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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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Who Murdered Peter Bufala? A ‘Whodunit’ with a Boxing Backdrop

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On Friday, Oct. 8, 1976, Peter Bufala returned home from work just as a new day was dawning. The Las Vegas baccarat dealer pulled his Cadillac into his circular driveway, exited his car, walked toward his front door, and was felled by two bullets from a 9 mm handgun, one entering his chest and the other his brain. A neighbor fetching his morning newspaper found him lying in a pool of blood on his front lawn. He was dead when the police arrived. He was 33 years old and left behind a wife and two young daughters.

A 12-year resident of the fast-growing southern Nevada gambling mecca, Bufala grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, a blue collar suburb of Philadelphia. He had come here to rekindle his boxing career.

A Middle Atlantic amateur featherweight champion, he had begun his pro career on a high note, winning a 4-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at New York’s St. Nicholas Arena that included Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who would go on to fight for the world middleweight title but would be best remembered for the many years he spent behind prison walls for his alleged involvement in a triple homicide.

Following his New York engagement, Bufala fought in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia. As a pro, he never fought in his home state and there was a reason for it. In 1961, while undergoing a routine medical examination at an amateur show, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. The Pennsylvania Boxing Commission rescinded his license. He subsequently underwent a series of tests at Temple University Medical Hospital and was given a clean bill of health, but the Pennsylvania authorities were unyielding and, bit by bit, in a day when news traveled slowly, other jurisdictions fell into line.

Nevada was the Wild West. The regulators there had looser standards and Bufala resumed his career on Sept. 2, 1964 at the Castaways, out-pointing his opponent in a 5-round match to improve his ledger to 7-3. The publicity man misspelled his name, adding an extra “f”, and he would remain Pete Buffala whenever his name appeared in the sports section of the local papers.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, approximately 165,000 people resided in all of sprawling Clark County, home to Las Vegas. The thought that Vegas would someday host a Formula 1 Grand Prix or a Super Bowl, two of the grandest sports spectacles in the world, was preposterous. The only local sport that ever made the national news wire was boxing.

The fulcrum was Bill Miller, a hot-headed boxing junkie from Elmira, New York, who owned a saloon on the Las Vegas Strip that he out-fitted with a boxing gym in the basement. Miller’s “Strip Fight of the Week,” which bounced from one little casino to another during a run that lasted well over a decade, bucked the national trend. Small fight clubs, with very few exceptions, had fallen by the wayside, a development triggered by the mass production of televisions.

Miller was hardly immune to all the little hassles that plague a grass-roots boxing promoter. Matches were constantly falling out. But he had several things working in his favor. As opportunities dried up elsewhere, journeymen boxers were drawn here by the promise of steady work. And although Miller couldn’t afford to pay enough to make boxing a full-time profession, good-paying jobs were plentiful in the construction and hospitality industries.

To be certain, there were also push factors. Chester, Pennsylvania, a shipbuilding hub during World War II, had fallen on hard times, plagued by unemployment and racial strife. Lowell, Massachusetts, a city known for its vibrant amateur boxing culture, was likewise hurting economically with row after row of textile factories sitting vacant. Lowell produced Eddie Andrews, a hard-hitting middleweight who would be the first fighter to make promoter Miller any significant money without having to take him on the road to a larger precinct or overseas.

Andrews supplemented his ring earnings dealing blackjack at Caesars Palace. For a time, Ralph Dupas was a co-worker. A former world title-holder at 154 pounds, Dupas settled in Las Vegas in the mid-1960s as his career was winding down and remained here until his encroaching dementia passed the tipping point and family members brought him home to his native New Orleans to live out his final days.

Returning to Peter Bufala, he worked his way up the ladder on Miller’s promotions, eventually topping the marquee for a fight with Johnny Brooks. They fought at the Hacienda, a grind joint at the south end of the Strip (where Mandalay Bay now sits) on April 13, 1965. Brooks was nothing special, but he was better than his 17-6-3 record. He would go on to last the distance in 10-round fights with future Hall of Famers Emile Griffith and Carlos Monzon.

Bufala was bloodied in the third round and knocked down in the fourth, but mounted a furious rally and at the end of the 10 rounds the judges could not pick a winner and the match went into the books as a draw. Working on the “5-point-must” system, the scores were 46-44 Bufala, 46-45 Brooks, and 46-46. (Trivia time: The 46-46 tally was turned in by ringside judge Harry Reid who would go on to become the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate. Nowadays, visitors flying in to Las Vegas arrive at Harry Reid International Airport.)

