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Katie Taylor Hangs On Against Serrano before 19K-plus at Madison Square Garden

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NEW YORK CITY-A bloodied and hurt Katie Taylor managed to hang on to win by split decision against hard-charging Amanda Serrano in a history-making lightweight world championship fight on Saturday.

A near sold-out crowd of 19,187 very vocal fans clamored for both Ireland’s Taylor (21-0, 6 KOs) and Puerto Rico’s Serrano (41-2-1, 30 KOs) who became the first women to headline a fight card at Madison Square Garden. The Irish fighter retains undisputed status but barely.

From the opening round it was obvious that Taylor’s usual speed advantage was not available, especially against the well-schooled Serrano. Both jabbed but Serrano concentrated on the body with power shots when Taylor got close.

Taylor unleashed a six-punch combination in the second round that dazzled the large pro-Irish crowd. Serrano remained attacking the body.

Serrano finally made a more aggressive move in the third round as she exchanged with Taylor. The Puerto Rican fighter tagged Taylor with lead lefts and a right uppercut that sneaked through Taylor’s guard. Taylor nodded at Serrano.

In the fourth round Serrano increased the pressure and Taylor made a stand with a counter right. Serrano fired a four-punch combination and Taylor countered with a couple of one-twos.Katie Taylor Hangs On Against Serrano before 19K-plus at Madison Square Garden

In round five Serrano pinned Taylor in the corner and would not allow the Irish fighter an escape route. Serrano bludgeoned the body and simply fired away bloodying Taylor in the process. Serrano blasted away and Taylor hung on tightly to escape the pounding. Body shots weakened Taylor’s knees and it was Serrano’s best round of the fight. Nearly a 10-8 round in her favor.

“Katie is a tough fighter,” said Serrano who realized she dominated the fifth round. “She was able to withstand the power and come back.”

Taylor said she felt that power.

“I probably stood there too long,” said Taylor about the fifth round beating. “I don’t think I was as hurt as people think. I was okay and stable.”

It seemed that Serrano felt that Taylor could not hurt her and simply absorbed the blows and fired her own power shots. She continued to walk down Taylor who kept peppering away at Serrano with quick scoring shots. For the next three rounds it appeared that Serrano was scoring bigger blows but allowing Taylor to counter with quick scoring shots.

Those quick shots did score for Taylor according to two judges as Serrano continued pounding away with the big blows. Every time Taylor was hurt, she grabbed Serrano to stop the assaults. Apparently the two judges didn’t care.

It was a matter of preference for the judges. American Gary Feldman scored heavily for Taylor 97-93. One other judge saw Taylor winning 96-93. A third gave Serrano the edge 96-94.

Still, it was a fight for the ages and fans were left mesmerized by the action watching two of the best females in the game. Even the two fighters were spellbound by the crowd.

“It was all truly amazing to have all the people support me,” said Serrano. “It was just a crazy feeling. Two women selling out Madison Square Garden.”

Taylor felt the same.

“Just walking out and looking at a packed stadium was unbelievable,” Taylor said.

It was magnificent.

Undisputed Super Middleweight

Franchon Crews-Dezurn (8-1) dominated Elin Cederroos (8-1) in their battle for undisputed status and it was the American who emerged victorious with little doubt behind monster overhand rights and stiff left jabs.

Crews-Dezurn now holds all the major super middleweight titles and undisputed super middleweight status.

From the opening round Crews proved to have the faster hands and rocked the tall Swedish fighter immediately. With head-snapping overhand rights and sweeping left hooks Crews scored heavy. By the third round blood emerged on Cederroos’ nose.

“It was target practice,” said Crews.

It took more than two years to finally meet in the boxing ring. The pandemic and other promotional problems forced cancellations and it seemed they would never decide the better super middleweight.

Crews nearly seemed to stop Cederroos who was bleeding profusely and was checked by the ringside physician repeatedly. The fight resumed.

Cederroos never quit and tried different modes of attack, but everything she used was countered by Crews. The jab of Cederroos worked for a while and when she shortened her combinations it began to work. But Crews would always blast the Swedish fighter with an angry overhand right to win the round. Cederroos just couldn’t match Crews speed and power.

“I felt her punches, they weren’t as hard as mine,” Crews said. “I knew she was feeling it.”

The Swedish fighter seemed to have her best round in the eight by pressuring Crews, But the American fighter who gave Claressa Shields her toughest fight in a loss proved too athletic and strong. All three judges ruled in favor of Crews 97-93 and 99-91 twice.

“I am the undisputed champion,” said Crews almost surprised.

Other Bouts

Liam Smith (31-3-1, 18 KOs) stopped Jessie Vargas (29-4-2) in the 10th round of their super welterweight clash. The referee jumped in seemingly too soon at 41 seconds of the 10th round. He seemed to be looking to end the fight. Smith had taken over after losing the first three rounds.

