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Venerated Sportswriter William Nack Had a Soft Spot for the Sweet Science

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William Nack came late to sportswriting, but once he did, it was gangbusters.

Nack, who would have celebrated his 81st birthday on February 4, spent 11 years at New York Newsday and 23 years at Sports Illustrated, and at each stop left an indelible mark.

At the Long Island-based daily, Nack, a native of Chicago, a graduate of the University of Illinois, and a Vietnam veteran, covered the environment and politics in addition to sports where his main focus was on horse racing and boxing.

Honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America with the 2004 A.J. Leibling Award and the 2017 recipient of the ESPN Award for Literary Sportswriting, Nack found time to pen three books, including “Secretariat: The Making Of A Champion,” and his memoir, “My Turf: Horses, Boxers, Blood Money, And The Sporting Life.”

Richard O’Brien worked with Nack at Sports Illustrated. “I was a boxing reporter, writer, and the beat editor at S.I. for more than 25 years. As foreground, I was – and remain – a huge fan of Bill’s writing, and of Bill the man. Sentence for sentence, he was as good as anyone ever at the magazine, and he brought such a keen eye and such a huge heart to every story,” he said. “This was a man who could – and often did in the closing hours of an S.I. Christmas party – quote the final pages of ‘The Great Gatsby,’ word for word, in both English and Spanish. His command of language was just as lyrical.”

“Bill had an enormous passion for his writing, for diving into his subjects, gathering every possible detail and nuance, and working and reworking his stories until he felt he had everything just right,” he said. “I attended the first [Pernell] Whitaker-[Julio Cesar] Chavez fight with him at the [San Antonio] Alamodome in 1993. I was just a reporter then, running quotes for him, but he called me later that night – or, I should say, in the early morning hours long after the fight – to read me his lede. It was beautiful, perfect, but Bill was sweating it, working it, turning it over, worrying about it, as I think he did every story. I remember being thrilled, and honored, listening to him read it.”

“Bill wasn’t the kind of boxing writer you find hanging out in the gym all the time, or scrounging the press room buffet while gossiping with the rest of the media in the week before a big fight,” O’Brien offered. “He wasn’t covering four-rounders in Atlantic City or arguing over the latest junior middleweight rankings. His heart and his eye were drawn to the largest moments and greatest figures, yet he was able – again, in his passion and his commitment to research, reporting and interviewing – to get deeper with those subjects than anyone else.”

O’Brien referenced some of Nack’s boxing features to explain what made his work sparkle.

“His profiles of Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Larry Holmes, and others are brilliant (free from the accepted wisdom and clichés found in the stories of so many of his contemporaries),” he said. “I still go back now and then to read his piece on Sonny Liston, just for the beauty and the humanity that flows through it. Another great one is the piece he did in 1996 (“The Fight’s Over, Joe”) about Joe Frazier’s undying resentment towards Muhammad Ali. Just sad and beautiful.”

Nack was ringside in June 1980 when the ferocious Duran took on the slick and polished Leonard in their first meeting. Here are Nack’s first two paragraphs from Sports Illustrated of this 15-round battle:

Roberto Duran had finished his steak and potato, polished off a helping of sausages and now was working on his second soft drink of the afternoon. It had been weeks since Duran had been able to indulge his prodigious appetite, to yield to his weakness for Coca-Cola and 7-Up, but he was getting his fill now as he held court in a restaurant of the Hotel Bonaventure in Montreal. Just 13 hours earlier, in a ring set above second base at the Olympic Stadium, Duran had taken the World Boxing Council’s version of the welterweight championship of the world from Ray Leonard.

Duran’s child, 6-year-old Robertito, slipped away from the table and wrapped himself in the green belt with the huge gold medallion signifying that his father was now the champion. Duran spotted him and laughed. “Show them how you box,” Roberto said. The boy threw a straight right through the air and grimaced dutifully. “Hey hey!” Duran cried. For the first time in days, he was relaxed. He signed autographs. He posed for photographs. And he showed off his two new diamond rings, one for each hand, that his wife, Felicidad, had given him for his 29th birthday on June 16. There were only two visible signs of Duran’s whereabouts the night before – manifestations that he took as well as gave. A mouse, violet and red, swelled below his left eye – the work of Leonard’s right hand. And there was his own right hand, swathed in an Ace bandage that covered the bruises sustained when he pounded Leonard’s head and ribs.

Jack McCallum also worked with Nack and, like O’Brien, was impressed.

