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Super Bowl Sunday Special Edition: Remembering Lyle Alzado and Shane Dronett

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Lyle Alzado played in the 1978 Super Bowl as a member of the Denver Broncos and in the 1984 Super Bowl as a member of the Los Angeles Raiders. Shane Dronett, like Alzado a defensive end who tragically died young, was a key component of the 1998 Atlanta Falcons squad that advanced to Super Bowl XXXIII.

If football hadn’t come calling, Alzado and Dronett would have likely made their mark in the sweet science. Both were outstanding amateur boxers.

Lyle Alzado was born in Brooklyn, the son of a Spanish-Italian father and a Jewish mother of Polish descent. At Lawrence High School in the Long Island village of Cedarhurst, he excelled on the gridiron, but his grades were so poor that no major football school was willing to take a chance on him. After a stint at a junior college in Texas, he surfaced at Yankton College in South Dakota, a small private college that no longer exists; it went bankrupt in 1984 and is now the site of a federal prison.

One guesses that Alzado missed a lot of classes at Yankton because he popped up repeatedly in Omaha,160 miles away. He went there to resume his amateur boxing career. A story in an Omaha paper reported that he was 27-1 in New York area rings before heading west. As Alzado’s legend grew, so also did his ring record which was inflated in news reports to 44-1.

In Omaha, Alzado frequently sparred with Ron Stander. On Feb. 4, 1969, they fought in a semi-final match-up in the Omaha City Golden Gloves tournament. Stander got the nod, a decision that was roundly booed according to a story in the Lincoln Star.

Ron Stander lived across the river from Omaha in Council Bluffs, Iowa – hence his nickname, the Bluffs Butcher. As a pro, his signature win was a fifth-round KO of Earnie Shavers. He went on to fight Joe Frazier in the first and only heavyweight title fight ever staged in Omaha.

The Bluffs Butcher talked a good fight. “If we were fighting in an alley,” he said, “Frazier wouldn’t stand a chance.” But they didn’t fight in an alley and Joe butchered him. Stander was a bloody mess when his corner pulled him out after four rounds.

Alzado was selected in the fourth round of the 1971 NFL Draft and went on to become a cornerstone of Denver’s “Orange Crush” defense. In 1977, Denver’s Super Bowl season, Alzado was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in a poll by the United Press.

The Broncos lost the Jan. 19, 1978 Super Bowl to the Cowboys by a 27-10 score despite a strong game by Alzado who constantly pressured quarterback Roger Staubach while registering two sacks.

Alzado had another fine season in 1978, earning first-team All-Pro honors. By then, his exploits in the ring as an amateur boxer had become well-publicized and an enterprising promoter arranged a match with Muhammad Ali who had regained the world heavyweight title the previous year in his second meeting with Leon Spinks.

An 8-round exhibition, the match played out on July 14, 1979 at Denver’s Mile High Stadium, home of the Broncos, on a sweltering Saturday afternoon when the temperature reached 100 degrees. Contested before 20,000 (far below expectations), the match was tame, but Alzado made a credible showing and Ali would pay him the ultimate compliment, saying he had the makings of a champion if he chose to pursue a boxing career full-time. (Who would have guessed that when he and Ron Stander were sparring at a little boxing gym in Omaha that one would go on to share the ring with the most famous man on the planet and the other with his famous arch-rival?!)

Alzado was mired in a contract dispute with the Broncos when he fought Ali and the club shipped him off to the Cleveland Browns where he had three solid seasons. In 1982, he was traded to the former and future Oakland Raiders who were in their first season of their Los Angeles phase.

The Raiders with their bad-ass reputation and Lyle Alzado were a perfect fit. In Alzado’s first season in LA, with future Hall of Famer Howie Long manning the opposite flank, the Raiders led the league in sacks. The following year, Alzado was one of the linchpins of the Raiders team that won the NFL’s ultimate prize, knocking off the favored Washington Redskins 38-9 in the Super Bowl.

Shane Dronett

Shane Dronett, who grew up in Bridge City, Texas, took up boxing at the age of 11. As a senior in high school, he was a Texas Golden Gloves champion. He also excelled on the gridiron, earning All-State honors as a tight end and linebacker.

