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Percy Pugh, Gone at 81, Deserved More Acclaim in His New Orleans Hometown

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Maybe former welterweight contender Percy Pugh would have gotten his chance to deliver the acceptance speech he had rehearsed who knows how many times in his mind had he had a better campaign manager than me making his case for induction into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame.

Maybe Pugh (pictured on the right with Joe Frazier and opponent Adrian Davis) would have gotten the call to his hometown’s hall had he been a much-harder-hitting puncher instead of a pugilistic Fred Astaire, winning only five of his 47 professional victories by knockout.

Maybe he would have become more of an enduring local hero had he fought for and won the world championship he was denied for years because the powers-that-be who could have made it happen treated him as if he was the spreader of a communicable disease.

And maybe he’d now have a plaque hanging in the Caesars Superdome had more members of the GNOSHOF selection committee actually seen him fight during his 1960s prime, or did enough research to realize that his not terribly impressive 47-30 career record and low KO percentage did not come close to telling the entire story of someone whose bouts regularly sold-out Municipal Auditorium and whose skill set, even without a power component, dazzled audiences around the country.

That’s a slew of maybes, and even if at some future point the electorate that has rejected his candidacy on an annual basis does an about-face and inducts him posthumously, it will be a hollow victory for his diminishing number of contemporaries who still cling to the hope that he eventually will get his due. Percy’s friends and relatives are aging fast or already gone, and the reality of any Hall of Fame is that all potential inductees would much prefer to enjoy the moment while they’re still breathing and on this side of the grass.

In a story authored by John Reid that appeared in the July 13, 2000, issues of The Times-Picayune, the headline read that Percy Pugh, who once was boxing’s No. 1-ranked welterweight, was “…one of the best boxers the world never saw.”

There is so much going on in today’s world, what with the pandemic that is now in its third year, skyrocketing inflation, political turmoil and international intrigue, that the death of an 81-year-old fighter whose ring career as an active participant ended on May 18, 1974, with the last of 10 consecutive defeats, does not rate much, if any, attention. But maybe it shouldn’t be totally overlooked, either.

As a native New Orleanian who saw Percy Pugh fight live and in person on several occasions, making for some indelible memories, I felt compelled to make his case for induction into the GNOSHOF, as I had successfully done for three other athletes who I thought merited such recognition (a basketball player, tennis player and football player). It wasn’t as if I thought Percy deserved inclusion in the International Boxing Hall of Fame; I acknowledge his career had little to no chance of clearing the extremely high bar for admission to that exclusive club in Canastota, N.Y. But in New Orleans, which once had been a hotbed of boxing, his prime years as a popular and accomplished main-event attraction seemed to me worthy of serious consideration.

The boxing contingent in the GNOSHOF includes former world champions Pete Herman (inducted in 1971), Willie Pastrano (1973), Joe Brown (1977), Ralph Dupas (1978) and Tony Canzoneri (1984), as well as non-champions Bernard Docusen (1976), Marty Burke (1978) and Jimmy Perrin (1979). Dr. Eddie Flynn (1981) was never a pro, but he was honored for being an NCAA boxing champion as well as a member of the 1932 U.S. Olympic boxing team. Other inductees affiliated with boxing include trainer Whitey Esneault (2006), referee Elmo Adolph (2000) and promoter/manager Les Bonano (2021).

Where Philadelphia is renowned for its assembly line of left-hooking knockout artists, New Orleans was better known as the birthing place of slick boxers with fancy footwork, active jabs and negligible pop. That subset includes Herman, Dupas, Pastrano (some of whose moves were copied by the young Cassius Clay) and, for a heady time in the ’60s, Pugh.

Les Bonano, whose half-century in boxing was rewarded with his 2021 induction into the GNOSHOF, recalled happy times when he was involved with Pugh in various capacities. “Percy and I traveled the world together,” Bonano told writer Ted Lewis for the obituary of Pugh that appeared in the The New Orleans Advocate/Times-Picayune. “And everywhere we went, we ran into people who knew Percy. He loved to make people laugh when he was in the ring, and he loved to tell boxing stories. How could you not love a guy like that?”

