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Bill Haney, Devin’s Dad, Readies His Armada to Conquer Australia

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Professional boxers, with few exceptions, begin their careers in humble surroundings. George Kambosos Jr had his first three pro fights and five of his first eight at the Croatian Club in the oddly-named Sydney suburb of Punchbowl. Used primarily to host wedding receptions, the Croatian Club is a classy joint compared to the place where Devin Haney got his start. Haney had his first four pro fights at the seedy Billar El Perro Salado (translation: Salty Dog billiard hall) in seedy Tijuana.

On Sunday, June 5 (Saturday in the U.S.), Kambosos (20-0, 10 KOs) and Haney (27-0, 15 KOs) will do battle at 50,000-seat Marvel Stadium in Melbourne in a lightweight title unification fight that some have likened to the boxing equivalent of a Super Bowl. Kambosos and Haney have come a long way.

George Kambosos hails from Sydney, more than 500 miles from Melbourne, but will have a distinct home field advantage. His ancestry is Greek and Melbourne has the largest Greek population of any city in Australia, an estimated 175,000. Nonetheless, Haney, the U.S. invader from Las Vegas, will go to post a 9/5 favorite if the early betting line holds up.

Kambosos, who de-throned Teofimo Lopez on Nov. 27, 2021 at Madison Square Garden in one of the biggest upsets of recent memory, has been lauded for the sacrifices he made to achieve his current status as the most decorated fighter in the lightweight division. Prior to meeting Teofimo, he was known primarily as Manny Pacquiao’s longtime sparring partner.

Kombosos vs. Teofimo Lopez, originally set for June 5, 2021 in Miami, went through six date changes, three different cities, and two promoters before it came to fruition. During the bumpy run-up, Kombosos held tight to his training regimen in Florida and missed important events in his life. He wasn’t there to attend the funeral of his paternal grandfather, for whom he was named, or be there to witness the birth of his third child.

As Bill Haney, Devin Haney’s 48-year-old father and trainer/manager, would be the first to tell you, Devin’s journey has been no less arduous. “It’s taken us 15 years to reach this point,” he says, noting that Devin, 23, first laced on a pair of gloves at the age of eight.

As an amateur, Haney was so precocious that he was dubbed the best prospect since Floyd Mayweather Jr by no less an authority than Floyd Sr. When Devin’s father felt that he had nothing more to learn in the amateur ranks, he turned him pro. Because of minimum-age requirements in the U.S., Devin’s first pro fights were in Mexico. It was a path trod by several other precocious amateurs before him, notably Arizona light heavyweight David Benavidez.

About those early fights in Tijuana; there were 10 overall. The crowds were small, a few hundred tops, and the spectators were animated. “It was mostly a bunch of drunks,” says Bill, looking back fondly, and “they came to see the gringo kid get beat.” Of course, he never did get beat and Devin would eventually earn such grudging respect from the locals that he graduated into larger spaces such as the ballroom of Tijuana’s 320-room Grand Hotel.

There’s a school of thought that there’s little to be gained by having a fighter launch his pro career on low-budget cards in Mexico. The competition is inferior. But Bill Haney, among others, would argue that there are benefits to fighting in that environment. It prepares one to compete in hostile settings and for Team Haney, the environment will certainly be hostile inside Marvel Stadium.

A reporter who prowls the boxing gyms of Las Vegas can always tell when Team Haney is in the building. There are more than the usual number of cars parked outside and the cars are of the pricey kind. They might not be as flashy as the rogue car that one is likely to see parked outside the Mayweather Boxing Club, but the vehicles, most notably Devin’s elegant, if understated, Maybach, convey money.

They say that too many cooks spoil the broth, but Bill Haney obviously doesn’t concur. Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali were famed for their entourages, but it’s doubtful that any boxer had more people in his inner circle at the tender age of twenty-three than does Devin Haney.

How many will accompany Bill and Devin to Melbourne? When asked this question during a closed-door session for Team Haney at the Top Rank Gym, Bill makes a sweeping gesture with his hand that says everybody you see here. There are, perhaps, a dozen.

Among the role-players, none stands out as conspicuously as the fellow given the title of chief handler. They call him Church, spelled Chuuuch says the man himself, an energetic man with a spring in his step who appears to be in his early fifties.

When Devin Haney spars, Chuuuch keeps up a constant patter. “You are the master, the overseer,” he is wont to bay by way of encouragement. At public gatherings such as weigh-ins, he morphs into the hypeman, referring to the fighter as Lord Devin Haney. When exalting Devin or disparaging his opponent he often speaks in rhymes.

Chuuuch is the reincarnation of the legendary Bundini Brown, Muhammad Ali’s assistant cornerman and colorful sidekick. He should make quite a splash with the Australian media.

Team Haney, says Bill, plans to arrive in Australia a month before the fight to get acclimated to the climate and time difference. To mitigate the effect of jet lag, they will spend a few days in Hawaii en route.

The last big prizefight in Australia pit Pacquiao against Jeff Horn in Brisbane. Fighting on his home turf, Horn won a controversial decision. Does Bill Haney worry that his son may get a raw deal from the officials? “We can’t go over there with that mindset,” he says while averring that the brouhaha over the Horn-Pacquiao decision might work to their advantage. “If they do that again,” he says, “fighters will be reluctant to go there for a big fight.” (Note: Neither the referee nor the judges in the Horn-Pacquiao fight were Australian.)

With respect to dictating the terms of engagement, WBA/WBO/IBF belt-holder George Kambosos, by virtue of owning the most hardware, was in the driver’s seat. In addition to the lion’s share of the purse, his management demanded concessions that went beyond what is customary.  The rematch clause stipulates that the rematch, if needed, will also be held in Australia.

“We consented,” says Bill Haney, “because to Devin this fight is less about money than about his legacy. We respect George Kambosos, he’s a good fighter, but on June 5 Devin will show that he is something special.”

Kambosos vs. Haney has the earmarks of a very good scrap and, if not, it will still be quite a spectacle.

Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” will shortly roll off the press. The book, published by McFarland, can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/clashof-the-little-giants) or via Amazon.

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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