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Former ‘Toughman’ Champ Stacey McKinley is Bullish on Don King and Trevor Bryan

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The World Boxing Association recognizes two world heavyweight champions – Oleksandr Usyk and Trevor Bryan. Leaving aside the absurdity of that, Bryan has a very important bout coming up with Daniel Dubois. The winner becomes the WBA’s mandatory opponent for Usyk, a prize more coveted than the tacky belt.

Don King, Trevor Bryan’s promoter, won the purse bid. According to various reports, he bid $3,116,001, snatching the fight away from Dubois’ promoter Frank Warren who offered $2,503,000. Bryan, as the defending champion, would be entitled to 55 percent of the swag.

Last week, King announced that the bout would be held on June 11 in Miami, Florida at Casino Miami Jai-Alai, a refurbished fronton whose arena can hold 6,500. The TV outlets are, as yet, uncertain.

There was a day when Don King, by virtue of his stranglehold over the heavyweight division, was the world’s pre-eminent boxing promoter. But it’s no secret that King, who turns 91 in August, has fallen on hard times. Many boxing insiders will be surprised if King meets his commitment, allowing the fight to come off on his appointed date. Bryan vs. Dubois isn’t yet listed on boxrec and one would be hard-pressed to find a betting line.

Stacey McKinley, Trevor Bryan’s coach and co-manager, dismisses the notion that King has one leg in the poorhouse. “He owns several commercial buildings in South Florida,” he says, “and they are all paid for.” (King’s headquarters are now in Deerfield Beach, Florida, in wealthy Broward County just north of Miami.)

McKinley, who is 70 years old and has known Don King for more than 40 years, is seemingly the last of King’s old guard. Over the years, King has employed numerous matchmakers, publicists, advisors and “yes men” of various stripes and all of them have moved on or died. McKinley has remained loyal.

“The first things I heard about Don King were negative,” he says. “I was warned to stay away from him. But the closer I looked at the man, the more I could see that Don King wasn’t someone that you walked away from, but someone you walked toward.”

An Ann Arbor, Michigan native, McKinley is a proud disciple of the late Lester Philbin. Mr. Philbin, who died in 1994 at age 89, was an important man in amateur boxing and the longtime coach of the intramural boxing team at the University of Michigan.

McKinley went there to study mechanical engineering but was lured away by the siren song of boxing and left before getting his degree. Like his mentor, he took to coaching amateur boxers. He led by example when he won an AAU state title and again when he became the winner of the first national Toughman tournament.

Toughman, which someone dubbed “man-off-the-street boxing,” started in Bay City, Michigan, the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Art Dore. The inaugural event was staged in 1979 at a high school gym in Bay City. Anyone between the ages of 18 and 35 could sign up so long as they resided within a 100-mile radius of the city and had no prior professional boxing experience.

Toughman, which is still sputtering along in the few states where it is still legal, caught on like wildfire. Before the year was out, Dore leased the Pontiac Silverdome for a tournament with looser geographical restrictions. The event reportedly drew a crowd of 16,000. Stacey McKinley, who was then known by his birth name Roosevelt McKinley, took home the $50,000 first-place prize and the tall trophy emblematic of it.

McKinley

Dore and McKinley

One of McKinley’s first pupils in his days as an amateur coach was a fellow Ann Arbor lad, James Toney. “Toney studied boxing all the time,” says McKinley of the future Hall of Famer. “He didn’t carry himself like a bully. That came later after he turned pro.”

At the pro level, McKinley has worked with fighters from all weight classes but is most closely identified with heavyweights. He had a long run with Tony Tucker, another Michigander, and worked with Mike Tyson after Iron Mike left prison to fight for Don King. Both Tucker and Tyson  suffered defeats at the hands of Lennox Lewis.

“Tony Tucker was technically one of the best heavyweights ever,” McKinley says of the man who captured the IBF title in 1987 with a 10th-round stoppage of Buster Douglas. “When Tony first took up boxing, he weighed 160 pounds. As he got bigger, he kept his small man skills. He was past his prime when he fought Lennox Lewis. Unfortunately, he got into a bunch of street stuff and his career didn’t end well.”

Regarding Tyson-Lewis, McKinley says that Mike wasn’t right for that fight. “We trained in Hawaii,” he recalled. “One of our sparring partners was Corey Sanders. One day he and Mike were sparring eight rounds and he hit Mike so hard that Mike had no recollection of the last four rounds. I knew then that Mike was in trouble.” (Note: Lennox Lewis stopped Mike Tyson in the eighth round.)

