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The Hauser Report: “The Greatest Show on Earth” Comes to Warren, Ohio

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The Hauser Report: “The Greatest Show on Earth” Comes to Warren, Ohio

On January 29, Don King promoted a six-bout card headlined by Trevor Bryan defending his faux “regular WBA world heavyweight championship” against Jonathan Guidry coupled with Ilunga Makabu defending his WBC world cruiserweight title against Thabiso Mchunu. The fights took place one year to the day after Bryan defended his belt with an eleventh-round knockout of Bermane Stiverne on a Don King card at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Florida. One had to go back to a four-bout card at the D Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on August 28, 2015, to find another fight card with King as the lead promoter.

Once upon a time, King bestrode the boxing world like a Colossus. He was the driving force behind “The Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire and packed 132,000 screaming fans into Azteca Stadium in Mexico to witness Julio Cesar Chavez’s destruction of Greg Haugen. Las Vegas casinos and historic venues like Madison Square Garden were his personal playpen.

But on January 29, King was promoting at the Packard Music Hall in Warren, Ohio – a facility that boasts of having 1,890 “sellable seats without obstructions” and 528 more with an obstructed view of the stage. And the seating capacity for the card fell short of those numbers because the ring was pitched in the center of the room.

The most entertaining thing about the pre-fight promotion was King. But his monologues tend to be less interesting now than before. The Don King of old might have styled this event as a “Fight for World Peace” and talked of staging it on the Russia-Ukraine border with Vladimir Putin and Vitali Klitschko as honored guests. Of course, with the Don King of old, the fighters might have been Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

William D. Franklin (the mayor of Warren) issued a proclamation declaring that January 26 (three days before the event) was “Don King Day” in Warren. He also presented King with a plaque and told the promoter, “I am thankful to you, Mr. King, for letting us be the host of this great event seen by boxing fans worldwide. Who would have thought that Warren, Ohio, would be the host.”

King responded, “We’re going to have a sensational evening of boxing. It will give people a chance to have fun again. We are here to give you a moment of respite. Let’s have some fun. No matter whether you are young or old, let the good times roll.”

To his credit, King also addressed the issue of COVID head-on, telling fans who planned to attend, “It would be much better if you take the vaccinations and the shot, wear your mask and socially distance.”

Makabu (28-2, 25 KOs, 2 KOs by) was a 2-to-1 betting favorite over Mchunu (23-5, 13 KOs, 3 KOs by), in part because he’d knocked Mchunu out in a previous meeting six years ago.

As for the heavyweights . . . Bryan’s ring record was 21-0 (15 KOs). But no serious reckoning places him among the top big men in the world. And Guidry (17-0-2, 10 KOs) is a club fighter.

No one should blame Guidry for taking the fight. A 32-year-old father of four, he has lived a hardscrabble life in Louisiana, eking out a living as a commercial fisherman and fighting for three-figure paydays when circumstances allow. His purse for facing Bryan was said to be $70,000. That was before the members of his team took their cut. He also received $10,000 for training expenses.

In the past, Guidry had fought a woeful collection of opponents. All but one of his previous fights had been in Louisiana in towns like Cut Off, Opelousas, Houma, Gretna, and Charenton with three appearances on undercards in New Orleans. He’d gone eight rounds once and a full six rounds twice. As for his amateur pedigree; he’d compiled a 2-4-1 (O KOs) amateur ledger between 2007 and 2012. He’s listed as 5’11” tall and had weighed in for his most recent fight at 263 pounds. Bryan was a 15-to-1 betting favorite

King defended the choice of Guidry as an opponent, saying, “The whole essence of this card is opportunity.”

Bryan suggested that any blame for Guidry’s selection fall on shoulders other than his own. “I’m a fighter,” Trevor explained. “When my promoter and manager say this is my next fight and who I’m fighting, all I can do is prepare and get ready for that.”