Undefeated middleweight southpaw sluggers risked everything to face each other and in less than one round Ammo Williams (11-0, 9 KOs) sneaked a right uppercut that stunned Cordell Brooks (17-1, 7 KOs). Williams did not stop and look at the damage; he jumped on the Connecticut fighter with 13 blows and sent him against the ropes and down. The fight was stopped at 2:25 of the first round.

Williams fights out of Texas and is signed by Matchroom Boxing.

In her third professional combat Skye Nicolson (3-0) dominated Paisly Davis (3-2) with primarily two punches, the lead left and the counter jab. Occasionally she mixed in a right hook from her southpaw stance but the Australian won all six rounds with ease.

Davis just couldn’t match Nicolson’s speed and when she finally decided to walk through the Aussie’s punches, she was dropped by a lead left cross. Davis beat the count with mere seconds remaining in the final round. All three judges scored it 60-53 for Nicolson who continues to improve as a professional.

A slow-moving welterweight match saw Reshat Mati (12-0) move and move and occasionally hit Mexico’s Joeeli Hernandez (12-2) with a single shot or two. Never more than that in a fight that saw loads of clinching by Mati. All three judges scored it 80-72 for Mati.

Photo credit: JP Kim

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Harvey Araton Reflects on the Odd Coupling of Ali-Liston II and Lewiston, Maine

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Harvey Araton Reflects on the Odd Coupling of Ali-Liston II and Lewiston, Maine

It’s rarely the case, but in a few instances a heavyweight championship fight has been staged in a small town like Shelby, Montana, or Lewiston, Maine.

The latter was the case 57 years ago this week — May 25 to be exact — when Muhammad Ali faced Sonny Liston for the second time in 15 months.

In the initial meeting, Ali, then Cassius Clay, stunned the world by stopping and taking away the Big Bear’s title with a sixth-round technical knockout in Miami Beach.

In the rematch, Ali’s short right hand proved to be the knockout punch, but many called it the “Phantom Punch,” because few in the throng of 2,434 inside Lewiston’s St. Dominic’s Arena actually saw the blow land.

Looking back, just how did a town of around 40,000 inhabitants and 142 miles north of Boston, actually host the second meeting?

Longtime New York City sportswriter Harvey Araton penned a feature that ran on May, 19, 2015 in the New York Times on just how that unlikely hamlet of Lewiston, at least for one night, became the boxing capital of the world.

“For the old timers in Lewiston, that fight is the equivalent of hosting an Olympics, an event that for decades has defined its identity, even more so after the city fell into disrepair following the decline of its textile industry and the closing of its mills,” said Araton, who worked at the Staten Island Advance, the New York Post, and the New York Daily News preceding a 25-year stint at the New York Times including a decade and a half writing the “Sports of the Times” column.

“The filmmaker I met who talked about what Ali yelled at Liston as he lay on his back – “Get up and fight!” – and how it enhanced the fight’s legacy in Lewiston as it struggled to revive itself was just perfect for my story. I’d like to think it has also come to reflect the rise of the Somali immigrant community, what it has had to go through in order to find a home and to overcome the standard fear and loathing of immigrants to share its restorative efforts in the city.”

When Araton visited Lewiston on the fight’s 50th anniversary, the townsfolk were proud.

“There certainly was a nostalgic quality to the city of Lewiston with the retention of its old, industrial feel, but especially in the arena where the fight took place. Beyond the facelift it was given several years ago, more to its facade than anything else, it still resembles what I described in the story as a cross between an old barn and an airplane hangar,” he said. “And while I wouldn’t say time is frozen inside, you didn’t have to stretch your imagination too far to feel what fight night must have been like, all of it enhanced by the folks I found who actually attended. And who, 50 years after the fact, were surprisingly vivid in their recall.”

While Ali was famous before this matchup, he became even more recognizable after it.

“To a degree, yes, this fight, more than the first one with Liston, arguably made the new champ more of a household name, for several reasons (though I would go easy on the global aspect of it, given the technological disconnectedness of the time). First and foremost, the chaotic and controversial nature of the fight was unavoidable,” said Araton, the author, co-author or editor of nine books including “When The Garden Was Eden: Clyde, The Captain, Dollar Bill And the Glory Days Of The New York Knicks” and “Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry And Baseball’s Greatest Gift.”

“Two, with the name “Muhammad Ali” stitched onto his white robe, that was unquestionably more of an attention-grabber than Clay (even if much of the media refused to call him Ali). Finally, for those (including my dad Gilbert) who were turned off by Ali’s brashness and preferred to think of the Miami bout as a fluke or even a setup to have Liston put him to sleep in the rematch, the quick work Ali made of Liston essentially suggested to fans everywhere (of what was then a far more popular sport than today) that they might want to get used to this mouthy showman. He was going to be around for a while.”

Araton, who received the prestigious Curt Gowdy Award in 2017 (given annually to print/digital and broadcasting members of the media), said he had to talk his editors into letting him write the piece.