“What you have to understand, first, is that Bill was a superlative writer of anything. He was quite literally one of the best writers in the country on any subject,” he said. “Had he been writing politics or music or whatever interested him, he would be near the top. He just knew how to write – pacing, word choice, transition, all that stuff. We use tools to build a story, just like a carpenter uses them to build. Bill had all those tools.

McCallum, who primarily covered the NBA for the magazine and is the author of more than a half-dozen books, saw the difference between Nack and so many others.

“I think we all care about our subjects and want our pieces to be good, but Bill cared more,” he said. “I always tossed out this line about myself: It was easy for me to be pretty good. And sometimes I left it at that. Bill never left it at that. He wanted every piece to be great. He slaved over them. I don’t think all of us did that. Google his piece about Bobby Fischer, the chess genius.”

Boxing lends itself to great writing and Nack was extremely comfortable in this milieu.

“I do know that we all love characters. Those fly-by-night, shady [Damon] Runyonesque characters who don’t exist much anymore,” McCallum said. “But they’re still there in boxing, and Bill plugged into that.”

Nack was perched ringside for much of Duran’s legendary career.

Here are the first three paragraphs from Sports Illustrated of his November 1983 clash with Marvin Hagler at Caesars Palace:

Toward the close of the 12th round last Thursday night, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran fought at a savage pace. Duran scored with hard, straight right hands to Hagler’s face, and just before the bell, blood trickled from Hagler’s swollen left eye, as Duran taunted Hagler by pointing to his chin and saying, “Hit me! Hit me!” Hagler, the undisputed middleweight champion, obliged with a hard right as he chased Duran into a corner.

The crowd of 14,600 in the stadium at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas was on its feet roaring long after the bell had sounded. But the 12th, which Duran won with such a flourish, was mere prelude to what would happen in the next round. Duran brought the multitude up again, and again, and then it was chanting, “Dooooran! Dooooran! Dooooran!” Spurred on by the crowd and driven by the force of his own furious will and considerable talent, Duran, the WBA junior middleweight champion, appeared to seize control of the fight.

Midway through the 13th, Hagler struck Duran with a mighty left to the face, but Duran countered to the body, jarred Hagler with a sharp right to the head, cracked him with another right and then a third, and followed with a left and a right. Now someone in the crowd was blowing a bugle, a clarion call, it seemed, for Duran. At the bell he landed a final right to Hagler’s head, and Hagler smiled sarcastically as he went to his corner. It was Duran’s round, and Hagler knew it.

Alexander Wolff was the longest tenured writer at Sports Illustrated, retiring in 2016 after 36 years. An author or co-author and editor of nine books including his most recent, “Endpapers: A Family Story Of Books, War, Escape, And Home,” Wolff also admired and appreciated Nack’s unique gifts.

“Bill wrote a lovely sentence. And for all he had lived through, in Vietnam and on big-city newspaper beats, he never lost the childlike curiosity that’s a mark of every good journalist,” he said. “When he took on a subject, he seemed to burrow down some hole and root around in it, then emerge into the sunlight with this fully formed, carefully considered take.”

Wolff went on: “He would tell tales of how hard he found the process, but the miracle was that the finished product, on the page, betrayed none of that,” he said. “In a way, boxing mirrors a Bill Nack story: lots of suffering and pain beneath the surface that might be called “sweet,” as in “sweet science.”

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Tyson Fury Returns on Saturday with a Familiar Foe in the Opposite Corner

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“Tyson Fury made a name for himself last night, one that already has a ready-made ring about it and will be destined to become familiar in boxing.” Alan Hubbard, a ringside correspondent for The (London) Examiner wrote those words after Fury wrested the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles from Derek Chisora with a comprehensive 12-round decision on July 23, 2011.

Those words were prescient. Tyson Fury did go on to become a familiar name in the sport. Indeed, one could argue that at this moment in history no active boxer is more famous.

More than 11 full years have elapsed since Fury toppled Chisora. In the ensuing years, the Gypsy King outpointed Wladimir Klitschko in Germany to win the world heavyweight title, battled personal demons that sidelined him for two-and-half years, returned to the ring with a flourish, ultimately regaining the world heavyweight title, or at least a version of it, in the second chapter of his memorable trilogy with Deontay Wilder, and rising so high in the opinion of boxing enthusiasts that he would be favored over any other boxer on the planet.

Oh, and lest we forget, since defeating Chisora in 2011, Fury whipped Chisora again, stopping him after 10 one-sided frames in 2014. Fury’s eight-inch height advantage enabled him to control the distance vs. “Dell Boy” who was never knocked down but who absorbed a great deal of punishment before his chief second said, “no mas.”

