vonda

After college, Vonda played for a professional basketball club in Aschaffenburg, Germany and then the ABL’s bootstrap Colorado Xplosion. Injuries cut short her pro basketball career, so given her muscularity, size and athleticism, she was attracted to boxing.

In 2000, her first year of competition, Ward, nicknamed the “All American Girl,” was 10-0 including eight first-round knockouts. None of her opponents lasted beyond the second round. While her fluidity was not especially smooth, she compensated by leveraging her size and a deceptive mean streak (inside the ring) to beat down her opposition. She simply was physically superior to her competition. She was no female Ivan Drago but her defined-sculpted body made her very intimidating.

Ward was 18-0 when she fought the ever-dangerous 5’9” Ann Wolfe on May 8, 2004. In the opening round, Wolf scored the most astounding KO in female boxing history and one of the most spectacular of all time, male or female. Ward had jumped forward into the impact of Ann’s overhand punch, and the result left her unresponsive for several minutes. She was then immobilized and stretchered out of the ring.

Most would have retired at this point, but Vonda wasn’t “most.” Seven months later, she returned to the ring and knocked out Marsha Valley in four rounds in Cleveland.

She went on to win four more bouts, finishing her career with a record of 23-1 with 17 KOs. In her next-to-last fight, in February of 2007, Ward won the inaugural WBC female heavyweight title, defeating Salazar for the third and final time by unanimous decision.

This is the part that is always overlooked. Unfortunately, Vonda’s career continues to be defined by her spectacular and scary KO and not her 23-1 record with 17 KO’s. It’s always about the highlight reel.

Vonda Ward announced her retirement in 2010. She is now a personal trainer working out of King’s Gym in Bedford Heights, Ohio. Known for giving back to her community, she often reminisces about the late Pat Summit and what could have been at Tennessee. She was inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

For most, Vonda will be remembered for the Wolf knockout. For this writer, however, she will be noted as a rare female athlete who was able to compete at the top level of two different professional sports.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com and welcomes comments and posts.

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R.I.P. Les Bonano (1943-2022), Linchpin of Boxing in New Orleans

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Les Bonano, a fixture on the New Orleans area boxing scene for 50 years, passed away on Saturday night, May 21, at his home in Slidell, Louisiana, surrounded by his wife of 60 years, Mary, his four children and his eight grandchildren. Bonano, who had been in and out of the hospital in recent months with kidney problems, was 79 years old.

Bonano joined the New Orleans Police Department in 1965 and patrolled the French Quarter, one of America’s most harrowing beats. In 1974, while working for the New Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Department, he was charged with starting an intramural sports program to relieve tensions at the parish prison. He began with basketball and then added boxing. Somewhat later, he opened a gym and took to training, managing, and promoting fighters. He retired from law enforcement in 1981 to give boxing his full attention.

Bonano was poised to seize the moment when neighboring Mississippi legalized gambling in 1990. He carved out arrangements with Gulf Coast casino resorts in Biloxi and Bay St. Louis to keep his fighters’ busy. Many of the shows that he facilitated were mid-week shows that aired on the old USA cable network.

Bonano never had the satisfaction of managing a world champion, but he came awful close with Melvin Paul who lost a controversial decision to Charlie “Cho Choo” Brown in the inaugural IBF lightweight title fight. Others in Bonano’s stable who went on to compete for world titles include Jerry Celestine, Anthony Stephens, and John Duplessis. Celestine, a light heavyweight who fought Michael Spinks, was an alumnus of Bonano’s prison program.

More recently, Bonano promoted Jonathan Guidry, the Dulac, LA heavyweight who made a surprisingly strong showing against WBA (secondary) title-holder Trevor Bryan on a Don King promotion in Warren, Ohio.

In July of last year, Les Bonano was formally inducted into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame with the class of 2021. “He is perhaps the final ruler of what remains of a fraying and depleted boxing kingdom in the formerly great fight city of New Orleans,” wrote Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a New Orleans native, in a tribute that ran on these pages.

We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to the Bonano family. May he rest in peace.

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What’s Next for David Benavidez?

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What’s Next for David Benavidez?

POST-FIGHT REPORT BY TSS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT NORM FRAUENHEIM —

GLENDALE, AZ – Forget Canelo Alvarez.

That, at least, was the message from David Benavidez and his promoter late Saturday after he demolished David Lemieux in front of a roaring crowd at Gila River Arena in a Showtime-televised rout.

Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) has been talking about a super-middleweight showdown with Canelo for the last couple of years. His victory, a third-round stoppage of Lemieux, put him first in line for a shot at the World Boxing Council’s version of the 168-pound title, still held by Canelo

But that talk stopped. Canelo who?

It sounded as if Benavidez, the WBC’s interim champion, was ready to shut that door and move on, possibly to Caleb Plant or Jermall Charlo or David Morrell. He never mentioned Canelo during a post-fight news conference a couple of hours after bulldozing Lemieux, a former middleweight champion who was overmatched in every way.

“Plant, Charlo, Morrell, maybe we can put together a fight against one of those guys later in the year,’’ said Benavidez, who drew an estimated crowd of nearly 10,000 for the second straight time in an Arizona arena near his old neighborhood in Phoenix.