But time passes and memories fade, and by and by those who appreciated Pugh as a stick-and-move escape artist who could make opponents look foolish either took their own eternal 10-count or moved on to other objects of fascination.

Two-time former heavyweight champion Chris Byrd once explained why his mobile, quick-hitting style, which might be described as a larger, left-handed version of Pugh’s, so infuriated opponents. “Nobody likes getting clowned,” he said, “clowning” being the ability to frustrate even good opponents who’d prefer that the other guy stay put and linger in the hitting zone.

“Tat-tat-tat, that’s how fast I was,” Pugh said in the 2000 story written by Reid. “I could bounce, move and stick my punches. A lot of people didn’t see them coming.”

Possibly one of the people who didn’t want to get hit with something he didn’t see, or miss with something he was trying to hit himself, was welterweight champion Curtis Cokes. Although Cokes dropped more than a few hints that he would eventually get around to sharing a ring with Pugh, the fight never happened. Nor would it, once Pugh suffered a couple of close losses that dropped him from his No. 1 ranking.

“I know I should have gotten my shot,” Pugh, still displeased decades after being passed over, recalled in 2000. “Everybody knows it.”

Minus the title bout he never got to appear in, the career high points for Pugh were his two showdowns with Jerry Pellegrini, a fellow main-eventer in New Orleans who was everything Pugh wasn’t: white, a big puncher and not nearly as fleet-footed and fast-handed. Pugh won both bouts by unanimous decision, the first a 10-rounder and the second a 15-rounder in which he annexed Pellegrini’s Southern 147-pound title. Each fight drew a sellout crowd of 5,000-plus in Municipal Auditorium, with segregated seating.

“The first fight should have been called a draw, but the second one he outscored me over 15 rounds,” Pellegrini recalled. “Percy was a good fighter. He was No. 1 in the world.

“But you know, Percy had white supporters and I had black supporters. I think people rooted for me because I got a lot of knockouts and they rooted for Percy because of the way he could move. But we both filled up the auditorium.”

One of my most lasting memories of Percy Pugh came on Feb. 24, 1989. I was in Las Vegas to cover Mike Tyson’s first of two fights with England’s Frank Bruno which would take place the following night at the Las Vegas Hilton. A large tent with a big-screen TV had been set up in the hotel’s parking lot so media members could watch the fight in snowy Atlantic City in which Roberto Duran again defied Father Time to dethrone WBC middleweight champion Iran Barkley by split decision.

I was talking outside the tent with Les Bonano, whom I had known for many years, when Percy Pugh, who was training one of Bonano’s fighters who would appear on the Tyson-Bruno undercard, dropped by. “Percy, I want to introduce you to Bernard Fernandez, the boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News,” Les said. I stuck out my hand to shake Percy’s, which he did with a limp grip and no enthusiasm for having just made my acquaintance.

“But you don’t understand,” Les told him. “Bernard is from New Orleans. He saw you fight several times.”

“Including both times you beat Jerry Pellegrini in Municipal Auditorium,” I told Percy, who perked up immediately. We spent the next 15 minutes discussing those fights (full disclosure: Jerry Pellegrini is a friend of mine) at some length, and I could sense that his being remembered, maybe particularly for those two fights, had the effect of making him feel that his past had not completely faded away, that there were still people who appreciated who and what he had been when he was at his best.

I can only speculate as to how fulfilling it would have been for Percy Pugh to have been accorded the recognition from the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame that Les Bonano and I believed then, and still do, he deserved.

