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Remembering **World Heavyweight Champion** Lee Savold

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On June 7, 1950, Lee Savold defeated Bruce Woodcock before 50,000 at London’s White City Stadium. Savold had all the best of it before Woodcock’s corner pulled him out after four rounds with a badly cut eye.

For Savold, this was the culmination of a long and checkered career. Born on a farm in northwestern Minnesota – Sioux Indian territory – the tenacious leather-pusher of Norwegian stock had paid his dues. With the victory, Savold became the world heavyweight champion in the eyes of a certain segment of the boxing universe.

A little background: On March of the previous year, Joe Louis announced his retirement. Louis had reigned as the world heavyweight champion for nearly 12 years during which he had made 25 successful title defenses. His leave-taking unleashed a battle over control of the abdicated throne and the huge profits that would accrue to the promotional group that won the scrum.

The newly-formed International Boxing Club, of which Joe Louis was ostensibly a partner, had the blessing of the National Boxing Association when it decreed that Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles would fight for the vacant title. This wasn’t an attractive pairing. Jersey Joe had lost 15 of his 58 pro fights and was considered past his prime. Ezzard Charles was a solid technician but he was colorless and he wasn’t a full-fledged heavyweight. He had never entered the ring carrying more than 180 pounds.

This edict didn’t go over well in Great Britain where boxing was enjoying a post-war boom. The poohbahs at the British Boxing Board of Control felt snubbed. Undoubtedly at the urging of London promoter Jack Solomons, Mr. Big in British boxing, they decided to recognize the winner of the forthcoming match between Bruce Woodcock and Savold as the world heavyweight champion. The European Boxing Union sided with them.

Lee Savold’s Herky-Jerky Climb Up the Ladder

Lee Savold was 18 years old when he made his pro debut at a county fair in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. For the next-two-half years he plied the Upper Midwest circuit. His most notable match during this period was a bout in Minneapolis with Jack Gibbons. The son of Mike Gibbons and nephew of Tommy Gibbons – both of whom would be elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame – Jack Gibbons was too slick for Savold and won the decision.

This was a rare 10-rounder for Savold. The loss knocked him back to the preliminary ranks.

In February of 1936, with his career going nowhere, Savold went west. He had his next 16 fights in California where he supplemented his ring earnings as a stevedore. Things went well at first, but then turned sour. He was 9-7 in California rings bringing his overall record to 34-23-2.

Savold returned to his home state and took a job as a bartender in Minneapolis. He was out of the ring for 14 months during which his weight reportedly ballooned to 260 pounds.

Savold was lured back to the ring by Pinkie George, the leading boxing and wrestling promoter in Iowa. Savold had appeared on three cards in Iowa when he was just starting out and flashed enough potential that Pinkie remembered him. He induced Savold to re-settle in Des Moines, put him on a strict regimen that shed pounds and built muscle, and dressed him with a nickname: The Battling Bartender.

Savold, who stood six-foot-one, was a svelte 184 pounds when he returned to the ring on July 7, 1938 at Riverview Park in Sioux City, Iowa. Under Pinkie George’s management, Savold won 14 of 18 matches preceding his Dec. 4, 1939 engagement in Des Moines with Maurice Strickland.

A New Zealander, Strickland was well-touted and folks inside the boxing community took note when Savold knocked him out in the third round.

Strickland’s U.S. representative was “Honest” Bill Daly whose home base was in Englewood, New Jersey.

In boxing, “honest” is a pejorative. As the late, great LA Times wag Jim Murray noted, Daly was honest in the sense that he never stole an elephant or a battleship. But with an assist from Savold’s Iowa trainer Hymie Wiseman, who was given a piece of the action, Honest Bill stole Lee Savold from Pinkie George. Savold went with the flow and moved his tack to the Garden State, taking up residence in Paterson.

