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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 42-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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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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