Image: 1970 NOLA file photo

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Results from the MGM Grand where Gervonta Davis Returned with a Bang

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After an absence of 421 days, Gervonta “Tank” Davis returned to the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In the opposite corner was Detroit-born Frank “The Ghost” Martin who has been training in Dallas under Derrick James. In previous fights, Gervonta, who holds the WBA world lightweight title, has shown a tendency to start slow before closing the show with a highlight-reel knockout. Tonight was no exception.

Martin, 18-0 heading in, fought off his back foot from the get-go, but had good moments and was arguably ahead after five frames. But as the fight moved into the middle rounds, Martin became more stationary and one could sense that the ever-stalking Davis was wearing him down. In Round 8, Davis trapped Martin against a corner post, discombobulated him with a left uppercut and then turned out his lights with a chopping left hand. There was no chance that Martin could rise before referee Harvey Dock completed the “10” count.

Davis (30-0, 28 KOs) celebrated by standing on the top strand of rope and doing a black flip. He has many lucrative options going forward and will be favored to defeat whoever his next opponent will be.

The Davis-Martin fight was the capstone of a four-fight pay-per-view, the second collaboration between Premier Boxing Champions and Amazon Prime Video.

Benavidez-Gvozdyk

In his first fight as a light heavyweight, David Benavidez scored a 12-round unanimous decision over former lineal light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

Benavidez, who improved to 20-0 (24), worked the body well and kept up the pressure in the early-going, building a substantial lead. His work output declined over the last third of the fight, but his punches still carried more steam than those of Gvozdyk, 37, who suffered his second loss in 22 pro fights, the other inflicted by the indomitable Artur Beterbiev, prompting the SoCal-based Ukrainian to take a long hiatus from the ring. The judges had it 119-109, 117-111, and 116-112.

Puello-Russell

In a major upset, Alberto Puello of the Dominican Republic saddled Gary Antuanne Russell with his first pro loss, winning a split decision. Puello appeared to have the edge in a furious final round, without which the bout would have ended in a draw. Puello, who improved to 23-0 (10), had to overcome a dubious call by referee Allan Huggins who took a point away from the Dominican in Round 7 for too much holding.

Russell, who was making his first start against a southpaw, is now trained by his brother Gary Russell Jr., the former featherweight champion, who replaced their late father. Russell Jr last fought in January of 2022.

Heading in, Gary Antuanne Russell had won all 17 of his pro fights by knockout. One of the judges thought he won handily. But his tally, 118-109 for Russell, was overruled by the115-112 and 114-113 scores awarded the underdog. Puello, who briefly held the WBA diadem at 140 but had it stripped from him when he tested positive for PEDs, won an interim belt in that weight class with his upset tonight.

Adames-Gausha

In the PPV opener, Alberto Puello’s countryman Carlos Adames successfully defended his WBC middleweight title in his first world title fight with a one-sided decision over former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha. Adames, whose late father reportedly sired 35 children, was the aggressor and landed many more punches. He advanced his record to 24-1 (19). It was the fourth loss in 29 pro starts for the 36-year-old Gausha. The judges had it 119-109 and 118-110 twice.

Adames’ triumph made it 2-0 for the Dominicans and their trainer Ismael Salas.

Other Bouts of Note

In a huge upset, Delaware’s Kyrone Davis overcame Arizona’s previously undefeated and highly-touted Elijah Garcia, winning a split decision. A 21-year-old father of two, Garcia, 16-0 heading in, was rated #1 by the WBA and seemingly one step removed from challenging Erislandy Lara for the WBA middleweight title. But Davis, trained by Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, had a solid game plan and although Elijah came on strong in the homestretch, it was too little, too late.

One of the judges favored Garcia 98-92, but his cohorts each gave seven rounds to Davis (19-3-1, 6 KOs) and the decision was fair.

Filipino junior lightweight Mark Magsayo, in his second fight back since losing back-to-back fights with featherweight belt-holders Rey Vargas and Brandon Figueroa, advanced to 26-2 (17) with a 10-round unanimous decision over Mexico City’s Eduardo Ramirez (28-4-3). Magsayo scored a knockdown in the third round with a straight right hand and won by scores of 99-90 and 97-92 twice.