Had Bufala won the bout, his next fight would have been a 12-rounder against Reno’s Dave Patterson, the Nevada Lightweight Champion. But when he returned to the ring the following month, it was in a 6-rounder against an unsung fighter from Los Angeles named Davey White and, in a shocker, White blasted him out in the second round.

Bufala announced his retirement after this fight. It warranted scarcely a mention in the Las Vegas papers, but the folks back in Chester hadn’t forgotten him. “Pete Bufala Quits Boxing for Health,” read the bold headline on the sports page of the June 9, 1965 issue of the Delaware County Daily Times. The accompanying story said that Buffala, “Chester’s most promising professional fighter,” had emerged from his most recent bout with a blot clot in his neck and was troubled by chronic back problems. (Buffala would have one more fight before quitting the sport for good. He won his final fight, a 6-rounder, bringing his final record, per boxrec, to 16-5-2.)

Bufala never returned to Chester. He married a local girl and, in short order, was a father of three, two girls and a boy who tragically died at 16 months when he crawled into a plastic laundry bag and suffocated as his mother was distracted writing checks.

In December of 1973, the MGM Grand opened on the southeast corner of the busiest intersection on the Las Vegas Strip. This was the city’s original MGM Grand that would take the name Bally’s and was recently re-branded the Horseshoe. With 2,100 rooms, a 1,200-seat showroom and a jai alai fronton, the MGM Grand made its competitors look puny by comparison. Peter Bufala was there on opening night, dealing baccarat.

In terms of the money put at risk, baccarat is the crème-de-crème of card games. It attracts the whales, the high-rollers that leave the biggest tips. On a good night at a high-end establishment like the MGM Grand, it wasn’t uncommon for a dealer to rake in $500 in gratuities. Bufala worked the graveyard shift (likely 9 pm to 5 am; it varied by hotel), the most coveted shift for a dealer in a day when visitors to Las Vegas were more nocturnal than they are today.

One didn’t get to be a baccarat dealer in a ritzy joint by working his way up from the bottom. One had to know the right people. In the vernacular, one got juiced into the job. And the juicer might expect a kick-back.

One of the most influential people in Las Vegas was an outsider who tried to keep a low profile, Gaspare “Jasper” Speciale. A transplanted New York bookmaker, Speciale co-owned and managed the Tower of Pizza restaurant which sat a stone’s throw from the MGM Grand on the opposite side of the street. Speciale opened doors for dozens of people seeking employment in the hospitality industry. If one was new in town and needed work in a hurry, Jasper was the man to see.

Until the arrival in Las Vegas of the notorious Tony Spilotro, Speciale was the city’s premier private money lender. He would eventually serve four years in a federal prison for loan-sharking.

Whenever there was a murder in Las Vegas that had the earmarks of a mob hit, speculation always centered on Gaspare Speciale. It mattered not that he was active in his church and donated lavishly to local charities. Moreover, he had a warm spot in his heart for prizefighters. In the spacious backyard of his home, chockablock with mementos of his boyhood in New York City, there was a replica of Stillman’s Gym complete with a punching bag and rubbing tables.

Another theory, although one that acquired less currency, pointed the finger at Bufala’s father-in-law who was the beneficiary of Peter’s life insurance policy. The two were partners in a small sporting goods store where it was rumored that one could purchase an unregistered firearm.

On the day that Peter Bufala was assassinated, the story about it in the Las Vegas Sun, an afternoon paper, said that the former boxer had no bad habits – he didn’t drink, smoke, gamble or chase women — and that he was well-liked by everyone that knew him. But, said a police detective, “Someone wanted him dead and eventually we’re going to find out who that someone is and why.”

Forty-seven years after the fact, the who and the why remain as baffling as ever. If Peter Bufala were alive today, he would be 80 years old. This is a mystery that will likely never be solved.

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

Boxing returned to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, courtesy of Top Rank and ESPN. The festivities started at 5:30 PM and lasted until close to midnight. That meant there was plenty of time to talk with boxers and boxing enthusiasts like Rosie Perez, Gerry Cooney, and (drumroll please) former lineal heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs.

Briggs was in the house as part of an effort to lay the groundwork for a boxing gym and a documentary about the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Who does Shannon think is the best of today’s heavyweights?

“I don’t know,” Briggs answered. “I thought it was Tyson Fury, but his fight against Ngannou was weird. And Wilder against Parker; that was weird too. Joshua; you never know where his head is at. And I’m still not sure about Usyk as a heavyweight. Like I said, it’s weird.”

Briggs also said that he has signed a contract for an eight-round boxing match against former UFC champion Rampage Jackson to be contested on June 1 in Qatar and that he is slated to receive a purse of $5,000,000. I hope Shannon gets a letter of credit from a reliable bank sooner rather than later.

