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The Hauser Report: Berlanga-Rolls and More

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Edgar Berlanga and Steve Rolls headlined an eight-bout fight card at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. Rolls was there to test Berlanga’s boxing skills. The second test was how many tickets Berlanga and a contingent of fellow fighters from Puerto Rico and New York’s Puerto Rican community could sell.

The arena was sold out with an announced attendance of 5,158. The fans arrived early and had a good time.

Top Rank promoted the event as a developmental card. The eight fighters in the red corner began the evening with a composite ring record of 75-0 with 52 knockouts. The idea was to get them a bit more combat experience, some exposure on ESPN, and eight more “W”s. Some of the opponents put in spirited efforts. But Top Rank matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman don’t make many mistakes.

The first four fights ended in stoppages, including a particularly brutal knockout of Veuri Andujar by Bruce Carrington in round five of a contest that should have been stopped a round earlier. The next three bouts went to the judges’ scorecards. Eric Dali’s handling of several undercard fights confirmed that he’s one of the better referees working in the northeast. Then it was time for Berlanga-Rolls.

Knockouts fire the imagination. Berlanga, a 24-year-old super-middleweight from New York, began his career with 16 first-round knockouts in 16 fights. The men he defeated had a composite ring record of 175 wins, 67 losses, and 15 draws at the time he fought them. Thirteen of them had winning records. They weren’t world class fighters but some of them were more than cannon fodder. Then Edgar was taken the distance (eight rounds) in a win over Demond Nicholson. After that, he fought Marcelo Esteban Coceres, suffered a torn biceps in his left arm, and fought through debilitating pain to win a ten-round decision.

Rolls (21-1, 12 KOs), one month shy of 38 years old, was a step up for Berlanga. Most of his fights had been in Canada against pedestrian opposition. The one time he’d fought against world-class competition, he was obliterated in four rounds by Gennady Golovkin. He wasn’t a puncher. But he has some skills.

Berlanga was an 18-to-1 betting favorite. But the ride turned out to be bumpier than he expected. Rolls fought a cautious survival fight while Edgar looked wooden and one-dimensional. He has a punishing jab but didn’t throw it often enough and rarely threw it in combination with a right hand or anything else behind it.

In sum, Rolls couldn’t hurt Berlanga. And Berlanga couldn’t hit Rolls. This writer scored the fight 96-94 for Berlanga. The judges concurred by a 97-93, 97-93, 96-94 margin.

He was fighting scared,” Berlanga said afterward. “Every time I reached in or threw something, he’d pull back and was running the whole fight. It’s tough to land your shots when he’s scared, especially moving back. When he fought GGG, he brought it to GGG. With me, he tried to use that running tactic.”

That said; Rolls was a measuring stick for Berlanga. And Edgar came up shorter than expected.

*         *         *

Boxing fans with a good memory might remember the name “Joseph A. Maffia.” Decades ago, he was the chief financial officer for Don King Productions. Subpoenaed in 1992 to appear before a United States Senate subcommittee that was investigating corruption in professional boxing, he told the truth. Later, he was a witness before a grand jury in New York. On the basis of his testimony, King was indicted for insurance fraud. A jury found the promoter “not guilty” on all charges. I should note here that I was Maffia’s attorney during part of that process.

Maffia, age 63, grew up in a single-parent home in Spanish Harlem. He went to high school at Power Memorial Academy (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lou Alcindor, was an earlier graduate), attended Iona on a track-and-field scholarship, and graduated from college with a degree in accounting. He has been a certified public accountant for forty years and has played a significant role in various community and business projects.

What is Maffia doing today? He’s now the Republican candidate for the New York State Assembly seat representing the 75th assembly district on the west side of Manhattan. The district’s landmarks include the Empire State Building, Hudson Yards, the Museum of Modern Art, Carnegie Hall, Penn Station, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and part of Central Park.

Maffia styles himself as a moderate Republican and says that he crossed party lines to vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. His campaign platform is available at https://maffiaforny.com. Realistically, his chances of winning on November 8 are slim. There are 115,000 registered voters in the 75th assembly district, and the breakdown by party is Democratic 62%, Republican 10%, Independent 22%, other 6%.

As for Don King; when asked what he thinks of his former chief financial officer’s foray into elective politics, King just laughed.

*         *         *

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has engendered outrage throughout the world. Former HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant recently spoke of the fighting.

