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Avila Perspective, Chap. 170:  How Good is Gary Russell Jr. (?) and More

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Gary Allen Russell Jr. has not lost a fight in eight years and holds a grip on the WBC featherweight title as tight as the mythical Thor holds the hammer Mjolnir. It’s comical how good he actually is.

So why isn’t he more recognized?

Russell (31-1, 18 KOs) defends the WBC featherweight title against Mark Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs) on Saturday Jan. 22, at Borgata Hotel Casino in Atlantic City. Showtime will televise the card.

“If I go out there and I destroy Mark on Saturday, then the big fights that I want, those fighters won’t be in a rush to face me, not that they are now anyway. I’m always trying to give the same message when I enter the ring. I believe in intellect over athleticism, no matter the situation,” said Russell.

Prizefighting has always had spectacular talent that go largely unrecognized, especially in the lighter weight classes. Think Ricardo “Finito” Lopez or Willie Pep and you get the idea.

Russell belongs with the Finitos and Peps of the world who dominated with a blend of technique and no-nonsense approach to the sport of boxing. He is a special breed of fighter that has a vast array of tools, but pure unadulterated power is not one of those tools of his trade.

Hence, lack of recognition. Fans love fighters with crackling power who can end a fight with a single punch a la Mike Tyson or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.

Another missing ingredient: cheap talk.

Russell doesn’t go on social media sites and claim to be the greatest of all-time or stalk other fighters on the Internet. Its just not his thing. He’s a fighter pure and simple. And he does it with a flourish.

“Mark is actually willing to put it all on the line. He’s going to go out there and give it his best,” said Russell of his foe Magsayo. “A lot of other fighters want to hide from the best. But I know Mark wants this badly. It’s a pleasure to share the field of battle with him.”

You don’t hear many other fighters talk like that about their foes.

Among those he’s defeated are Jojo Diaz, Kiko Martinez, and Jhonny Gonzalez. His only loss was to Vasyl Lomachenko by majority decision. Losing to the Ukrainian fighter now fighting at lightweight was not an embarrassment. To Russell it was just a matter of opinion.

Opinions on Russell vary. Some say a lack of fights have kept him out of the public eye. They have a point. It’s been eight years since the southpaw from Capitol Heights, Maryland fought more than once in a calendar year. He’s like winter solstice.

Whether its lack of activity or lack of power the compact fighting style of Russell has been a puzzle that all others not named Lomachenko have been unable to solve. He’s learned over his extensive amateur and pro career how to minimize the danger and be effective with the least amount of punches. It’s worked so far.

Filipino slugger Magsayo seeks to be the one who finally capsizes Russell’s unbeaten boat as the featherweight champion. His go-for-broke style could be the antidote needed to dethrone the champion. Five others have tried during the past five years and five have failed. Maybe it’s Magsayo’s turn.

“It’s great to have Freddie Roach and Marvin Somodio helping me every day. I thought that I already knew boxing, but when I came to the gym they corrected my mistakes and made me a much more accurate puncher,” said Magsayo of his American trainers. “I can fight and I can adjust. I have speed just like Gary does. On Saturday, we’ll put our skills up against each other.”

Its another chance to see Russell and for many a first opportunity to see Magsayo. Showtime will be featuring this fight and two others on Saturday.

Boom, Boom

Boxing’s Hall of Fame fighter Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and veteran announcer Bob Alexander will be commentating on the Don King pay-per-view fight card slated for Saturday Jan. 29, at Warren, Ohio. The main event features WBA heavyweight titlist Trevor Bryan (21-0, 15 KOs) defending against Jonathan Guidry (17-0-2, 10 KOs).

Boom Boom has a lengthy history of analyzing fights behind the microphone. He had an extraordinary career as a prizefighter. Most of you are too young to remember when Mancini engaged in several exciting battles with Bobby Chacon, Art Frias, Alexis Arguello, Livingstone Bramble, Hector Camacho and Jose Luis Ramirez. All were furious fights. That was Boom Boom’s style.

If you want to read more about Mancini’s life story, check out Mark Kriegel’s book The Good Son: The Life of Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. It’s a masterpiece by Kriegel who also wrote about Joe Namath and Pistol Pete Maravich. All excellent books by the author who now works as an analyst with ESPN for Top Rank shows.

Fights to Watch

Sat. Showtime 6 p.m. Gary Russell (31-1) vs Mark Magsayo (23-0); Subriel Matias (17-1) vs Petros Ananyan (16-2-2); Tug Nyambayar (12-2) vs Sakaria Lukas (25-1).

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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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