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Thomas Hauser’s Literary Notes: Reading Old Books

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Old books can be enlightening and a pleasure to read. I’m not talking now about classics. Just good old books that have been largely forgotten.

A well-written old book offers a window onto the distant past. The facts and scenes might be replicated in works written today. But there’s a different feel to the way that authors of old books presented and interpreted their subject matter within the context of their time.

This article is about non-fiction books written about boxing in the 1920s and earlier. Some notable writers authored novels about the sweet science during that time. Jack London wrote The Game in 1905 and The Abysmal Brute in 1913. George Bernard Shaw penned Cashel Byron’s Profession in 1882. Historian Randy Roberts reminds us that “a novel can sometimes get at deeper truths in a way that a legitimate historian can’t.”

Be that as it may; this inquiry is limited to non-fiction. In that regard, Roberts cautions, “These old books are historical sources. And you have to weigh them like any other historical source in terms of accuracy. What can you confirm? What biases did the writer have? How much attention did the writer pay to detail? If the writer saw a fight himself, it might add credibility to his narrative. But I rarely use these books as the gospel truth.”

Adam Pollack has written a series of exhaustively researched biographies about boxing’s early gloved champions.

“I like accuracy, detail, and truth,” Pollack says. “And the books you’re talking about have very little verification of facts and almost no citation of sources. The authors might have done the best job they could, given the limited resources they had to tap into. But these old books are filled with errors. Writing today, I have the advantage of modern research tools and can access primary sources like old newspaper accounts online.”

And what about the autobiographies by John L. Sullivan, James J. Corbett, Jack Johnson, and their brethren?

“For the fighters’ own personal feelings and certain insights into how they thought about things, those books are okay,” Pollack answers. “But if you’re looking for accuracy, forget it.  Most of the old autobiographies are self-serving and wildly inaccurate. And most of the time, these guys were talking years later off the top of their head. And they were hit in the head a lot.”

Historian Clay Moyle echoes Pollack’s thoughts, saying, “People who were writing a hundred years ago couldn’t go to BoxRec.com to check on the details of a fight. Writing today, I can go into newspaper archives online, read twenty different articles written about the same fight, and piece the jigsaw puzzle together. Today’s research tools are simply better than what writers had to work with a century ago.”

With these caveats in mind, I decided to read an old boxing book. I chose Ten and Out: The Complete Story of the Prize Ring in America by Alexander Johnston.

“Complete” is a relative term. The book was published in 1927 shortly after Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey in their “long count” rematch to solidify his claim to the heavyweight championship of the world. Joe Louis had yet to reign. Rocky Marciano was four years old. Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson were unimaginable.

Johnston did his best to be an accurate historian. Indeed, he referenced some of the same issues that Roberts, Pollack, and Moyle flagged a century later, acknowledging, “In digging back into the pugilistic records of this country, the chronicler is confronted by many difficulties. In the early days, records were carelessly kept or altogether neglected. For many of the records, we have to depend on the shifting minds of managers or even the fighters themselves, obviously not the most unbiased testimony that could be obtained. We must rely on the stories of eye-witnesses. And spectators at prize fights are not the most reliable recorders.”

Ten and Out begins with a look at prize fighting in England and then, as its title suggests, moves to America. Johnston called boxing “the most exciting form of sport in which man has ever engaged,” and added, “Fighting with the fists is not a gentle sport. Blood will be shed, eyes will be blackened, and there may be accidents of a more serious nature.” He chronicled what he called boxing’s “thuggish past” and its evolution to “a more respectable present,” writing, “The bare knuckle days of the prize ring in America were distinctly a bad time. Anyone who talks of ‘the good old days of real fighting’ is absolutely wrong. They were the bad old days, and the great sport of boxing lived through them because it had inherent rough virtues of its own.”

Johnston’s work focused in large measure on heavyweights. In his hands, major championship fights were well told, particularly those that involved the violent transfer of power from one champion to another.

Writing about James Corbett’s 1892 conquest of John L. Sullivan at the Olympic Club in New Orleans, Johnston recounted, “Sullivan’s strength, speed, hitting power, fighting instinct, and ring ferocity would have made him a great fighter in any generation. [But] in Corbett, he met the first exponent of a new boxing generation which was to carry ring skill far beyond anything that Sullivan’s era had known. The old boxing could not meet the new skill on even terms. Sullivan relied on paralyzing punching but you can’t paralyze a man who refuses to be hit. Corbett was the first real student of boxing. He was always trying new blows and perfecting his delivery of the old ones. He studied defense. Even in the ring, he was perpetually studying the man opposite him.”