A third meeting between Fury (32-0-1, 23 KOs) and the soon-to-be-39-year-old Chisora (33-12) would seem to be superfluous. Del Boy, coming off a narrow win over Kubrat Pulev, has lost three of his last four. But on Saturday, Dec. 3, they will go at it again. The venue is London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, capacity 62,850, and by all indications, despite a chill in the air (the temperature is expected to hover around 40 degrees), there won’t be too many empty seats.

For promoter Frank Warren, Fury vs Chisora is Plan B – he was hoping to match Fury against Anthony Joshua – but he believes that Fury has become so popular that he can make a tidy profit no matter who is in the opposite corner. The Gypsy King, once referenced as the enfant terrible of British boxing, has toned down his rhetoric (one might say that he proactively distanced himself from Kanye West) and become almost cuddly, a source of inspiration for many Brits, the first member of the black sheep Traveler community about whom this could ever be said.

Fury, needless to say, is a heavy favorite. The odds are in the 25/1 range. The co-feature is likewise looked upon as a mismatch. Daniel Dubois, who shares the diluted WBA heavyweight title with Oleksandr Usyk, is a consensus 16/1 favorite over Kevin Lerena (28-1, 19 KOs) who rides in on a 17-fight winning streak. The six-foot-one Lerena carried a career-high 234 pounds for his last assignment against ancient Mariusz Wach, but the South African southpaw has fought most of his career as a cruiserweight.

The undercard includes featherweight Isaac Lowe, Tyson Fury’s bosom buddy, and Hosea Burton, Fury’s cousin, both of whom appear to be matched soft in scheduled six-rounders, plus 18-year-old phenom Royston Barney Smith in a 4-rounder against a transplanted Nicaraguan.

This is a pay-per-view event in the UK, but U.S. fight fans who subscribe to ESPN+ can see it for free. The ring walks for the main event are expected to go about 4 pm ET.

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What Path will Yokasta Valle Choose Next?

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After the recent controversial ruling that made her a world champion in three different divisions, the fans of the Costa Rican Yokasta Valle are wondering: What path will the successful boxer choose next?

On Saturday, November 26th, in a fight of continuous exchanges with the then undefeated Argentine Evelyn Bermúdez (17-1-1, 6 KOs), “Yoka” Valle (27-2, 9 KOs) came out with her arm raised at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, where she won the IBF and WBO belts, which Bermúdez was defending for the seventh and second time, respectively.

Although the Costa Rican fighter (pictured on the right) went on the attack for practically the entire 10 rounds, the exchanges were even, give and take, with good moments for both fighters, which made it difficult to evaluate each round. Hence the discomfort of many fans, especially in the Bermúdez camp, with the card of judge Adalaide Byrd (99-91), which apparently had Bermúdez prevailing in only one round. Neither did Judge Daniel Sandoval’s card (97-93) represent what transpired in the ring, while Zachary Young’s score of 95-95 was more accurate, distributing five rounds for each combatant.

In the case of Byrd, she also received innumerable criticism in the first fight between Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, which was held in September 2017 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and which ended with a favorable scorecard for each boxer and another of 114-114.

At that time, Byrd had judged more than 400 fights over a 20-year span, and her discordant scorecard of 118-110 reflected Canelo winning 10 rounds and GGG only two (the fourth and the seventh). Dave Moretti leaned towards Golovkin (115-113), while Don Trella (114-114) saw it even.

CHAMPION IN THREE CATEGORIES

Born in Matagalpa, Nicaragua on August 28, 1992 and living in Costa Rica since her childhood, Valle made her boxing debut at the age of 22 in the light flyweight category. In that first experience at the pro level, she defeated Mexican María Guadalupe Gómez by unanimous decision in four rounds, on July 26, 2014, in Alajuela, Costa Rica.

Two years later, in her twelfth fight, she conquered the IBF title at 102 pounds by split decision against Ana Victoria Polo in San José, Costa Rica. In December 2017, Valle suffered her first professional failure against the local Naoko Fujioka, who won by unanimous decision at Korakuén Hall in Tokyo where they fought for the vacant WBO light flyweight belt.

Six months later, on June 16, 2018, Valle lost again by unanimous decision against German Christina Rupprecht (11-0-1, 3 KOs) in Munich, a duel that was for the WBO strawweight interim belt. Rupprecht maintains that belt and is again in Valle’s sights.

Following those two setbacks, “Yoka” Valle compiled 14 victories, including the one she obtained in Marbella against Spaniard Joana Pastrana in August 2019, which she won by split decision securing the IBF 105-pound belt.