As for the fights at hand; the nine-bout card went pretty much as expected. Some of the “A-side” fighters were there because they’re prospects; others because they’re ticket-sellers. Top Rank has two Hall of Fame matchmakers – Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman – so the favorites went nine for nine.

Arnold Gonzalez won a decision over Charles Stanford who was one of the opponents brought in a while back to get knocked out by Evan Holyfield.

Ofacio Falcon, who has been steered clear of fighters who might test him, fought Edward Ceballos (who couldn’t test him). Falcon won every round on each judges’ scorecard.

Isaah Flaherty (who can fight going forward and going forward) was cut high on the forehead by an accidental clash of heads in round one and forced the action against Julien Baptiste en route to a six-round shutout decision.

Referee Benjy Esteves let a fight between Euri Cedeno and Antonio Todd go on too long before saving Todd from further damage by halting the beating in round five.

Later, referee Shada Murdaugh let an overmatched Moses Johnson hit the canvas five times in the first round (the knockdown that started it all was mistakenly called a push, so there were only four official knockdowns) before waiving off things in favor of Italian heavyweight Guido Vianello late in the stanza.

Andres Cortes was battering Bryan Chevalier around the ring when Chevalier’s corner appropriately waved a white towel late in round four.

The best prospects on the card were Bruce “Shu-Shu” Carrington and Delante “Tiger” Johnson.

Johnson (11-0, 5 KOs) squared off against Paulo Cesar Galdino (13-7-2, 9 KOs, 4 KOs by). Galdino had won only one of his last five fights, and that was against an opponent with three wins in 13 outings. Referee Ricky Gonzalez wisely called a halt to the action with Galdino taking a beating in round one.

Carrington (10-0, 6 KOs) is a slick stylish fighter. Bernard Torres (18-1, 8 KOs) had been chosen as his opponent because he’s one-dimensional, slower than Shu-Shu, and doesn’t have much of a punch. As the fight wore on, Torres (a 10-to-1 underdog) had the look of a man who was thinking, “I have no idea how to solve this puzzle that’s in front of me.” Late in round four, Carrington (who can whack when he sets down on his punches) launched a brutal right hand that deposited Torres face down, unconscious on the canvas.

The main event matched O’Shaquie Foster (21-1, 12 KOs) against Abraham Nova (23-1, 16 KOs, 1 KO by).

Foster won the vacant WBC 130-pound title by decision over Rey Vargas last year and, trailing badly on the judges’ scorecards, salvaged his belt with a dramatic twelfth-round knockout of Eduardo Hernandez three months ago. He deserves credit for working his way up from B-side status in several earlier outings to where he is today.

Nova was an 8-to-1 underdog. But Foster-Nova turned into a hard, grinding fight with neither man able to establish dominance over the other. Referee Steve Willis did a good job of controlling the action without inserting himself in the flow more than necessary. I had Foster winning by one point with a flash knockdown that he scored in round twelve being the difference. The judges favored O’Shaquie with a 116-111, 115-112, 113-114 split verdict.

—-

Kansas City’s dramatic overtime victory over San Francisco in last Sunday’s Super Bowl drew the largest viewing audience in the history of television. So it’s safe to assume that many of you who are reading this column watched the game. With that in mind, I’d like to comment on the furor surrounding 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s much-criticized decision to receive the ball first after winning the coin toss at the start of overtime.

The NFL’s overtime format for playoff games differs from the rules used during the regular season. Each team is guaranteed one possession in a playoff game unless the defense scores a touchdown or safety on the other team’s first possession. If the game is tied after each team has possessed the ball once, the next score wins.

Shanahan elected to receive the kick-off at the start of overtime. San Francisco marched down the field, but their drive stalled at the Chief’s 9-yardline and the 49ers settled for a 27-yard field goal.

Then it was Kansas City’s turn. And even though the Chiefs were trailing, they had a slight tactical edge because they knew what they had to do; tie or win. Punting wasn’t an option. So when Kansas City was faced with a fourth-down-and-one situation on its own 34-yard-line, the Chiefs went for the first down and Patrick Mahomes kept the drive alive with an 8-yard run. Ten plays later, Kansas City scored the winning touchdown.

Did Shanahan “blow it”?

No.

If the game had been tied after the teams had one possession each, the next score of any kind would have won. And the 49ers would have had the ball first on each exchange of possessions from that point on until the end of the second overtime. That would have been a significant advantage.

Also, consider the fact that Kansas City had scored only one touchdown in sixty minutes of play prior to the overtime.

Shanahan and the 49ers lost the game. They didn’t “blow it” with what I think was a reasonable coin-toss decision.