Photos credit: Al Applerose

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Billam-Smith Avenges Lone Defeat; Retains Cruiser Belt in a Messy Fight

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In a mild upset, Bournemouth’s Chris Billam-Smith, an overachiever, successfully defended his WBO cruiserweight title with an inelegant 12-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Richard Riakporhe. In the process, Billam-Smith, who advanced to 20-1 (13), avenged his lone defeat. Riakporhe won a split decision in their previous encounter five years ago in London.

This was a messy fight marred by excessive clinching. Referee Steve Gray, who earned his pay, warned both fighters during the match for a laundry list of infractions and eventually deducted a point from Riakporhe for leading with his head. The point deduction came in the final round and sealed the win for the Bournemouth fighter who prevailed on scores of 116-111 and 115-112 twice. Riakporhe declined to 17-1.

The fight was contested outdoors at the Crystal Palace soccer grounds in South London. The sky was grey and a light rain was falling when the show started, but the rain let up well before nightfall.

Billam-Smith, who is trained by Shane McGuigan, was making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of Lawrence Okolie. The other cruiserweight title-holders are Jai Opetaia (IBF), Gilberto Ramirez (WBA) and Noel Mikaelyan (aka Noel Gevor). Billam-Smith would be a decided underdog to Opetaia. Fights with Ramirez and Mikaelyan would likely be snoozefests.

Semi-Wind-up

Olympic silver medalist Ben Whittaker, a light heavyweight whose arrogant showboating has translated into a large social media following, went 10 rounds for the first time in his career and won a lopsided decision, advancing his record to 8-0 (5). Whittaker’s opponent, Ezra Arenyeka, a 28-year-old Nigerian, brought a 12-0 record that on closer inspection included only three wins over opponents with winning records.

Arenyeka plowed forward much of the fight, but kept a high guard and had trouble letting his hands go. In round seven, he lost a point for hitting Whittaker in the face with an elbow. The scores were 100-89 and 99-90 twice.

Also

In another mild upset, Jack Massey won the vacant European cruiserweight title with a 12-round decision over Isaac Chamberlain. Massey, who improved to 22-2 (12), is a stablemate of reigning IBF female welterweight champion Natasha Jonas who was part of the broadcasting crew. He went 10 rounds in a losing effort with former heavyweight title-holder Joseph Parker in January of last year before returning to his natural weight class. This was a competitive fight with several momentum swings.  Chamberlain, 16-2 heading in, lost by scores of 116-112 and 115-113 twice.

Dan Azeez, who had Hall of Fame trainer Buddy McGirt in his corner, was expected to have an easy time with Hrvoje Sep, a 38-year-old Ukrainian, but Azeez (20-1-1) had to work hard to salvage a draw with Sep (12-2-1) in an 8-round light heavyweight match.

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Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

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Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

Gervonta “Tank” Davis returns to the ring on Saturday after an absence of nearly 14 months that included a 44-day stint in a Baltimore jail. In the opposite corner is St. Louis southpaw Frank “The Ghost” Martin.

Davis (29-0, 27 KOs) is now the undisputed lightweight champion of the WBA. He had been sharing that distinction with Devin Haney who was de-frocked when he moved up in weight. Martin (18-0, 12 KOs) is also undefeated and their match is the main attraction of a four-fight pay-per-view on Amazon Prime Video and affiliates including PPV.com (list price $74.99) where viewers have the opportunity to interact with the hosts, namely Jim Lampley, Lance Pugmire, Chris Algieri, and Dan Conobbio.

One other world title fight and two contrived interim title fights support the main event. The title fight, which will serve as the PPV opener, pits WBC middleweight title-holder Carlos Adames (23-1, 19 KOs) against former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha (24-3-1, 12 KOs). Adames became a full-fledged title-holder last month when the organization stripped trouble-plagued Jermall Charlo of the belt within hours after his DWI arrest in Texas.