“All four of my grandparent were born in Ukraine,” Merchant told this writer. “My mother came to the United States when she was three months old. I can’t say that I ever gave much thought to my Ukrainian heritage. But what’s happening now has kindled feelings in me that I didn’t know I had or, more likely, never had before. [Ukrainian president Volodymry] Zelensky is a hero. Vitali Klitschko is a hero. The boxers who’ve left the safety of their homes in other countries and returned to Ukraine to fight are heroes. These men are giving us a lesson in true patriotism, not the flag-waving, empty talk we’ve heard so much of in recent years. Boxing should be very proud of them.”

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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R.I.P. Les Bonano (1943-2022), Linchpin of Boxing in New Orleans

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Les Bonano, a fixture on the New Orleans area boxing scene for 50 years, passed away on Saturday night, May 21, at his home in Slidell, Louisiana, surrounded by his wife of 60 years, Mary, his four children and his eight grandchildren. Bonano, who had been in and out of the hospital in recent months with kidney problems, was 79 years old.

Bonano joined the New Orleans Police Department in 1965 and patrolled the French Quarter, one of America’s most harrowing beats. In 1974, while working for the New Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Department, he was charged with starting an intramural sports program to relieve tensions at the parish prison. He began with basketball and then added boxing. Somewhat later, he opened a gym and took to training, managing, and promoting fighters. He retired from law enforcement in 1981 to give boxing his full attention.

Bonano was poised to seize the moment when neighboring Mississippi legalized gambling in 1990. He carved out arrangements with Gulf Coast casino resorts in Biloxi and Bay St. Louis to keep his fighters’ busy. Many of the shows that he facilitated were mid-week shows that aired on the old USA cable network.

Bonano never had the satisfaction of managing a world champion, but he came awful close with Melvin Paul who lost a controversial decision to Charlie “Cho Choo” Brown in the inaugural IBF lightweight title fight. Others in Bonano’s stable who went on to compete for world titles include Jerry Celestine, Anthony Stephens, and John Duplessis. Celestine, a light heavyweight who fought Michael Spinks, was an alumnus of Bonano’s prison program.

More recently, Bonano promoted Jonathan Guidry, the Dulac, LA heavyweight who made a surprisingly strong showing against WBA (secondary) title-holder Trevor Bryan on a Don King promotion in Warren, Ohio.

In July of last year, Les Bonano was formally inducted into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame with the class of 2021. “He is perhaps the final ruler of what remains of a fraying and depleted boxing kingdom in the formerly great fight city of New Orleans,” wrote Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a New Orleans native, in a tribute that ran on these pages.

We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to the Bonano family. May he rest in peace.

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What’s Next for David Benavidez?

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What’s Next for David Benavidez?

POST-FIGHT REPORT BY TSS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT NORM FRAUENHEIM —

GLENDALE, AZ – Forget Canelo Alvarez.

That, at least, was the message from David Benavidez and his promoter late Saturday after he demolished David Lemieux in front of a roaring crowd at Gila River Arena in a Showtime-televised rout.

Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) has been talking about a super-middleweight showdown with Canelo for the last couple of years. His victory, a third-round stoppage of Lemieux, put him first in line for a shot at the World Boxing Council’s version of the 168-pound title, still held by Canelo

But that talk stopped. Canelo who?

It sounded as if Benavidez, the WBC’s interim champion, was ready to shut that door and move on, possibly to Caleb Plant or Jermall Charlo or David Morrell. He never mentioned Canelo during a post-fight news conference a couple of hours after bulldozing Lemieux, a former middleweight champion who was overmatched in every way.

“Plant, Charlo, Morrell, maybe we can put together a fight against one of those guys later in the year,’’ said Benavidez, who drew an estimated crowd of nearly 10,000 for the second straight time in an Arizona arena near his old neighborhood in Phoenix.

The question is whether Plant, or Charlo, or Morrell would be willing to face Benavidez. Lemieux was smaller and older. Still, it was scary to witness the beatdown delivered by Benavidez, who grew up about seven miles from Gila River, a National Hockey League Arena.

Benavidez, 25 and still a couple years from his prime, seemingly did it all. He started with body punches. At the end of the first round, he landed a lethal upper-cut, the first in what would prove to be an overwhelming storm. In the second, he knocked Lemieux through the ropes, leaving the Canadian bloodied, dazed and defenseless. At 1:31 of the third it was over. Lemieux (43-5. 36 KOs) did not attend the post-fight news conference. He was taken to a nearby hospital in Glendale.