Then, in 1897, Corbett fell prey to Bob Fitzsimmons.

“They had broken from a clinch near the center of the ring,” Johnston wrote. “Jim feinted as if to start one of his left hooks for Bob’s jaw when suddenly Fitz straightened up a bit, shot out a long left to the champion’s chin, and then, shifting his feet, drove home his right with all the force of his gigantic shoulders behind it to a place just to the right of the heart where the diaphragm begins. Corbett started to fall forward, and Fitz cracked the jaw again with his left but the last blow was unnecessary. The ‘solar plexus’ blow had done the trick. Gentleman Jim lay and listened to the fateful count. He says that he was conscious when the fatal ‘ten’ was being counted but that he was absolutely paralyzed. So the first champion of the new dispensation in the boxing game had gone and a new king reigned in his stead, even as he had replaced the mighty Sullivan on the throne.”

Fitzsimmons was followed by James Jeffries, who was regaled as a “giant” of a man (which he was for his time). The “giant” stood a shade over 6-feet-1-inch tall and weighed 220 pounds. Johnston believed that, at his peak, “Jeffries could have hammered into submission any pugilist that ever took the ring.”

Then Jeffries retired and, after Marvin Hart and Tommy Burns, Jack Johnson ascended to the throne.

Johnston called the search for a great white hope to beat Johnson “one of the saddest chapters in the history of the heavyweight prize ring in America,” adding, “Whatever may have been Jack Johnson’s failings in personal behavior, he was a fighter. Some competent critics consider him the greatest fighter that ever lived. He was a master boxer with an almost perfect defense and also a smashing wallop. Johnson had learned in his hundreds of ring battles the art of using only as much energy as was needed to carry out any given maneuver of offense or defense. He never allowed himself to be hurried. He conserved his resources of strength and stamina. And when the time came, he was ready for the finisher.”

Johnson was succeeded by Jess Willard. Then, in 1919, Jack Dempsey became king.

“Dempsey,” Johnston wrote, “believed thoroughly that the best defense is a good offense. From the moment the first gong rang, he was at his man. He seemed to burn in the ring with a cold white fighting rage that made it impossible to call on finesse. His one idea was to get at his man and knock him horizontal. He plunged in almost wide open, leaving innumerable chances for a skilled opponent to hurt him. He had, though, excellent recuperative powers and he was a vicious hitter. His most outstanding quality as a fighter was his fighting spirit. He carried more than his share of the ‘killer instinct.’ Given his terrific lust for battle with a killing punch in either hand and a physique able to stand up under punishment, we have a very formidable fistic gladiator.”

Recreating the moment in Willard’s corner after the third round of the carnage inflicted on him by Dempsey’s fists, Johnston wrote, “The champion’s seconds worked over him. Walter Monahan, who had charge of his corner, said, ‘Jess, do you think you can go on?'”

“‘I guess I’m beaten,’ Willard answered. “I can’t go on any longer.'”

“Monahan at once threw a towel into the center of the ring.”

“Willard did not quit,” Johnston wrote. “He was smashed to a bruised and broken object of pity. As they took him from the ring, his jaw drooped foolishly like a gate that had lost one hinge. If he had gone up for another round, there might have been a fatality.”

Johnston had a way with words.

Regarding Jack Johnson’s demolition of James Jeffries when the latter attempted an ill-advised comeback at age 35 (six years after he’d retired from the ring), Johnston turned the race issue upside down, writing of Johnson, “In the middle of the third round, it seems to have dawned on him that he was this man’s master.”

Later, setting the scene for the 1921 bout between Dempsey and George Carpentier (boxing’s first million-dollar gate), Johnston observed, “Following his usual custom, Dempsey went into the ring with several day’s growth of beard on his face. As he sat glowering across at the clean-shaven Carpentier, he looked like a ferocious tramp about to assault a Greek god.”

There’s also an occasional nod to humor.

Prior to challenging Corbett for the heavyweight crown, Fitzsimmons and an acquaintance named Robert H. Davis listened as Mrs. Fitzsimmons prayed to God for her husband’s victory and safety. Davis suggested to the fighter that he do the same, and Fitzsimmons shook his head, saying, “If He won’t do it for her, He won’t do it for me.”

There were parts of Ten and Out that I skimmed when reading through it. I didn’t feel an obligation to Johnston to read his description of every fight and the events surrounding it. But there’s something satisfying in good writing about boxing’s early heavyweight champions as written in their time. It draws a reader closer to these remarkable men and the era in which they lived.

A book that was good when it was written will always have something to offer despite the passage of time.

*         *         *

Allow me, if you will, this non-boxing literary note. . .