McKinley had ups and downs with Tyson, but chooses to remember the good times. “It was a privilege to work with Tyson,” he says. “People love Mike all over the world.”

That brings us to McKinley’s current heavyweight hope, Trevor Bryan. Hailing from Albany, New York, Bryan is 22-0 (15 KOs) as a pro but has yet to fight a world-class opponent and has fought only twice in the last 42 months.

“The first thing that people notice about Trevor is his body,” he says, “but he has always been heavy. Having a good physique just isn’t in his DNA. He looks poorly conditioned, but if you look at his fights, he doesn’t get tired. He was a very good amateur. Shelly Finkel and Gary Shaw sponsored him and he got a scholarship to Al Mitchell’s school at Northern Michigan University. As a pro, he has never been knocked down.”

Trevor Bryan’s favorite boxer growing up was Larry Holmes and the Easton Assassin, at the behest of Don King, has taken an interest in Bryan’s career. Daniel Dubois, Bryan’s opponent on June 11 (assuming the fight comes off), was considered a surefire future heavyweight champion until he was upset by British countryman Joe Joyce who jabbed Dubois silly en route to a 10th-round stoppage.

No heavyweight of recent vintage – perhaps no heavyweight ever – had a better jab than Larry Holmes. And so, during his brief sessions with Trevor Bryan (and there will be more), did Larry Holmes affix Bryan with a better jab?

“Larry thought Trevor was fine in that department; he liked what he saw. But Holmes gave Trevor some good skull work (McKinley’s way of saying that Holmes’ words of encouragement put Bryan in a better frame of mind).”

Daniel Dubois, eight years younger than Bryan at age 24, has scored two fast knockouts since Joe Joyce saddled him with his only defeat. He has knocked out 16 of his 18 opponents. Regardless of the venue, he will be a solid favorite when he meets up with Trevor Bryan. But not in the mind of Stacey McKinley who believes that his fighter is a legitimate heavyweight champion.

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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Avila Perspective, Chap. 274: Ryan Garcia and Devin Haney in Hollywood, Jake, Amanda and More

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HOLLYWOOD, Ca.- Adorned in a white suit, Ryan “King Ry” Garcia arrived on a big white horse followed by a handful of fair maidens dressed in various colors and some twirling hula hoops into the Avalon Theater on Vine Street on Thursday.

Inside the historic theater that once served as the Hollywood Canteen during World War 2, where actors like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth greeted soldiers, but this time it was the boxing media waiting.

Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) will challenge undefeated Devin Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) for the WBC super lightweight world title on April 20 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. DAZN pay-per-view will stream the Golden Boy Promotions card.

It doesn’t get more Hollywood than this.

Inside the 97-year-old theater, once the two opposing factions arrived, the pageantry turned into a war of words, taunts and accusations.

This is boxing.

Aside from the taunts and words of derision tossed at each other, the Haney father and son combination admitted that Garcia was the one fighter willing to fight Devin.

“He (Garcia) raised his hand when no one else did,” said Bill Haney the father.

Devin Haney sat next to his father on the stage anxious as ever to prove his talent in the prize ring. After his victory over Regis Prograis that followed wins over Vasyl Lomachenko and George Kambosos, the former undisputed lightweight world champion is now dwelling in the super lightweight division and holds the WBC version.

“I was killing myself trying to make the weight,” said Haney about moving up to the 140-pound super lightweight division.

Haney has long been familiar with Ryan Garcia since their amateur days as they met in the boxing ring six times as youths.

“They fought six times in the amateurs with both of them winning three apiece. Now they meet with championship gold and the chance at being the face of American boxing on the line,” said Oscar De La Hoya, the promoter and head of Golden Boy Promotions. “In other words, this one counts!”

Garcia and Haney have taken similar paths.

Garcia fought professionally numerous times in Mexico where it is legal to fight under the age of 18. So did Haney. Both faced unknown opponents, sometimes last-minute changes forced them to fight foes that were not originally scheduled.

As pros, the two similarly and eagerly sought to face the best opponents possible despite their inexperience. Both proved more than capable.

Garcia quickly amassed a surprisingly large following of fans through social media and through his exploits of sudden knockouts from his uncanny speed.

“Everything I have today, I earned it,” said Garcia. “Nobody gave me a handout, I never had money, I’m really a small town boy.”

Haney proved able to defeat veteran world champions feared for their technical expertise with his own buttery-smooth fighting prowess.

“I am happy to be here. I worked hard to be here. I sacrificed a lot to be here, and at the end of the day, the world will see it on April 20,” said Devin Haney.

Next month in Brooklyn the two longtime foes will be performing. Will it be the biggest grossing pay-per-view of the year 2024?