Tired of waiting around for Canelo, David Benavidez elected to move up in weight where he will face former WBC light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

It was inevitable that Benavidez (28-0, 24 KOs) would out-grow the super middleweight division. He carried 180 ¾ pounds for his second pro fight when he was 16 years old. Gvozdyk (20-1, 16 KOs) stepped away from boxing after getting stopped by Artur Beterbiev in a unification fight in October of 2019. He was badly beaten in that fight although he was ahead on two of the scorecards through the nine completed rounds. He missed all of 2020, 2021, and 2022 before returning to the ring in February of last year, shaking off the rust in a 6-round fight, and subsequently won two bouts by knockout. The Ukrainian turned 37 in April.

In the other interim title fight, super lightweight Gary Gary Antuanne Russell (17-0, 17 KOs) meets Alberto Puello (22-0, 10 KOs) in a battle of southpaws. Puello, a 29-year-old Dominican, briefly held the WBA diadem at 140, but had it stripped from him when he tested positive for PEDs.

Gervonta Davis has proved to be one of the biggest draws in boxing. Among American-born fighters, no one is currently at his level as a ticket-seller. However, it will be surprising if his bout with Frank Martin tomorrow night in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand can match the numbers he achieved in his last outing where he was pit against the charismatic Ryan Garcia who he stopped with a body punch in the seventh round. In all four of the fights on tomorrow’s pay-per-view, the favorite is chalked in the 7/1 range. Moreover, a DAZN event in Puerto Rico that overlaps the early portion of the pay-per-view may nibble away at the receipts.

Three high-grade 10-round preliminaries will precede the pay-per-view. These three fights, “teasers” as it were, can be accessed for free regardless of Prime membership. The action in the “free” portion of the card begins at 5:30 pm ET/2:30 pm PT.

DAZN

The DAZN card is a Matchroom promotion in Manati, Puerto Rico. IBF 140-pound world champion Subriel Matias makes the second defense of his title against Brisbane, Australia’s Liam Paro. A late bloomer, Matias (20-1, 20 KOs) has knocked out all of his opponents including the only man to defeat him (Petros Ananyan). Paro (24-0, 15 KOs) looked sharp in his last fight wherein he TKOed Montana Love, but will be up against it in Puerto Rico. Matias, who is making his first start in his hometown since 2019, is already looking ahead to a match with Regis Prograis.

The Matias-Paro ring walk is expected to commence shortly before 11 pm, ET/8 pm PT.

PEACOCK

For diehard fight fans in the U.S., it will be wall-to-wall boxing for about 11 straight hours beginning at 1:30 pm ET/10:30 am PT when NBC’s subscription channel, Peacock, begins its coverage of the WBO cruiserweight title fight in South London between Chris Billam-Smith (19-1, 13 KOs) and Richard Riakporhe. (17-0, 13 KOs).

Billam-Smith, who is trained by Shane McGuigan, will be making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of Lawrence Okolie while seeking to avenge his lone defeat. These two met in a 10-rounder back in July of 2019 with Riakporhe emerging the winner by a split decision.

Billam-Smith’s last two fights have been in his hometown of Bournemouth. Tomorrow, he fights on the grounds of the Crystal Palace Football Club of which Riakporhe is a big supporter. The bookies like the Londoner’s chance to prevail again. The challenger, Riakporhe, is an 11/5 favorite.

Fights to Watch (All Times Pacific)

Peacock: Chris Billam-Smith vs. Richard Riakporhe: 2:00 p.m. (prelims beginning at 10:30 a.m.)

DAZN: Subriel Matias vs. Liam Paro: 7:45 p.m. (prelims beginning at 4:30 p.m.)

AMAZON PRIME VIDEO PPV: Gervonta Davis vs. Frank Martin plus three: 5:00 p.m. (prelims beginning at 2:30 p.m.)

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