Recently, I was going through a cabinet and came across a letter that was written to me in 1958 when I was twelve years old. The correspondent was Howard Pease.

For the uninitiated (which includes almost everyone reading this column), Pease was born in Stockton, California in 1894 and lived in San Francisco for most of his life. He served in the United States Army during World War I and shipped out on several occasions afterward as a crew member on freighters to gather material for books that he was writing.

Pease crafted adventure stories aimed primarily at boys age twelve and older. Many of his books were set on tramp steamers. His first published novel – The Tattooed Man (1926) – introduced the character of Tod Moran, a young merchant mariner who, during the course of thirteen books, works his way up from boiler-room wiper to first mate. Pease also wrote seven non-Tod-Moran novels and two children’s stories. To make ends meet, he taught high school English and, later, was an elementary school principal. He died in 1974.

Pease wanted to show his young readers what the real world was like. His books touched on themes like racism, drug addiction, and struggles between labor and management. In 1939, speaking at a gathering of four hundred librarians, he decried the children’s literature then being published and declared, “We attempt to draw over their heads a beautiful curtain of silk. Let’s catch up with our children, catch up with this world around us. Let’s be leaders, not followers, and let’s be leaders with courage.”

Writers as diverse as E.L. Doctorow and Philip Roth cited Pease’s books as influencing their childhood. Robert Lipsyte (a much-honored sports journalist who has written several award-winning novels for young adults) said recently, “I loved Howard Pease. His books took you somewhere. You could travel with his characters. They were long books, but I tore through them. Reading them was a formative experience for me. When you write for young adults, you’re also functioning as a teacher. And Pease did that. I wish we had more books like that now.”

By age twelve, I’d read all of Pease’s books with the exception of Mystery on Telegraph Hill (which wasn’t published until 1961) and The Gypsy Caravan (which had been written in the early-1920s, published in 1930, and wasn’t available in any of the local libraries where I foraged for books). This was before the Internet and sites like AbeBooks.com. So, I wrote to Pease in care of his publisher, asking where I could get a copy of The Gypsy Caravan. Several weeks later, an envelope addressed to me arrived in the mail with a return address that read, “Howard Pease, 1860 Ora Avenue, Livermore, California.”

Inside, a neatly-typed letter dated October 12, 1958, began, “Dear Tom Hauser, It was a pleasure indeed to get your letter. The Gypsy Caravan was my first book and is now out of print. I’m afraid you will not be able to find a copy anywhere. I’ve looked for some without any success. However, that book was aimed at younger readers than you.”

Pease then recounted that Thunderbolt House was his favorite of the books he’d written, followed by The Dark Adventure, Heart of Danger, and The Tattooed Man. “My most successful book in sales,” he added, “has been The Jinx Ship, a book I do not care for much.” He closed with “Cordially yours” followed by “P.S. In 1946, I spent the summer not too far from your home on Bell Island near Rowayton, Connecticut. Enjoyed it a lot, too.”

In today’s world, I can go to AbeBooks.com and, with a few clicks, order a copy of The Gypsy Caravan.

Pease’s books are more expensive now than most young adult literature from his era. He still has a following among older readers who fondly remember his tales from when they were young.

I have two books by Pease in my home library – The Jinx Ship (published in 1927) and Shipwrecked (1957). Last week, I decided to spend a night reading The Jinx Ship. My copy has “Discard Mt. Pleasant Library” stamped on the front and back end pages. My best guess is that I picked it up at a book sale decades ago.

Stylistically, Pease wrote in a way that was fit for grown-ups but also accessible to young adults. The Jinx Ship is 313 pages long and gives readers a feel for what it was like to be a crewman on a tramp streamer almost a century ago. The plot holds together reasonably well with twists that include gun-running, murder, and a voodoo ceremony on a Caribbean island. On the downside, there are demeaning racial stereotypes typical of the 1920s and the culture that Pease was writing about. The “N-word” appears frequently in dialogue.

After I finished reading The Jinx Ship, I reread Pease’s letter. The paper has aged; the letter was written 63 years ago. But it’s still in good condition.

“My most successful book in sales,” Pease wrote, “has been The Jinx Ship, a book I do not care for much.”

Why didn’t he care for his most commercially-successful novel? The romantic in me would like to think that, as an author who confronted racism in his later work, Pease came to have misgivings about that component of his earlier writing. I’ll never know. I do know that getting his letter meant a lot to me when I was twelve years old. It still does.

