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Can Evan Holyfield Revitalize Main Events, his Promotional Firm?

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Evan Holyfield, the middle child of Evander Holyfield’s 11 children, made his pro debut on Nov. 2, 2019. His opponent lasted 16 seconds. Last night, Holyfield, a junior middleweight, pushed his record to 9-0 (6) with a comfortable 6-round decision over gritty but outclassed Chris Rollins at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City.

Standing a shade under six-foot-two, Holyfield, 24, seemingly has a very bright future. A big question is whether he will still be welded to his current promoter, Main Events, when he reaches his peak. If not, the curtain may have closed on the New Jersey-based company that was once a dominant force in the industry. At the moment, the Main Events cupboard is lean and while it includes several former amateur standouts who have yet to taste defeat at the professional level, there’s no one with the pull to command a hefty purse anytime soon.

Evan Holyfield officially turned pro at a press conference in Houston, the city where his famous father was chiseled into a more imposing warrior by sports performance guru Tim Hallmark. In choosing to cast his lot with Main Events, young Holyfield was following the path trod by his father who fought under the Main Events banner for most of his career.

Main Events had its genesis in a series of monthly club fights in the 1970s at a skating rink in the northern New Jersey town of Totowa. The driving force was Lou Duva, who had transitioned into promoting after working as a part-time trainer and cut man. Duva’s timing couldn’t have been better. In 1976, voters in New Jersey approved a referendum that brought casino gambling to Atlantic City. The first licensed U.S. casino east of Nevada opened in May of 1978, infusing new money into the fight game, and another spigot opened with the birth of ESPN in 1979.

The craggy-faced Duva remained the face of the company after his son Dan, one of his five children and the oldest of his two sons, became the titular head of the company after earning a law degree from Seton Hall. A partnership between the Duvas and rock concert promoter Shelly Finkel took the firm to new heights.

Dan Duva died in January of 1996 at age 44 from brain cancer. (His father Lou Duva lived to be 94, passing away in 2017). During Dan’s tenure, Main Events promoted more than 100 championship fights, including 12 in the heavyweight division. Evander Holyfield and Pernell Whitaker were among six 1984 U.S. Olympians that signed with Main Events coming out of the amateur ranks.

duvas

The Duvas were an exceedingly tight-knee family until Dan passed away. A power struggle between Lou’s other son Dino Duva and Dan’s widow Kathy ensued with Kathy, who had been the firm’s publicist, assuming control of the company in June of 1999.

During her early years at the helm of Main Events, Arturo Gatti bubbled into a big star. His nuclear confrontations with Micky Ward set revenue records for non-title fights. In more recent years, the top gun of the Main Events stable was Sergey Kovalev.

Heading into his first encounter with Andre Ward, “Krusher” Kovalev was on virtually everyone’s list of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. His setback to Ward barely dented his stature as the verdict was controversial. However, Kovalev’s star plummeted after he was stopped by Ward in their rematch and he largely disappeared from view after being stopped by Canelo Alvarez.

Kovalev has had two fights fall out since his bout with Canelo, the first because the pandemic made it economically unfeasible and the second because he tested positive for a banned substance. However, both bouts were designed as confidence-restorers and neither would have attracted much buzz.

Last we checked, Kovalev is still under contract to Main Events. According to ESPN’s Mike Coppinger, he will be returning to the ring on March 12 against Meng Fanlong at a catchweight of 188 pounds on a Triller Fight Club promotion in Los Angeles. Triller is known for overpaying the fighters that appear on their shows, but it’s hard to imagine that Kovalev will command a purse anywhere near what he earned for either of his matches with Andre Ward and at age 38 his best days are behind him.

This coming June, Kathy Duva will be formally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, joining her late husband and late father-in-law in the Canastota shrine. It’s a well-deserved honor, but can’t mask the fact that Main Events is tottering on unsteady legs. Perhaps Evander Holyfield’s son can restore the luster.

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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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