Dronett enrolled at the University of Texas where he grew into a six-foot-six, 265-pound defensive end. He cracked the starting lineup midway through his freshman season, was All-Conference as a sophomore and again as a junior when he made several All-America teams and then left school for the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining.

Selected in the second round of the 1992 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, Dronett had 19 ½ sacks in his first three seasons and set a franchise record in 1994 with four blocked field goals. When his production tailed off, the Broncos let him go and, similar to Alzado, he would enjoy a late career surge with a new team, in his case the Falcons.

Dronett couldn’t get Atlanta over the hump in the Jan. 31, 1999 Super Bowl. The Falcons fell to the Broncos, 31-19. But he played so well that year and again the following year that he was tendered a five-year, $20 million contract. It proved to be a bad deal for the Falcons as, bedeviled by knee and shoulder injuries, he played only one more full season.

Lyle Alzado and Shane Dronett had a lot in common besides the fact they were outstanding amateur boxers who played defensive end for the Denver Broncos. On the practice field they were known for their fiery personalities. And both were not far removed from their playing days when they left this mortal earth, their lives cut short by brain disease.

Alzado, who parlayed his notoriety on the football field into an acting career, spent the last year of his life on a mission to educate others about the dangers of steroid use. In a July 8, 1991 Sports Illustrated cover story, he confessed that his denials about using anabolic steroids and human growth hormones were a big lie. He blamed the steroids on the inoperable brain tumor that was slowly eating away at him, convinced that the drugs had compromised his immune system. He died on May 14, 1992, at age 43 at the home of his fourth wife in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and was buried in Portland.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Shane Dronett are more distressing.

In 2006, Dronett began acting erratically; at various times confused, delusional, and paranoid. Doctors discovered a small benign tumor on his brain. They removed it, but Dronett’s problems continued. On Jan. 21, 2009, at his home in Georgia, he brandished a handgun at his wife and then turned it against himself, committing suicide. He was 38 years old. He left behind two young daughters, the oldest of whom, Hayley, chose to remember her father from her younger days: “He was the best dad in the world.”

Dronett’s personality change was mindful of some retired boxers whose autopsies showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”), a progressive degenerative disease of the brain associated multiple concussions. “This was not the man I married,” said his wife, Christine, who consented to have his brain tissue examined by Boston University neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee whose pioneering work and that of several of her colleagues is detailed in “Damage,” boxing writer Tris Dixon’s widely acclaimed new book. Dr. McKee confirmed that Shane Dronett had CTE.

Regarding Lyle Alzado, no link has been found between steroid use and brain cancer. However, by warning athletes away from performing-enhancing drugs, Alzado performed a needed service. And likewise, the widow of Shane Dronett did her part to make the sport of football safer for future participants by willingly assisting Dr. McKee in her groundbreaking research which forced the NFL to acknowledge the seriousness of concussions and do something about it.

Perhaps Alzado and Dronett would have lived longer and left this world on a less sorrowful note if they had chosen a career in boxing instead of football, but then again, they became pillars of teams that made it all the way to the Super Bowl, America’s biggest annual sporting spectacle, and that must have been quite a rush.

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Alexis Rocha KOs Brave but Overmatched George Ashie on DAZN.

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Golden Boy Promotions’ potted their first offering of 2023 at the recently opened YouTube Theater, a 6,000-seat venue situated inside the stadium built to house LA’s two NFL franchises. The main event was a scheduled 12-round welterweight match between Alexis Rocha, a southpaw from nearby Santa Ana and George Ashie, a 38-year-old Ghanaian making his U.S. debut. Ashie was a late substitute for Anthony Young who reportedly suffered a nose injury in training. The match and supporting bouts were live-streamed on DAZN.

Ashie, who was fighting above his normal weight class and carried a career-high 146 pounds, was brave but out-gunned. Rocha knocked him down in the third frame with a right hook and hurt him several more times as the fight progressed although Ashie never stopped trying. In round six, an accidental clash of heads left Rocha with a nasty cut on his left eyebrow. He fought with more urgency after this incident and knocked Ashie out cold in the next round. The official time was 2:08 of round seven.