—-

The future of Sports Illustrated is in doubt. Last month (on January 19), a series of unpaid financial obligations reached critical mass and massive layoffs decimated its editorial staff. SI is likely to survive in some form, perhaps as an online-only publication. But its glory years are in the past.

Sports Illustrated was first published in 1954. Spectator sports were on the verge of exploding in popularity in tandem with the expansion of television. SI rode that wave. It was one of the first national publications to understand and exploit the growing popularity of pro football. Its editorial staff recognized Muhammad Ali’s prowess as a fighter and his importance as a social and political figure while most mainstream publications still referred to him as “Cassius Clay.” Long-form articles and in-depth reporting made it a “writers’ magazine” of the highest order. Wordsmiths like Frank Deford, Herbert Warren Wind, Paul Zimmerman, Dan Jenkins, Jim Murray, William Nack, Robert Creamer, Tex Maule, Jack Olsen, Roy Blount Jr., Walter Bingham, and Rick Reilly plied their trade for SI. Its print circulation peaked at more than three million subscribers. The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (inaugurated in 1964) became a national institution.

Boxing (according to the SI archive) was featured on the magazine’s cover 138 times. Forty of those covers belonged to Muhammad Ali. Only Michael Jordan (with fifty covers) surpassed that total. Other cover subjects from the sweet science (listed alphabetically) included Carmen Basilio, Nino Benvenuti, Riddick Bowe, George Chuvalo, Gerry Cooney, Oscar De La Hoya, Buster Douglas, Roberto Duran, Joe Frazier, Marvis Frazier, Gene Fullmer, Joey Giardello, Marvin Hagler, Gypsy Joe Harris, Roy Harris, Thomas Hearns, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield, Ingemar Johansson, Sonny Liston, Danny Lopez, Ray Mancini, Rocky Marciano, Christy Martin, Floyd Mayweather, Tom McNeeley, Carlos Monzon, Ken Norton, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson, Chuck Wepner, and Pernell Whitaker. To that list, one could add Don King and (most recently) Jake Paul.

From its inception, SI chose a “sportsman of the year” (later referred to on occasion as its “sportswoman” or “sports team” of the year). Three boxers were accorded that honor: Ingemar Johansson (in 1959), Muhammad Ali (1974), and Sugar Ray Leonard (1981).

But in recent years, the economics of publishing have changed. And the instant flow of information in a digital age made a sports weekly less relevant. In 2018, Sports Illustrated became the property of Meredith Corporation which acquired Time Inc. (SI’s parent company). A series of licensing agreements and resales involving the magazine followed. In 2020, it transitioned from a weekly to a monthly publication. Meanwhile, the quality of its editorial content was declining.

Worse, SI seemed to be losing its moral compass. For some subscribers, the final straw came when the magazine designated Deion Sanders as its 2023 “Sportsman of the Year”.

That honor (as defined by Sports Illustrated) is bestowed annually upon the athlete or team whose performance most embodies “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.” In its article celebrating the choice of Sanders, SI talked at length about how Deion had “transformed a moribund Colorado football program” and “transformed a community.” Nothing was said about his removing more than sixty scholarship players from the team roster (young men who had enrolled at Colorado in good faith) and replacing them with players brought to the university through the transfer portal.

Mark Whicker (whose credits include the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Career Excellence in Boxing Journalism) put the matter in perspective when he wrote, “SI was celebrating an egomaniacal huckster who ran off dozens of players who didn’t fit his template, with his son’s media company taping every move. In doing so, he dislocated lives and relationships. Some refugees said that Sanders never even bothered to learn their names.”

The selection of Sanders might have engendered a lot of publicity and “clicks” for SI. But did he really (Colorado finished the season with a 4-and-8 record) embody “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement” more than Shohei Ohtani (whose 2023 season was unmatched in baseball history), Nikola Jokic (arguably the best big man ever who led the Denver Nuggets to the 2023 NBA crown), and Novak Djokovic (who cemented his status as the best tennis player of all time in 2023)?

I grew up with Sports Illustrated. I began reading the magazine when I was a boy. It has been in my home ever since. In 1991, I crossed an item off my “bucket list” when I wrote an article that was published in SI. On numerous occasions, I’ve relied on its archives for research. I miss the magazine that it was.