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 this autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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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Who Murdered Peter Bufala? A ‘Whodunit’ with a Boxing Backdrop

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On Friday, Oct. 8, 1976, Peter Bufala returned home from work just as a new day was dawning. The Las Vegas baccarat dealer pulled his Cadillac into his circular driveway, exited his car, walked toward his front door, and was felled by two bullets from a 9 mm handgun, one entering his chest and the other his brain. A neighbor fetching his morning newspaper found him lying in a pool of blood on his front lawn. He was dead when the police arrived. He was 33 years old and left behind a wife and two young daughters.

A 12-year resident of the fast-growing southern Nevada gambling mecca, Bufala grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, a blue collar suburb of Philadelphia. He had come here to rekindle his boxing career.

A Middle Atlantic amateur featherweight champion, he had begun his pro career on a high note, winning a 4-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at New York’s St. Nicholas Arena that included Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who would go on to fight for the world middleweight title but would be best remembered for the many years he spent behind prison walls for his alleged involvement in a triple homicide.

Following his New York engagement, Bufala fought in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia. As a pro, he never fought in his home state and there was a reason for it. In 1961, while undergoing a routine medical examination at an amateur show, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. The Pennsylvania Boxing Commission rescinded his license. He subsequently underwent a series of tests at Temple University Medical Hospital and was given a clean bill of health, but the Pennsylvania authorities were unyielding and, bit by bit, in a day when news traveled slowly, other jurisdictions fell into line.

Nevada was the Wild West. The regulators there had looser standards and Bufala resumed his career on Sept. 2, 1964 at the Castaways, out-pointing his opponent in a 5-round match to improve his ledger to 7-3. The publicity man misspelled his name, adding an extra “f”, and he would remain Pete Buffala whenever his name appeared in the sports section of the local papers.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, approximately 165,000 people resided in all of sprawling Clark County, home to Las Vegas. The thought that Vegas would someday host a Formula 1 Grand Prix or a Super Bowl, two of the grandest sports spectacles in the world, was preposterous. The only local sport that ever made the national news wire was boxing.

The fulcrum was Bill Miller, a hot-headed boxing junkie from Elmira, New York, who owned a saloon on the Las Vegas Strip that he out-fitted with a boxing gym in the basement. Miller’s “Strip Fight of the Week,” which bounced from one little casino to another during a run that lasted well over a decade, bucked the national trend. Small fight clubs, with very few exceptions, had fallen by the wayside, a development triggered by the mass production of televisions.

Miller was hardly immune to all the little hassles that plague a grass-roots boxing promoter. Matches were constantly falling out. But he had several things working in his favor. As opportunities dried up elsewhere, journeymen boxers were drawn here by the promise of steady work. And although Miller couldn’t afford to pay enough to make boxing a full-time profession, good-paying jobs were plentiful in the construction and hospitality industries.

To be certain, there were also push factors. Chester, Pennsylvania, a shipbuilding hub during World War II, had fallen on hard times, plagued by unemployment and racial strife. Lowell, Massachusetts, a city known for its vibrant amateur boxing culture, was likewise hurting economically with row after row of textile factories sitting vacant. Lowell produced Eddie Andrews, a hard-hitting middleweight who would be the first fighter to make promoter Miller any significant money without having to take him on the road to a larger precinct or overseas.

Andrews supplemented his ring earnings dealing blackjack at Caesars Palace. For a time, Ralph Dupas was a co-worker. A former world title-holder at 154 pounds, Dupas settled in Las Vegas in the mid-1960s as his career was winding down and remained here until his encroaching dementia passed the tipping point and family members brought him home to his native New Orleans to live out his final days.

Returning to Peter Bufala, he worked his way up the ladder on Miller’s promotions, eventually topping the marquee for a fight with Johnny Brooks. They fought at the Hacienda, a grind joint at the south end of the Strip (where Mandalay Bay now sits) on April 13, 1965. Brooks was nothing special, but he was better than his 17-6-3 record. He would go on to last the distance in 10-round fights with future Hall of Famers Emile Griffith and Carlos Monzon.

Bufala was bloodied in the third round and knocked down in the fourth, but mounted a furious rally and at the end of the 10 rounds the judges could not pick a winner and the match went into the books as a draw. Working on the “5-point-must” system, the scores were 46-44 Bufala, 46-45 Brooks, and 46-46. (Trivia time: The 46-46 tally was turned in by ringside judge Harry Reid who would go on to become the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate. Nowadays, visitors flying in to Las Vegas arrive at Harry Reid International Airport.)

Had Bufala won the bout, his next fight would have been a 12-rounder against Reno’s Dave Patterson, the Nevada Lightweight Champion. But when he returned to the ring the following month, it was in a 6-rounder against an unsung fighter from Los Angeles named Davey White and, in a shocker, White blasted him out in the second round.