It was the fifth straight win for Rocha who improved his ledger to 22-1 (14 KOs). After the bout, he expressed an interest in fighting Terence Crawford. Ashie fell to 33-6-1 (25).

Other Bouts of Note

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a precocious 20-year-old lightweight, had Albert Mercado on the canvas in the second round but was unable to put him away despite hurting him multiple times and went 10 rounds for the first time in his young career.

Schofield, the 2022 TSS Prospect of the Year, improved to 13-0 (11), winning 100-89 on all three cards. Mercado, a 35-year-old Connecticut-born Puerto Rican, declined to 17-5-1 but retained his distinction of having never stopped.

Super middleweight Bektemir Melikuziev, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist for Uzbekistan who lives and trains in Indio, California, overpowered San Diego’s Ulises Sierra who was on the deck twice from body punches before the fight was waived off at the 2:59 mark of round three. It was the fourth straight victory for Melikuziev (11-1, 9 KOs) after suffering a stunning one-punch knockout at the hands of seemingly shopworn Gabriel Rosado with whom he is pursuing a rematch. Sierra was 17-2-2 heading in with eight of his wins coming in Mexico.

In a match framed as a WBO minimumweight title eliminator, Oscar Collazo (6-0, 4 KOs) scored an impressive fifth-round stoppage of Yudel Reyes. Collazo knocked Reyes down twice in the fifth round, the second with a vicious right hand that put Reyes down so hard that the referee didn’t bother to count. The official time was 2:59 of round five.

In theory, Collazo’s next fight will come against the Filipino Melvin Jerusalem who won the title earlier this month with a second-round stoppage of Masataka Taniguchi in Osaka. Reyes, a 26-year-old Mexican making his U.S. debut, declined to 15-2.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Artur Beterbiev TKOs Anthony Yarde in a London Firefight

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The presumption, echoed by ESPN boxing commentator Bernardo Osuna, was that tonight’s bout at Wembley Arena in London between Artur Beterbiev and Anthony Yarde would be explosive and entertaining for as long as it lasted. That proved to be true and when the smoke cleared, Beterbiev, the rugged Montreal-based Russian had retained his three light heavyweight title belts and had added another knockout to his ledger, his nineteenth as a pro in as many opportunities.

Both men landed hard shots during the fight and both were marked up at the finish. Yarde had a cut under his right eye and Beterbiev had a cut on his left eyelid.

A chopping right hand from Beterbiev late in the first minute of the eighth round marked the beginning of the end for Yarde, the muscular 31-year-old Londoner who entered the contest sporting a record of 23-2 with 22 knockouts. The punch sent him reeling backward toward his corner where he landed on his knees. He beat the count, but turned toward his corner rather than referee Steve Gray.

Gray let the bout continue, but Beterbiev pressed his advantage and after a few more unanswered punches Yarde’s trainer Tunde Ajayi stepped up on the ring apron and summoned Gray to stop it. The official time was 2:01 of round eight.

Beterbiev hasn’t lost since losing a decision to amateur nemesis Oleksandr Usyk in the quarter finals of the 2012 London Olympics. At age 38, he shows no signs of slowing down.

In his post-fight interview, the self-effacing Russian said, “I hope some day I will be a good boxer,” and acknowledged that he would welcome a unification fight with fellow Russian Dmitry Bivol, the WBA title-holder.

WBA Title Fight

In a bout that was in theory the co-feature but went off during the earlier portion of the ESPN+ livestream, Artem Dalakian (21-0, 15 KOs) retained his WBA world flyweight title with a unanimous and somewhat controversial 12-round unanimous decision over Costa Rica’s David Jimenez (12-1). The judges had it 116-112 and 115-113 twice.

An Azerbaijan-born Ukrainian, Dalakian was making the sixth defense of the title he won in 2018 with a 12-round decision over Brian Viloria in Los Angeles in his lone previous appearance at a venue in the English-speaking world. His five title defenses were in Kiev. Jimenez was coming off a 12-round majority decision over Ricardo Sandoval in what ranked as one of the bigger upsets of 2021.