That magazine isn’t coming back.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – MY MOTHER and Me – is a personal memoir that will be published by Admission Press this spring and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/My-Mother-Me-Thomas-Hauser/dp/1955836191/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5C0TEN4M9ZAH&keywords=thomas+hauser&qid=1707662513&sprefix=thomas+hauser,aps,80&sr=8-1

In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Friday Night Fights: Nontshinga Wins by TKO in Oaxaca; O’Shaquie by SD at MSG

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South Africa’s Sivenathi Nontshinga (13-1, 10 KOs) came from behind to recapture the IBF light flyweight (108-pound) title with a 10th-round stoppage of Mexico City’s Adrian Curiel in Oaxaca, Mexico in the featured bout of a Matchroom card that aired on DAZN.

This was a rematch. Last November in Monte Carlo, the the supposedly feather-fisted Curiel with only four stoppages to his credit in 28 pro bouts, snatched the title from him and changed the trajectory of his career with a shocking one-punch, second-round knockout. In that bout, Nontshinga was a massive favorite but tonight the roles were reversed with Curiel favored in the 9 to 5 range in large part because of the locale.

Curiel, whose record declined to 24-5-1, was conspicuously ahead after eight frames. He was the aggressor and the busier man and it didn’t help Nontshinga’s cause that he was docked a point in round seven after a clash of heads. But late in round nine, there was a sudden turnabout when the fighter from South Africa’s Eastern Cape rocked his Mexican foe with a big left hook. Curiel was saved by the bell and it was all over 44 seconds into the next round when veteran Texas referee Mark Calo-oy pulled the plug with Curiel trapped in a neutral corner eating a barrage of punches with nothing coming back in return.

A rematch is in order although Nontshinga may seek a match with WBC/WBA title-holder Kenshiro Teraji, the paramount fighter in the weight class, or perhaps the winner of the forthcoming fight between WBO belt-holder Jonathan Gonzalez and his Puerto Rican countryman Rene Santiago.

Co-Feature

Mexico City’s Mauricio Lara (26-3-2) and Hermosillo’s Daniel Lugo (27-2-1) battled to a 10-round draw. It was the first fight at 130 for ex-featherweight champion Lara who was making his first start since last May when he was out-pointed by Leigh Wood in their rematch in Manchester, England.

The Theater at Madison Square Garden

O’Shaquie Foster (22-2, 12 KOs) successfully defended his WBC 130-pound world title with a hard-earned decision over Abraham Nova (23-2) in the featured bout of a Top Rank card that aired on ESPN. The 30-year-old Foster, who hails from Orange, Texas, and trains in Houston, was making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of previously undefeated Rey Vargas.

It was the 12th straight win for Foster after his career was interrupted by legal troubles. Late in the final round,  he put Nova on the canvas with a sweeping left hook. Referee Steve Willis hesitated before starting a count, uncertain whether it was a true knockdown, but replays showed that it was a legitimate knockdown, albeit of the flash variety. Two judges had it for Foster (116-111 and 115-112) with the dissenter favoring Nova by a 114-113 tally.

Co-Feature

Las Vegas junior lightweight Andres Cortes (21-0, 12 KOs) scored an impressive fourth-round stoppage over Bryan Chevalier (20-2-1). Cortes, who was credited with landing 23 power punches in the last full round, was too strong for his lanky, five-foot-eleven Puerto Rican opponent whose corner tossed in the towel at the 2:17 of round four.

Also

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, a featherweight contest slated for “10,” Bruce “Shu Shu” Carrington made a significant jump in public esteem with a brutal one-punch knockout of Bernard Torres (18-2). Carrington, who is big for the weight class and had a 6-inch reach advantage, set the tempo and ended the contest with a sweeping right hand at the 2:59 mark of round four. Torres landed face first and the bout was stopped without the formality of a count. “She Shu” represents the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, but has been training in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma.

Torres, a Filipino by birth who has been living in Norway, lives to fight another day. He is booked to fight again on April 6 in Oslo.

Other Bouts of Note

Italian heavyweight Guido Vianello, a 2016 Olympian, improved to 12-1-1 (10) with a first-round demolition of Huntington, Long Island’s Moses Johnson (11-2-2). Early in the opening round, Vianello buzzed Johnson with a short fight hand to the temple. Referee Shada Murdaugh apparently thought it was an illegal rabbit punch followed by a push and called time out rather than start a count. But Johnson wasn’t right and would be on the canvas four more times before Murdaugh finally stopped it with only one second remaining in the round. “It was not his best night,” said broadcaster Bernardo Osuna referencing Murdaugh in a great understatement.

In his career-best performance, Cleveland super lightweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson, a Tokyo Olympian, improved to 11-0 (6 KOs) with a first-round stoppage of Brazilian southpaw Paulo Galdino (13-8-2). Johnson decked Galdino in the opening round with a short left uppercut and then went for the kill. Moments after snapping Galdino’s head back with a short right hand, the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. The official time was 2:49.

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