Bufala announced his retirement after this fight. It warranted scarcely a mention in the Las Vegas papers, but the folks back in Chester hadn’t forgotten him. “Pete Bufala Quits Boxing for Health,” read the bold headline on the sports page of the June 9, 1965 issue of the Delaware County Daily Times. The accompanying story said that Buffala, “Chester’s most promising professional fighter,” had emerged from his most recent bout with a blot clot in his neck and was troubled by chronic back problems. (Buffala would have one more fight before quitting the sport for good. He won his final fight, a 6-rounder, bringing his final record, per boxrec, to 16-5-2.)

Bufala never returned to Chester. He married a local girl and, in short order, was a father of three, two girls and a boy who tragically died at 16 months when he crawled into a plastic laundry bag and suffocated as his mother was distracted writing checks.

In December of 1973, the MGM Grand opened on the southeast corner of the busiest intersection on the Las Vegas Strip. This was the city’s original MGM Grand that would take the name Bally’s and was recently re-branded the Horseshoe. With 2,100 rooms, a 1,200-seat showroom and a jai alai fronton, the MGM Grand made its competitors look puny by comparison. Peter Bufala was there on opening night, dealing baccarat.

In terms of the money put at risk, baccarat is the crème-de-crème of card games. It attracts the whales, the high-rollers that leave the biggest tips. On a good night at a high-end establishment like the MGM Grand, it wasn’t uncommon for a dealer to rake in $500 in gratuities. Bufala worked the graveyard shift (likely 9 pm to 5 am; it varied by hotel), the most coveted shift for a dealer in a day when visitors to Las Vegas were more nocturnal than they are today.

One didn’t get to be a baccarat dealer in a ritzy joint by working his way up from the bottom. One had to know the right people. In the vernacular, one got juiced into the job. And the juicer might expect a kick-back.

One of the most influential people in Las Vegas was an outsider who tried to keep a low profile, Gaspare “Jasper” Speciale. A transplanted New York bookmaker, Speciale co-owned and managed the Tower of Pizza restaurant which sat a stone’s throw from the MGM Grand on the opposite side of the street. Speciale opened doors for dozens of people seeking employment in the hospitality industry. If one was new in town and needed work in a hurry, Jasper was the man to see.

Until the arrival in Las Vegas of the notorious Tony Spilotro, Speciale was the city’s premier private money lender. He would eventually serve four years in a federal prison for loan-sharking.

Whenever there was a murder in Las Vegas that had the earmarks of a mob hit, speculation always centered on Gaspare Speciale. It mattered not that he was active in his church and donated lavishly to local charities. Moreover, he had a warm spot in his heart for prizefighters. In the spacious backyard of his home, chockablock with mementos of his boyhood in New York City, there was a replica of Stillman’s Gym complete with a punching bag and rubbing tables.

Another theory, although one that acquired less currency, pointed the finger at Bufala’s father-in-law who was the beneficiary of Peter’s life insurance policy. The two were partners in a small sporting goods store where it was rumored that one could purchase an unregistered firearm.

On the day that Peter Bufala was assassinated, the story about it in the Las Vegas Sun, an afternoon paper, said that the former boxer had no bad habits – he didn’t drink, smoke, gamble or chase women — and that he was well-liked by everyone that knew him. But, said a police detective, “Someone wanted him dead and eventually we’re going to find out who that someone is and why.”

Forty-seven years after the fact, the who and the why remain as baffling as ever. If Peter Bufala were alive today, he would be 80 years old. This is a mystery that will likely never be solved.

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

Boxing returned to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, courtesy of Top Rank and ESPN. The festivities started at 5:30 PM and lasted until close to midnight. That meant there was plenty of time to talk with boxers and boxing enthusiasts like Rosie Perez, Gerry Cooney, and (drumroll please) former lineal heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs.

Briggs was in the house as part of an effort to lay the groundwork for a boxing gym and a documentary about the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Who does Shannon think is the best of today’s heavyweights?

“I don’t know,” Briggs answered. “I thought it was Tyson Fury, but his fight against Ngannou was weird. And Wilder against Parker; that was weird too. Joshua; you never know where his head is at. And I’m still not sure about Usyk as a heavyweight. Like I said, it’s weird.”

Briggs also said that he has signed a contract for an eight-round boxing match against former UFC champion Rampage Jackson to be contested on June 1 in Qatar and that he is slated to receive a purse of $5,000,000. I hope Shannon gets a letter of credit from a reliable bank sooner rather than later.

As for the fights at hand; the nine-bout card went pretty much as expected. Some of the “A-side” fighters were there because they’re prospects; others because they’re ticket-sellers. Top Rank has two Hall of Fame matchmakers – Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman – so the favorites went nine for nine.