Jake and Amanda

Jake Paul and Amanda Serrano are boxing’s best tag team.

Several years ago, Paul recognized that Serrano, a seven-division world champion Puerto Rican was capable of much more than fighting on the small stage.

Genius.

Paul signed Serrano to his Most Valuable Promotions company and together they have been able to draw a mixture of fans long ignored by other promoters.

Welcome to the age of the influencers.

For the past several years Paul has fought MMA stars, boxers and other social media influencers. And when he signed Serrano she fought Katie Taylor in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden where their fight drew more than a million pay-per-views.

Paul (8-1, 5 KOs) meets Ryan Bourland (17-2, 6 KOs) in an eight-round cruiserweight fight on Saturday March 2, at Coliseo Jose Miguel Agrelot in San Juan, Puerto Rico. DAZN will stream the card.

He will be co-piloting the fight card with the great Amanda Serrano (46-2-1, 30 KOs) who will be defending the undisputed featherweight world championship against Germany’s Nina “the Brave” Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs).

Once again Serrano and Paul will share a very good fight card that also features female super flyweights Krysti Rosario-Ortiz (2-0) and Gloria Munguilla (5-0).

Others on the card include Javon “Wanna” Walton, a featherweight out of Atlanta, Georgia. If he looks familiar there is a reason. He was featured in the Sylvester Stallone film Samaritan and also appeared in the HBO series Euphoria.

Walton has always boxed and now will be a part of the Paul and Serrano team.

Paul has that magic touch for attracting fans to boxing.

Just today Most Valuable Promotions signed Indian prizefighter Neeraj Goyat. The welterweight fighter was recently seen on social media approaching Paul in his training camp and daring the fighter to meet him in the boxing ring. The short video clip attracted more than 150 million views.

Paul, ever the think-out-of-the-box promoter, signed Goyat immediately.

“In just 2.5 years, MVP has organized some of the world’s most significant boxing events, and I’m excited to work with MVP to elevate the status of professional boxing in India and bring attention to boxers from India globally,” said an excited Goyat.

“His viral callouts of Jake Paul certainly got our attention,” said MVP co-founder Nakisa Bidarian.

Out-of-the box thinking.

Fights to Watch (all times Pacific Time)

Sat. DAZN 1:30 p.m. Amanda Serrano (46-2-1) vs Nina Meinke (18-3).

Sat. ESPN+ 2:10 pm Otabek Kholmatov 12-0, 11 KOs) vs. Raymod Ford (14-0-1, 7 KOs); Luis Alberto Lopez (29-2, 16 KOs) vs Reiya Abe (25-3-1, 10 KOs)

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Madueno Upsets Pauldo and Lopez Overcomes Escudero at Whitesands

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Madueno Upsets Pauldo and Lopez Overcomes Escudero at Whitesands

When it comes to professional boxing down in the Tampa Bay area, Canadian transplant Garry Jonas is a one-man band.

The architect of the Wednesday Night Fights series, Jonas doesn’t have to pay a site fee for the shows that he promotes because he owns the venue. The shows that he stages at his Whitesands Events Center in Plant City air on his live streaming platform ProBoxTV. His series currently has only one sponsor, a bookmaking operation called SportsBetting.Ag., and he owns that too. (A self-styled serial entrepreneur, Jonas continued his assault on the established order last week with his purchase of the respected Boxing Scene website, but that’s a story best saved for another day.)

Jonas promotes high-grade club fights. When he started this venture, he promised entertaining, well-matched fights and tonight he delivered. The “A” side fighters in the co-main events were matched tough.

In the featured bout, lightweight Justin Pauldo (17-2, 1 NC) was upset by Mexico’s Miguel Madueno. Managed by Jolene Mazzone, the former VP and matchmaker for Main Events and trained by Ronnie Shields, Pauldo, a resident or nearby Orlando, was unbeaten in his last 12 heading in.

In his previous start, Madueno turned in a lackluster performance against surging Canadian campaigner Steve Claggett. His showing (he was 30-1 with 28 KOs heading in) was inconsistent with his record. Tonight, he was more pugnacious, out-working the man in front of him, a 4/1 favorite. The decision was split; 97-92 and 95-94 for Madueno, 95-94 for Pauldo. There were no knockdowns, but the Mexican had a point deducted in round 5 for leading with his head.

Co-Feature

The co-main was an entertaining 10-round light heavyweight affair in which Edgar Berlanga stablemate Najee Lopez improved to 10-0 (8) with a hard-earned majority decision over Marcos Escudero (14-3). One of the judges had it a draw (95-95) but he was overruled by his cohorts who had it 97-93 and 99-91.

Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent but was born and raised in the Atlanta area, hadn’t previously gone beyond six rounds. He was the house fighter. Named the 2023 Prospect of the Year by the ProBox team of TV commentators, Lopez was making his eighth appearance at Whitesands. Escudero, a South Florida-based Argentine had won four straight heading in at club shows in Delray Beach, FL after back-to-back setbacks in competitive fights with Joseph George.

Escudero, who did most of the leading, had many good moments. The 99-91 tally against the Argentine was a head-scratcher. (Commentator Paulie Malignaggi said the offending  judge, Alvaro Rodriguez, should have his fee withheld and be forced to serve a one-year suspension.)

Also

In an 8-round lightweight contest, former two-time Olympian Tsendbaatar Erdenebat, a 27-year-old Mongolian southpaw who began his pro career in China and now resides in southern California, improved to 9-0 (4) with a unanimous decision over Guinea-born Mohamed Soumaoro (11-3) who was a willing mixer but was out-classed. The scores were 79-73 and 80-72 twice.

As one would expect from a two-time Olympian, Erdenebat is a good technician who puts his punches together well, but doesn’t have a lot of power. If his name rings a bell, he’s the fellow who purportedly sent Ryan Garcia to the hospital from the effects of a body punch during a sparring session.

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Two Featherweight Title Fights Top a Strong Bill at Turning Stone on Saturday

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When Top Rank announced in December that they would be returning to Turning Stone Resort & Casino for an ESPN+ show on March 2nd featuring two featherweight world title fights they promised a deep action-packed show. Usually such words fall by the wayside as the event ultimately comes together but in this instance the docket is loaded from top to bottom with name attractions, undefeated prospects, local grudge matches and two very well-matched co-headliners.

In the first of the co-headliners, Luis Alberto Lopez (29-2, 16 KOs) makes the third defense of his IBF featherweight belt against Japan’s Reiya Abe (25-3-1, 10 KOs). Lopez is a popular brawler whose aggressive style and lack of attention to defense usually makes for entertaining fights. Abe, a southpaw, is a slick boxer who is coming off a career best win against Kiko Martinez last April. Abe has a style similar to that of Ruben Villa who outboxed Lopez to a ten round unanimous decision win in 2019.

The co-headline finale is being contested for the vacant WBA featherweight title between Otabek Kholmatov (12-0, 11 KOs) and Raymond Ford (14-0-1, 7 KOs). Both fighters were highly touted heading into the pro ranks. Ford has the speed advantage but Kholmatov has a big edge in power. Social media seems split right down the middle on this fight and oddsmakers agree installing Kholmatov as a very slight favorite as of this writing.

Also on this show is the return of the ever popular Nico Ali Walsh (9-1, 5 KOs) who bounced back from his first career defeat on Dec. 16 at a show in Guinea where he defeated a Frenchman with a 9-2-1 record (mysteriously, that fight isn’t yet listed on boxrec). He will face off against Luke Iannuccilli (7-0, 3 KOs). Walsh, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, will make his debut at Turning Stone Resort Casino in the same exact arena where his aunt and Boxing Hall of Famer Laila Ali made her professional boxing debut in October of 1999 with her legendary father sitting ringside. This will mark the fourth time a member of Muhammad Ali’s family has fought at Turning Stone.

The card also includes several contests featuring up-and-coming undefeated fighters. One match in particular to keep an eye on is an eight-round welterweight bout between a pair of unbeaten fighters in Rohan Polanco (11-0, 7 KOs) and Tarik Zaina (13-0-1, 8 KOs). Zaina opened some eyes last November when he defeated Marcelino Lopez and Polanco is coming off three consecutive wins against opponents who had a cumulative record of 39-3.

Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t notate the local grudge match on the docket between Gerffred Ngayot (6-1, 5 KOs) of Buffalo and Bryce Mills (14-1, 5 KOs) of Syracuse. They are scheduled to face off in a six-round bout in the 140-pound division. They are on this show because each have solid local fan bases and matching them was a way to help fill the stands. Mills is a sharp accurate counterpuncher with all-around solid skills. Ngayot is an aggressive fighter who is not afraid to be first and fire away to the body. Stylistically this could turn into quite a barnburner and each have plenty of motivation to make a statement on what is a much bigger stage than they are accustomed to.

We are often quick to criticize those in the sport when cards come together that are seemingly either loaded with mismatches or bouts that just don’t pique much interest. This is an instance where those involved need to be applauded for putting together a card from top to bottom that will certainly give fans plenty of bang for their buck.

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