A Split for the Itauma Brothers

Promoter Frank Warren’s newest signee, 18-year-old heavyweight Moses Itauma, made a big splash in his pro debut, blasting out Czechoslovakia’s Marcel Bode (2-2) in 23 seconds. Moses and his older brother Karol Itauma are sons of a British citizen of Nigerian ancestry and a Slovakian mother.

In a shocking upset, Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna, a 36-year-old Argentine who had lost six of his previous eight fights, forged a fifth-round stoppage of well-touted Karol Itauma who was 9-0 (7 KOs) as a pro coming in. Itauma ate numerous straight right hands before a straight right hand knocked him down for the count. The official time was 1:04 of round five. Maderna improved to 29-10 (11).

Also

The Frankham cousins, super welterweight Joshua and super featherweight Charles, improved their ledgers to 7-0 with 6-round shutouts over their respective opponents. The cousins are grandsons of John “Gypsy Johnny” Frankham, a former British light heavyweight champion.

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Jake Paul vs Tommy Fury on Feb. 26 in a Potential Pay-Per-View Blockbuster

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It’s now official. The twice-postponed “grudge match” between Jake Paul and Tommy Fury will come to fruition on Sunday, Feb. 26, at Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. An 8-rounder contested at a catch-weight of 185 pounds, the match and several supporting bouts will air in the U.S. on ESPN+ PPV at a cost of $49.99.

The hook for this promotion – a come-hither that will be hammered home incessantly in the coming weeks – is that Jake Paul will finally touch gloves with a legitimate professional boxer. Paul’s previous opponents were a fellow YouTube influencer (AnEsonGib), a retired NBA player (Nate Robinson), and three former MMA champions: Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley, and Anderson Silva. He fought Woodley twice.

Tommy Fury, the half-brother of reigning WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, made his pro debut in December of 2018 in a four-round bout in his hometown of Manchester. He was two fights into his pro career when he became a contestant on the TV reality show “Love Island.” An enormously popular show in Great Britain, especially among the coveted 18-34 demographic, “Love Island” was in its fifth season.

Fury was paired with supermodel Molly-Mae Hague with whom he finished second. They developed a great chemistry, on and off the set, became engaged, and purportedly welcomed a baby girl this week.

What about Tommy Fury the boxer? How legitimate is he?

Fury’s record currently stands at 8-0 (4 KOs). His first opponent was a professional loser from Latvia whose current ledger reads 10-113-3. His next six opponents were a combined 4-73-2. Finally, in his last fight, which occurred in April of last year, he met an opponent with a good record, Poland’s Daniel Bocianski, who was 10-1. But look closer and one discovers that all but one of Bocianski’s 10 triumphs came against opponents with losing records. The exception was a 6-round decision over a fellow Pole whose record currently stands at 18-16-1 and who has been stopped 13 times.

Fury bloodied Bocianski and won a wide 6-round decision, but his performance was underwhelming. “Fury had the Hollywood teeth, tan, and diamante-colored shorts,” wrote Chasinga Malata of the London Sun, “leaving only his performance without sheen and sparkle.”

There is nothing in Tommy Fury’s background, aside from his biological pedigree, to suggest that he has the tools to become a world-class boxer. If he were a member of the Three Stooges, he would be Shemp.

Jake Paul, by contrast, may actually be legit. Those in the know that have watched him train have come away impressed. It says here that Paul isn’t moving up in class on Feb. 26; it’s the other way around.

In the co-feature, Ilunga Makabu (29-2, 25 KOs) will make the third defense of his WBC world cruiserweight title against Badou Jack (27-3-3, 16 KOs). A Congolese-South African, Makabu is the older brother of heavyweight contender Martin Bakole. Jack, four years older than Makabu at age 39, formerly held world titles at 168 and 175 pounds.

Although Badou Jack was born in Sweden and keeps a home in Las Vegas where he has long been affiliated with the Mayweather Boxing Club, he will have the home field advantage in Saudi Arabia where he has cultivated a loyal following. A devout Muslim, Jack will be making his fourth straight start in the Persian Gulf Region. In his last outing, he outpointed Richard “Popeye” Rivera at Jeddah, winning a 10-round split decision.

Badou Jack

Badou Jack

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