Arnold Gonzalez won a decision over Charles Stanford who was one of the opponents brought in a while back to get knocked out by Evan Holyfield.

Ofacio Falcon, who has been steered clear of fighters who might test him, fought Edward Ceballos (who couldn’t test him). Falcon won every round on each judges’ scorecard.

Isaah Flaherty (who can fight going forward and going forward) was cut high on the forehead by an accidental clash of heads in round one and forced the action against Julien Baptiste en route to a six-round shutout decision.

Referee Benjy Esteves let a fight between Euri Cedeno and Antonio Todd go on too long before saving Todd from further damage by halting the beating in round five.

Later, referee Shada Murdaugh let an overmatched Moses Johnson hit the canvas five times in the first round (the knockdown that started it all was mistakenly called a push, so there were only four official knockdowns) before waiving off things in favor of Italian heavyweight Guido Vianello late in the stanza.

Andres Cortes was battering Bryan Chevalier around the ring when Chevalier’s corner appropriately waved a white towel late in round four.

The best prospects on the card were Bruce “Shu-Shu” Carrington and Delante “Tiger” Johnson.

Johnson (11-0, 5 KOs) squared off against Paulo Cesar Galdino (13-7-2, 9 KOs, 4 KOs by). Galdino had won only one of his last five fights, and that was against an opponent with three wins in 13 outings. Referee Ricky Gonzalez wisely called a halt to the action with Galdino taking a beating in round one.

Carrington (10-0, 6 KOs) is a slick stylish fighter. Bernard Torres (18-1, 8 KOs) had been chosen as his opponent because he’s one-dimensional, slower than Shu-Shu, and doesn’t have much of a punch. As the fight wore on, Torres (a 10-to-1 underdog) had the look of a man who was thinking, “I have no idea how to solve this puzzle that’s in front of me.” Late in round four, Carrington (who can whack when he sets down on his punches) launched a brutal right hand that deposited Torres face down, unconscious on the canvas.

The main event matched O’Shaquie Foster (21-1, 12 KOs) against Abraham Nova (23-1, 16 KOs, 1 KO by).

Foster won the vacant WBC 130-pound title by decision over Rey Vargas last year and, trailing badly on the judges’ scorecards, salvaged his belt with a dramatic twelfth-round knockout of Eduardo Hernandez three months ago. He deserves credit for working his way up from B-side status in several earlier outings to where he is today.

Nova was an 8-to-1 underdog. But Foster-Nova turned into a hard, grinding fight with neither man able to establish dominance over the other. Referee Steve Willis did a good job of controlling the action without inserting himself in the flow more than necessary. I had Foster winning by one point with a flash knockdown that he scored in round twelve being the difference. The judges favored O’Shaquie with a 116-111, 115-112, 113-114 split verdict.

—-

Kansas City’s dramatic overtime victory over San Francisco in last Sunday’s Super Bowl drew the largest viewing audience in the history of television. So it’s safe to assume that many of you who are reading this column watched the game. With that in mind, I’d like to comment on the furor surrounding 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s much-criticized decision to receive the ball first after winning the coin toss at the start of overtime.

The NFL’s overtime format for playoff games differs from the rules used during the regular season. Each team is guaranteed one possession in a playoff game unless the defense scores a touchdown or safety on the other team’s first possession. If the game is tied after each team has possessed the ball once, the next score wins.

Shanahan elected to receive the kick-off at the start of overtime. San Francisco marched down the field, but their drive stalled at the Chief’s 9-yardline and the 49ers settled for a 27-yard field goal.

Then it was Kansas City’s turn. And even though the Chiefs were trailing, they had a slight tactical edge because they knew what they had to do; tie or win. Punting wasn’t an option. So when Kansas City was faced with a fourth-down-and-one situation on its own 34-yard-line, the Chiefs went for the first down and Patrick Mahomes kept the drive alive with an 8-yard run. Ten plays later, Kansas City scored the winning touchdown.

Did Shanahan “blow it”?

No.

If the game had been tied after the teams had one possession each, the next score of any kind would have won. And the 49ers would have had the ball first on each exchange of possessions from that point on until the end of the second overtime. That would have been a significant advantage.

Also, consider the fact that Kansas City had scored only one touchdown in sixty minutes of play prior to the overtime.

Shanahan and the 49ers lost the game. They didn’t “blow it” with what I think was a reasonable coin-toss decision.

—-

The future of Sports Illustrated is in doubt. Last month (on January 19), a series of unpaid financial obligations reached critical mass and massive layoffs decimated its editorial staff. SI is likely to survive in some form, perhaps as an online-only publication. But its glory years are in the past.