More recently, on September 8th in Costa Rica, Valle became a two-division champion at 105 pounds, by unanimously prevailing (the three judges scored the fight 100-90) over Vietnamese Thi Thu Nhi Nguyen, who ceded the WBO title. And then with her success against Bermúdez last weekend, Valle made history in Costa Rican boxing by adding her third crown in three different divisions (102, 105 and 108 pounds).

WHERE WILL YOKASTA VALLE GO NEXT?

Valle, who now owns two light flyweight titles (IBF and WBO) could next go in search of unification with Mexican Jéssica Nery (WBA super champion) or with Canadian Kim Clavel, who holds the WBC title. (Clavel and Nery collide on Thursday in Laval, Quebec.)

However, a more viable option would be to return to 105 pounds and seek a fight with American Seniesa Estrada (23-0, 9 KOs), who maintains the WBA belt, or with Rupprecht, who remains unbeaten. That seemed to be Valle’s immediate objective, as she affirmed it in the ring after defeating Nguyen. In an indirect reference to Seniesa Estrada and Tina Rupprecht, Valle said “I want the belts. I’ve been saying it from the beginning, I want the WBC and WBA next, whoever has ’em.”

At Friday’s weigh-in for her fight with Bermúdez, Valle stated “I want to fight the best. I want to be undisputed. When Tina (Rupprecht) and Seniesa (Estrada) were not available, my team and I made the decision to move up in weight and challenge Evelyn for her world title belts. I have to fight. [MarvNation CEO] Marvin Rodriguez presented this fight to me. This is the type of fight I want. It is champion versus champion. I want to give the fans these types of fights.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kim Clavel caught the flu and pulled out on Wednesday just prior to the weigh-in. Her match with Jessica Nery was rescheduled for Jan. 13.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan Photos

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish

Please note any adjustments made for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Regis Prograis Knocks Out José Zepeda and Clears the Way for José Ramírez

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American Regis Prograis had to wait three years and a month for the opportunity to hold a world crown once again. On Saturday, November 26, at the Dignity Health Sports Park, in Carson, California, Prograis faced José Zepeda for the vacant WBC junior welterweight belt. Prograis was victorious by applying chloroform to Zepeda in the eleventh round.

Previously, on October 26, 2019, Prograis (28-1, 24 KOs) had lost the WBA junior welterweight belt by majority decision to Scotsman Josh Taylor at the 02 Arena in England.

Since then, the thirty-three-year-old Prograis who is based in Houston, Texas has obtained four wins (including vs Zepeda), all before the limit, as proof of the devilish power of his powerful fists, especially the left one.

Prior to the duel with Zepeda (35-2, 27 KOs), most experts favored Prograis, who after winning the intense battle, recognized that it was the most demanding fight of his career. “That dude is tough, tough, tough. He came to fight, he probably gave me one of my hardest fights, I’m not even gonna lie,” said Prograis. “This dude is tough, bro. I’ve got so much respect for you. You prepared me to get this belt and hold this belt. I congratulate you. All the best to you, bro. Don’t stop, I feel like you can still be a world champion.”

Almost from the very beginning of the fight, Prograis showed greater speed with his hands and legs, and a general sense of technical superiority over Zepeda, who in the second round opened up a wound above his left eye with a legal blow.

From then on, Prograis’s strong impacts gradually undermined Zepeda’s resistance. Zepeda arrived totally exhausted in the eleventh round, where he received a straight left to the face, putting him in poor condition. A run with both fists from Prograis knocked him down and referee Ray Corona called the match with 59 seconds remaining in the round. This is the first setback that Zepeda has suffered by knockout in professional boxing.

On several occasions, Prograis has stated that he wants revenge against the undefeated Taylor (19-0, 13 KOs), but now, by order of the WBC, he must face American José Carlos Ramírez (27-1, 17 KOs).

Ramírez, 30 years old, is currently ranked second by the WBC. In February of 2019, in his second defense of his 140-pound belt, he defeated Zepeda by majority decision.

Twenty-five months later, Ramírez succumbed by unanimous decision to Taylor at the Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, enabling the Scotsman to become the undisputed king of the category by winning the four most prestigious belts (WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF).

Recently, Ramírez expressed an interest in dueling with the main 140-pound contenders, including a second fight with Zepeda; although he did not rule out clashing with Prograis or Taylor. “Every fighter has the same amount of risk,” said Ramirez. “We’re a little under-promoted compared to other weight classes but I think that the best fights are at 140. You see guys fighting twice or three times, doing a trilogy. Honestly, I would love to face Regis, because I’ve never faced him. I would love to make the rematch with Zepeda, because he’s such a good fighter. Obviously I want Josh Taylor, man. I want Josh Taylor bad.”

Photo credit: Al Applerose

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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