Guidry addressed his presence on the card with the observation, “I’ve seen what they’re saying, like ‘who is Jonathan Guidry?’ But it’s just how things work. I have nothing to lose. I’m a nobody. But yesterday’s nobody is tomorrow’s somebody.” Later, he told the media, “Not a lot of people can say they fought on a Don King card or fought on his show. I’m grateful that he’s letting me fight on this show and fight for the world title. Without him, I might still be on my shrimping boat or still be crabbing or something.”

Tickets ranged from $550 down to $80. The pay-per-view price was $49.99. FITE (the most reliable distributor of the event stream) is said to have sold a meager 600 buys which, by extrapolation from past events, would place the total number of buys at roughly one thousand. Whatever the universe of resolutely hardcore boxing fans is in the United States, King and Bryan haven’t tapped into it.

The undercard featured four North American Boxing Association “championship” bouts, raising the question of what former promoter Gary Shaw is doing in his current roles as president of the NABA, chief of staff of the World Boxing Association Directorate, and advisor to WBA president Gilberto Jesus Mendoza. Shaw was also the WBA supervisor at ringside for the night.

King was visible for most of the evening, wearing his iconic “only in America” jacket that has faded and looks like a relic from another era.

The early fights were dreadful. To fill time, viewers were shown the video of a 20-year-old fight between Felix Trinidad and Mamadou Thiam (KO 3) after which King appeared in the ring for a ten-count in honor of Las Vegas casino vice president Bob Halloran who died earlier this year. Then Annette Blackwell (the mayor of Maple Heights, Ohio) read from a proclamation praising King for his character and good works.

Bryan, who has weighed in for fights as low as 200 pounds, fought his last bout at a career-high 267. This time, he did himself one better, tipping (or was it toppling) the scales at 268. He looked as though he’d trained in a fast-food restaurant.

Guidry came in at a pudgy 246 (a 17-pound reduction over his last outing).

When the bell rang, Bryan plodded around the ring, toying with Guidry for most of the contest. One of the few moments of drama came when Trevor’s trunks started to slip beneath his stomach and off-camera adjustments had to be made. Finally, Bryan began letting his fists go a bit. But Guidry hung tough and Trevor couldn’t put him away.

By round eleven, Bryan looked like he’d be content to cruise the last six minutes and win comfortably on points. But at that juncture, Guidry (who had a fighter’s mentality if not the skills to go with it) began pushing the action. In round twelve, he pushed it too far, and Bryan dropped him seconds before the final bell. Poor camera work left viewers in the dark as to whether or not Guidry beat the count. But since the fight went to the scorecards, one assumes that he did.

Judges Nathan Palmer (118-109) and Brian Kennedy (116-111) scored the bout for Bryan. Steve Weisfeld (one of boxing’s better judges) inexplicably had it 115-112 in Guidry’s favor. Jonathan fought as well as he could. One hopes that Trevor can fight better.

In the co-feature, Mabaku prevailed over Mchunu on a questionable 116-112, 115-113, 113-115 split decision.

In recent months, there has been talk of Canelo Alvarez going up in weight on Cinco de Mayo Weekend to face Makubu in an effort to win a title in yet another weight division. But that talk faded as Makabu-Mchunu drew near. It’s possible that King will be able to monetize Makabu against Canelo. More likely, he’ll be forced to settle for a much smaller payday in conjunction with what’s supposed to be Bryan’s “mandatory” defense of his WBA belt against Daniel Dubois. King won’t find it as easy to maneuver around Frank Warren (Dubois’s promoter) as he did around the team that backed Mahmoud Charr, who was Bryan’s previous “mandatory” challenger.

Meanwhile, there’s something noble, albeit poignant, about King’s pursuit. He’s ninety years old. His power is gone. But he keeps reaching for the brass ring and promoting.

And one thing more. A person can be in the media center for a fight promoted by Bob Arum, Frank Warren, or Eddie Hearn and not know they’re there. That doesn’t happen with Don King. He still stops any room he enters.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, a so-called influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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