“This one was self-generated all the way. I even had to do a bit of a sales pitch for my editors, who weren’t in love with retrospective pieces. By 2015, I knew I wasn’t going to be a full-time sports journalist for much longer. I had tired of the traveling, the late-nights at live events, the calls for a deadline column that uprooted a dinner plan or a day with my family,” he said. “There
wasn’t for me a great sense of unfinished business, events I hadn’t had the good fortune of covering. But I had always wondered about that fight – how the hell did it wind up in Lewiston, of all places? I mean, there were obvious details about the Boston situation, but I wanted to know the full story. More than that, I was dying to find out if I could interview anyone who actually attended the fight. I really thought I’d be lucky to locate one or two. But lo and behold, there were several – including the former Bates students – who were either at the fight or connected to it, one way or another. And, of course, the story ultimately evolved to being about Lewiston as much as it was about the fight. That’s what I always loved about journalism: the idea is what merely gets you moving in the pursuit of a story.”

Like so many at that time, Araton listened to the fight on the radio. “I mentioned my father earlier – he wasn’t much of a sports fan but he grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, had a cousin who was a boxer and loved a good boxing match. And as I also mentioned, he didn’t care much for Ali, while I, like so many other kids, found him compelling, especially compared to the dour, menacing Liston,” he noted. “So that night, he set up the radio on the kitchen table in our Staten Island housing projects apartment, as he typically did for a big fight that wasn’t on TV. I had just turned 13, apparently old enough to be teased: “Liston’s gonna give it to him good.

“Just as the start of the fight approached, I had to hit the bathroom, and after taking care of business in there, I emerged to see him pulling the plug from the socket and returning the radio to the shelf where he kept it. “Go to bed, it’s over,” he said. I was confused – “whaddaya mean, it’s over?” He huffed, “Clay knocked him out.” I went off to my room happily.”

The fight lasted one round and some thought it was fixed. Jimmy Cannon, the legendary sportswriter sitting ringside said of the knockout punch: “It couldn’t have squashed a grape.”

“I asked that question to all I interviewed who’d attended the fight. Most told me they managed to miss the moment of the punch – looked away, or sipped a beer, or whatever,” said Araton, “But one guy, a former IRS agent named Bob Pacios, insisted he’d had a clear and elevated line of vision from behind Ali and saw Liston step into the blow to the side of his face. He even diagrammed what he saw on a napkin. So, I’ll go with what he testified, while also factoring in that Liston did get up and the fight sort of continued as the ref, Jersey Joe Walcott, went over to consult the timekeeper. Which, I suppose, could obfuscate the hardcore belief that he took a dive. Also, while Ali was no knockout artist, he certainly was a very large man with lightning-fast hands. In other words, the one-punch takeout was plausible.”

Araton never covered any of Ali’s fights, but he did see him up close on one occasion.

“I met him once at the baggage claim at one of the New York-area airports, can’t remember which one, or the year, but it was well after he’d been afflicted by Parkinson’s,” he said. “I was waiting for my bag, minding my business, when I noticed him standing with his wife, Lonnie, at the carousel right next door – of course with people gawking all around him. I just had to go over and say something, anything. I introduced myself as a New York Times sports columnist, and a fan, and mentioned one of my mentors in the newspaper business – Vic Ziegel, who’d covered prime Ali for the New York Post. He smiled, made a fist and said something to the extent of, ‘You tell him I’m looking for him!’”

Araton said he did see the three-time heavyweight champion from a distance.

“Having covered the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996, I was also in the stadium when he appeared with the torch, in what had to be the greatest ceremonial sports moment of our times,” he said. “It takes no special insight to call Ali a great historical figure, incredibly courageous, transcendent of his sport, all sports and pretty much everything else. But also a man with some troubling contradictions – tough to stomach, for instance, how he demeaned Joe Frazier, even when rationalized for the purpose of selling the fights. And shame on the press for laughing along, or even portraying Frazier as a tool of the white establishment.”

Araton went on: “When Ali died, I was wrapping up my 25 years at the Times (as I’d anticipated before doing the Lewiston piece the previous year) and was covering the NBA finals in the California Bay Area. My older son, Alex, was quite upset by the news. He was, after all, the son of a sports columnist who happened to be fascinated with the Ali legend. He kept texting me, encouraging me to write something, while I reminded him that the Times tributes had all been prepared well in advance of Ali’s death, as almost all are for the truly great ones. But when he insisted, I finally relented, and stayed up into the wee hours to finish a piece that I posted on a blog site I had created but seldom used.

“Strangely enough, once posted to the blog site, it appeared on my Twitter feed and a media critic for Sports Illustrated included it on a list of Ali tributes he liked. That provided it with far more readers than I’d imagined it would get. Which gets back to my earlier point of how Ali as a phenomenon was much easier to propagate globally by 2016 than he was in 1965.”

Harvey Araton’s blog piece bore the title “Ali, Connector of Generations.” Here’s a link to it.
http://www.harveyaraton.com/the-araton-blog/ali-connector-of-generations

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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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