Sports Illustrated was first published in 1954. Spectator sports were on the verge of exploding in popularity in tandem with the expansion of television. SI rode that wave. It was one of the first national publications to understand and exploit the growing popularity of pro football. Its editorial staff recognized Muhammad Ali’s prowess as a fighter and his importance as a social and political figure while most mainstream publications still referred to him as “Cassius Clay.” Long-form articles and in-depth reporting made it a “writers’ magazine” of the highest order. Wordsmiths like Frank Deford, Herbert Warren Wind, Paul Zimmerman, Dan Jenkins, Jim Murray, William Nack, Robert Creamer, Tex Maule, Jack Olsen, Roy Blount Jr., Walter Bingham, and Rick Reilly plied their trade for SI. Its print circulation peaked at more than three million subscribers. The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (inaugurated in 1964) became a national institution.

Boxing (according to the SI archive) was featured on the magazine’s cover 138 times. Forty of those covers belonged to Muhammad Ali. Only Michael Jordan (with fifty covers) surpassed that total. Other cover subjects from the sweet science (listed alphabetically) included Carmen Basilio, Nino Benvenuti, Riddick Bowe, George Chuvalo, Gerry Cooney, Oscar De La Hoya, Buster Douglas, Roberto Duran, Joe Frazier, Marvis Frazier, Gene Fullmer, Joey Giardello, Marvin Hagler, Gypsy Joe Harris, Roy Harris, Thomas Hearns, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield, Ingemar Johansson, Sonny Liston, Danny Lopez, Ray Mancini, Rocky Marciano, Christy Martin, Floyd Mayweather, Tom McNeeley, Carlos Monzon, Ken Norton, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson, Chuck Wepner, and Pernell Whitaker. To that list, one could add Don King and (most recently) Jake Paul.

From its inception, SI chose a “sportsman of the year” (later referred to on occasion as its “sportswoman” or “sports team” of the year). Three boxers were accorded that honor: Ingemar Johansson (in 1959), Muhammad Ali (1974), and Sugar Ray Leonard (1981).

But in recent years, the economics of publishing have changed. And the instant flow of information in a digital age made a sports weekly less relevant. In 2018, Sports Illustrated became the property of Meredith Corporation which acquired Time Inc. (SI’s parent company). A series of licensing agreements and resales involving the magazine followed. In 2020, it transitioned from a weekly to a monthly publication. Meanwhile, the quality of its editorial content was declining.

Worse, SI seemed to be losing its moral compass. For some subscribers, the final straw came when the magazine designated Deion Sanders as its 2023 “Sportsman of the Year”.

That honor (as defined by Sports Illustrated) is bestowed annually upon the athlete or team whose performance most embodies “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.” In its article celebrating the choice of Sanders, SI talked at length about how Deion had “transformed a moribund Colorado football program” and “transformed a community.” Nothing was said about his removing more than sixty scholarship players from the team roster (young men who had enrolled at Colorado in good faith) and replacing them with players brought to the university through the transfer portal.

Mark Whicker (whose credits include the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Career Excellence in Boxing Journalism) put the matter in perspective when he wrote, “SI was celebrating an egomaniacal huckster who ran off dozens of players who didn’t fit his template, with his son’s media company taping every move. In doing so, he dislocated lives and relationships. Some refugees said that Sanders never even bothered to learn their names.”

The selection of Sanders might have engendered a lot of publicity and “clicks” for SI. But did he really (Colorado finished the season with a 4-and-8 record) embody “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement” more than Shohei Ohtani (whose 2023 season was unmatched in baseball history), Nikola Jokic (arguably the best big man ever who led the Denver Nuggets to the 2023 NBA crown), and Novak Djokovic (who cemented his status as the best tennis player of all time in 2023)?

I grew up with Sports Illustrated. I began reading the magazine when I was a boy. It has been in my home ever since. In 1991, I crossed an item off my “bucket list” when I wrote an article that was published in SI. On numerous occasions, I’ve relied on its archives for research. I miss the magazine that it was.

That magazine isn’t coming back.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – MY MOTHER and Me – is a personal memoir that will be published by Admission Press this spring and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/My-Mother-Me-Thomas-Hauser/dp/1955836191/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5C0TEN4M9ZAH&keywords=thomas+hauser&qid=1707662513&sprefix=thomas+hauser,aps,80&sr=8-1

In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Friday Night Fights: Nontshinga Wins by TKO in Oaxaca; O’Shaquie by SD at MSG

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Fridau-Night-Fights-Nontshinga-Wins-by-TKO-in-Oaxaca-O'Shaquie by SD at MSG

South Africa’s Sivenathi Nontshinga (13-1, 10 KOs) came from behind to recapture the IBF light flyweight (108-pound) title with a 10th-round stoppage of Mexico City’s Adrian Curiel in Oaxaca, Mexico in the featured bout of a Matchroom card that aired on DAZN.