“He’s a good fighter, a courageous fighter,’’ Benavidez said. “He did what those others wouldn’t do. He fought me.’’

Unlike Benavidez, his promoter, Sampson Lewkowicz mentioned Canelo, who is coming off a stunning loss to light-heavyweight Dimitry Bivol.

“Please, you guys need to quit asking about Canelo,’’ Lewkowicz told a room full of reporters. “We’re looking at three guys. We think we can put together a fight with Charlo, or Plant, or Morrell. But Canelo won’t fight David.

“He’ll never fight the world’s best super-middleweight.’’

Photo credit: Esther Lin / SHOWTIME

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The Middleweight Division has a New Star in Janibek Alimkhanuly

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Step aside, GGG. Kazakhstan has a new fistic hero and his name is Janibek Alimkhanuly. Tonight, at Resorts World in Las Vegas, Janibek (he usually goes by his first name) destroyed Britain’s intrepid Danny Dignum inside two rounds, scoring two knockdowns, the second of which, a five-punch combination climaxed by a short uppercut, left Dignum unconscious. Referee Tony Weeks waived the fight off immediately. The official time was 2:11 of round two.

With the victory, Janibek (12-0, 8 KOs) becomes the interim WBO middleweight champion. The belt is currently held by Demetrius Andrade who is expected to move to 168, opening the door for the 29-year-old Kazakh southpaw to become “full-fledged.”

Although he held the WBO European middleweight title and was undefeated (14-0-1) coming in, Dignum wasn’t expected to provide much opposition. Janibek was stepping down in class after stopping former title-holders Rob Brant and Hassan D’Dam D’Jikam in his previous two fights.

Janibek’s trainer Buddy McGirt doesn’t believe that there is a middleweight on the planet who can hold his own with Janibek (no, not even undefeated Jermall Charlo!) and based on tonight’s performance, it would be hard to argue.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, youth was served as Jamaine Ortiz, the younger man by 10 years, won a unanimous 10-round decision over former WBO super featherweight champion Jamel Herring. The judges had it 96-94 and 97-93 twice.

Ortiz, from Worcester, Massachusetts, did his best work late in the fight as Herring’s workload declined. The bout was marred by several accidental clashes of heads with Herring getting the worst of it on each occasion.

“I could have done a lot better,” said Ortiz (16-0-1, 8 KOs) after winning the most high-profile fight of his career. Herring, who was making his first start with trainer Manny Robles, fell to 23-4 and hinted that he may retire.

Other Bouts of Note

The opener on ESPN’s main platform showcased Cleveland welterweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson, a 2020 Olympian, who advanced to 4-0 (3) with a third-round stoppage of Argentina’s Agustin Kucharski (8-5-1).

Johnson had Kucharski on the canvas twice in the first minute of the third round, both the result of counter right hands. Kucharski, who was making his U.S. debut and hadn’t previously been stopped, twisted around as he fell the second time and the white towel flew out from his corner. The official time was 0:54.

Glendale, CA featherweight Adam Lopez (16-3, 6 KOs) overcame a pair of knockdowns to win a unanimous 8-round decision over William Encarnacion. The judges had it 76-74 and 77-74 twice.

Lopez, 26, is one of two fighting sons of the late Hector “Torero” Lopez, a former two-time world title challenger who developed a big following in LA in the 1990s. Encarnacion who represented the Dominican Republic in the 2012 Olympics, lost for the third time in 22 starts.

Former WBO super bantamweight champion Jessie Magdaleno returned to the ring after an absence of almost two full years and whitewashed Mexico’s Edy Valencia in an 8-round featherweight contest, winning by 80-72 across the board. Las Vegas’ Magdaleno improved to 29-1 (4-0 since losing his belt to Isaac Dogboe). Valencia declined to 19-7-6.

Cincinnati featherweight Duke Ragan, a silver medalist in Tokyo improved to 6-0 with his fifth straight win by decision, a four-round whitewash of South Carolina’s Victorino Gonzalez (5-3).

In the ESPN+ opener, undefeated Chicago lightweight Giovanni Cabrera (20-0, KOs) won a unanimous 8-round decision over 34-year-old Argentine import Elias Araujo (21-5). The judges saw it 79-72, 77-74, and 75-73. There were no knockdowns, but Araujo lost a point for holding.

Cabrera lacks a hard punch which diminishes his upside, but he’s a stylish southpaw who has elevated his game since hooking up with Freddie Roach.

Photo Credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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