The question is whether Plant, or Charlo, or Morrell would be willing to face Benavidez. Lemieux was smaller and older. Still, it was scary to witness the beatdown delivered by Benavidez, who grew up about seven miles from Gila River, a National Hockey League Arena.

Benavidez, 25 and still a couple years from his prime, seemingly did it all. He started with body punches. At the end of the first round, he landed a lethal upper-cut, the first in what would prove to be an overwhelming storm. In the second, he knocked Lemieux through the ropes, leaving the Canadian bloodied, dazed and defenseless. At 1:31 of the third it was over. Lemieux (43-5. 36 KOs) did not attend the post-fight news conference. He was taken to a nearby hospital in Glendale.

“He’s a good fighter, a courageous fighter,’’ Benavidez said. “He did what those others wouldn’t do. He fought me.’’

Unlike Benavidez, his promoter, Sampson Lewkowicz mentioned Canelo, who is coming off a stunning loss to light-heavyweight Dimitry Bivol.

“Please, you guys need to quit asking about Canelo,’’ Lewkowicz told a room full of reporters. “We’re looking at three guys. We think we can put together a fight with Charlo, or Plant, or Morrell. But Canelo won’t fight David.

“He’ll never fight the world’s best super-middleweight.’’

Photo credit: Esther Lin / SHOWTIME

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The Middleweight Division has a New Star in Janibek Alimkhanuly

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Step aside, GGG. Kazakhstan has a new fistic hero and his name is Janibek Alimkhanuly. Tonight, at Resorts World in Las Vegas, Janibek (he usually goes by his first name) destroyed Britain’s intrepid Danny Dignum inside two rounds, scoring two knockdowns, the second of which, a five-punch combination climaxed by a short uppercut, left Dignum unconscious. Referee Tony Weeks waived the fight off immediately. The official time was 2:11 of round two.

With the victory, Janibek (12-0, 8 KOs) becomes the interim WBO middleweight champion. The belt is currently held by Demetrius Andrade who is expected to move to 168, opening the door for the 29-year-old Kazakh southpaw to become “full-fledged.”

Although he held the WBO European middleweight title and was undefeated (14-0-1) coming in, Dignum wasn’t expected to provide much opposition. Janibek was stepping down in class after stopping former title-holders Rob Brant and Hassan D’Dam D’Jikam in his previous two fights.

Janibek’s trainer Buddy McGirt doesn’t believe that there is a middleweight on the planet who can hold his own with Janibek (no, not even undefeated Jermall Charlo!) and based on tonight’s performance, it would be hard to argue.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, youth was served as Jamaine Ortiz, the younger man by 10 years, won a unanimous 10-round decision over former WBO super featherweight champion Jamel Herring. The judges had it 96-94 and 97-93 twice.

Ortiz, from Worcester, Massachusetts, did his best work late in the fight as Herring’s workload declined. The bout was marred by several accidental clashes of heads with Herring getting the worst of it on each occasion.

“I could have done a lot better,” said Ortiz (16-0-1, 8 KOs) after winning the most high-profile fight of his career. Herring, who was making his first start with trainer Manny Robles, fell to 23-4 and hinted that he may retire.

Other Bouts of Note

The opener on ESPN’s main platform showcased Cleveland welterweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson, a 2020 Olympian, who advanced to 4-0 (3) with a third-round stoppage of Argentina’s Agustin Kucharski (8-5-1).

Johnson had Kucharski on the canvas twice in the first minute of the third round, both the result of counter right hands. Kucharski, who was making his U.S. debut and hadn’t previously been stopped, twisted around as he fell the second time and the white towel flew out from his corner. The official time was 0:54.

Glendale, CA featherweight Adam Lopez (16-3, 6 KOs) overcame a pair of knockdowns to win a unanimous 8-round decision over William Encarnacion. The judges had it 76-74 and 77-74 twice.

Lopez, 26, is one of two fighting sons of the late Hector “Torero” Lopez, a former two-time world title challenger who developed a big following in LA in the 1990s. Encarnacion who represented the Dominican Republic in the 2012 Olympics, lost for the third time in 22 starts.

Former WBO super bantamweight champion Jessie Magdaleno returned to the ring after an absence of almost two full years and whitewashed Mexico’s Edy Valencia in an 8-round featherweight contest, winning by 80-72 across the board. Las Vegas’ Magdaleno improved to 29-1 (4-0 since losing his belt to Isaac Dogboe). Valencia declined to 19-7-6.

Cincinnati featherweight Duke Ragan, a silver medalist in Tokyo improved to 6-0 with his fifth straight win by decision, a four-round whitewash of South Carolina’s Victorino Gonzalez (5-3).

In the ESPN+ opener, undefeated Chicago lightweight Giovanni Cabrera (20-0, KOs) won a unanimous 8-round decision over 34-year-old Argentine import Elias Araujo (21-5). The judges saw it 79-72, 77-74, and 75-73. There were no knockdowns, but Araujo lost a point for holding.

Cabrera lacks a hard punch which diminishes his upside, but he’s a stylish southpaw who has elevated his game since hooking up with Freddie Roach.

Photo Credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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