This was a rematch. Last November in Monte Carlo, the the supposedly feather-fisted Curiel with only four stoppages to his credit in 28 pro bouts, snatched the title from him and changed the trajectory of his career with a shocking one-punch, second-round knockout. In that bout, Nontshinga was a massive favorite but tonight the roles were reversed with Curiel favored in the 9 to 5 range in large part because of the locale.

Curiel, whose record declined to 24-5-1, was conspicuously ahead after eight frames. He was the aggressor and the busier man and it didn’t help Nontshinga’s cause that he was docked a point in round seven after a clash of heads. But late in round nine, there was a sudden turnabout when the fighter from South Africa’s Eastern Cape rocked his Mexican foe with a big left hook. Curiel was saved by the bell and it was all over 44 seconds into the next round when veteran Texas referee Mark Calo-oy pulled the plug with Curiel trapped in a neutral corner eating a barrage of punches with nothing coming back in return.

A rematch is in order although Nontshinga may seek a match with WBC/WBA title-holder Kenshiro Teraji, the paramount fighter in the weight class, or perhaps the winner of the forthcoming fight between WBO belt-holder Jonathan Gonzalez and his Puerto Rican countryman Rene Santiago.

Co-Feature

Mexico City’s Mauricio Lara (26-3-2) and Hermosillo’s Daniel Lugo (27-2-1) battled to a 10-round draw. It was the first fight at 130 for ex-featherweight champion Lara who was making his first start since last May when he was out-pointed by Leigh Wood in their rematch in Manchester, England.

The Theater at Madison Square Garden

O’Shaquie Foster (22-2, 12 KOs) successfully defended his WBC 130-pound world title with a hard-earned decision over Abraham Nova (23-2) in the featured bout of a Top Rank card that aired on ESPN. The 30-year-old Foster, who hails from Orange, Texas, and trains in Houston, was making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of previously undefeated Rey Vargas.

It was the 12th straight win for Foster after his career was interrupted by legal troubles. Late in the final round,  he put Nova on the canvas with a sweeping left hook. Referee Steve Willis hesitated before starting a count, uncertain whether it was a true knockdown, but replays showed that it was a legitimate knockdown, albeit of the flash variety. Two judges had it for Foster (116-111 and 115-112) with the dissenter favoring Nova by a 114-113 tally.

Co-Feature

Las Vegas junior lightweight Andres Cortes (21-0, 12 KOs) scored an impressive fourth-round stoppage over Bryan Chevalier (20-2-1). Cortes, who was credited with landing 23 power punches in the last full round, was too strong for his lanky, five-foot-eleven Puerto Rican opponent whose corner tossed in the towel at the 2:17 of round four.

Also

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, a featherweight contest slated for “10,” Bruce “Shu Shu” Carrington made a significant jump in public esteem with a brutal one-punch knockout of Bernard Torres (18-2). Carrington, who is big for the weight class and had a 6-inch reach advantage, set the tempo and ended the contest with a sweeping right hand at the 2:59 mark of round four. Torres landed face first and the bout was stopped without the formality of a count. “She Shu” represents the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, but has been training in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma.

Torres, a Filipino by birth who has been living in Norway, lives to fight another day. He is booked to fight again on April 6 in Oslo.

Other Bouts of Note

Italian heavyweight Guido Vianello, a 2016 Olympian, improved to 12-1-1 (10) with a first-round demolition of Huntington, Long Island’s Moses Johnson (11-2-2). Early in the opening round, Vianello buzzed Johnson with a short fight hand to the temple. Referee Shada Murdaugh apparently thought it was an illegal rabbit punch followed by a push and called time out rather than start a count. But Johnson wasn’t right and would be on the canvas four more times before Murdaugh finally stopped it with only one second remaining in the round. “It was not his best night,” said broadcaster Bernardo Osuna referencing Murdaugh in a great understatement.

In his career-best performance, Cleveland super lightweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson, a Tokyo Olympian, improved to 11-0 (6 KOs) with a first-round stoppage of Brazilian southpaw Paulo Galdino (13-8-2). Johnson decked Galdino in the opening round with a short left uppercut and then went for the kill. Moments after snapping Galdino’s head back with a short right hand, the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. The official time was 2:49.

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