With the well-connected Daly calling the shots, Savold procured bouts of international importance. The first of this description was 12-round, non-title fight with reigning light heavyweight champion Billy Conn on Nov. 24, 1940, at Madison Square Garden. The Pittsburgh Kid was too clever for the Battling Bartender and won a wide decision, but Savold broke Conn’s nose during the fight with a punch that Conn would remember as one of the hardest that he ever received.

The Conn fight was a good learning experience for Savold who won 18 of his next 20 fights. Both losses were inflicted by Harry Bobo, a good black boxer from Pittsburgh who never got his proper due.

Savold’s signature win during this run was an eighth-round stoppage of Lou Nova. This was Nova’s first fight since his failed effort at wresting the title from Joe Louis. Nova was no match for the Brown Bomber who stopped him in the sixth frame but he had some good wins on his ledger including two wins inside the distance over Max Baer and Savold would be the underdog when he met up with Nova on a Monday night at Griffith Stadium in Washington DC.

Savold cut Nova to pieces and the referee stopped the fight after seven frames when the gash over Nova’s left eye worsened. The match aired on the Mutual Radio Network which had more than 200 affiliates. The following year, Savold defeated Nova in a more dramatic fashion, knocking him out in the second round at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

Between these two fights, Savold was his usual erratic self. He split two fights with Tony Musto and came out on the short end of 10-round bouts with Tami Mauriello and Jimmy Bivins. After defeating Nova for the second time, he became even more inconsistent. Mauriello beat him again, he lost two out of three to rugged Joe Baksi, was twice out-pointed by journeyman Phil Muscato, and was knocked out in the second round by fearsome Elmer “Violent” Ray.

Savold’s career was going nowhere again when he accepted a match with Gino Buonvino. Savold took the assignment on 48 hours notice, subbing for Baksi, a late scratch with an ankle injury.

Recognized as the heavyweight champion of Italy, Buonvino was unbeaten in his last 11 starts. In a shocker, Savold knocked him out in 54 seconds, the fastest knockout on record for a main event at Madison Square Garden.

The knockout of Buonvino coupled with two more wins over lesser foes boosted Savold to #3 behind Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott in The Ring magazine ratings. That said more about Honest Bill Daly’s negotiation skills than about Savold’s true ability. He maintained that placement after he went to London and lost by disqualification to Bruce Woodcock in what would be the first of their two meetings.

Bruce Woodcock

The son of a former British Army lightweight champion, Bruce Woodcock, born and raised in Doncaster, was nothing special but you couldn’t tell that to the Brits who fervently embraced him after he won the British and British Empire heavyweight titles with a sixth-round knockout of Jack London in 1945. In his most recent bout, he had scored a fourth-round stoppage over American veteran Lee Oma who was felled by a punch that didn’t look especially hard. Spectators tossed pennies into the ring as they did whenever a fight ended suspiciously.

Savold-Woodcock I, contested on Dec. 6, 1948 before a capacity crowd of 10,700 at London’s Haringay Arena, also ended suspiciously. Savold was disqualified in the fourth round for hitting Woodcock below the belt. The crowd booed as Woodcock lay on the canvas, writhing in agony. It struck many that he was play-acting. “Savold lost the fight but showed himself to be the better man,” said the correspondent for the Associated Press.

Woodcock, who had lost only twice in 35 starts, regained his lost prestige with a third-round stoppage of South African heavyweight champion Johnny Ralph in Johannesburg and a beat-down of popular Freddie Mills, conqueror of light heavyweight champion Gus Lesnevich, in London. Mills was on the deck five times before he was counted out in the 14th round.

When the folks at the BBBofC decided that they would not kowtow to American interests in naming a successor to Joe Louis, which ruled out Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott, Woodcock and the highly-rated Savold were the logical picks to fight for the vacant title. It helped that promoter Solomons had doctored the film of the first fight. It showed the Englishman out-punching Savold over the first three rounds when the opposite was true.

The blue-collar amusement of greyhound racing was then flourishing in London and Savold-Woodcock II was planted at White City, London’s premier dog racing facility. The stadium was configured to hold 50,000 for the fight, the maximum allowed by the authorities for reasons of traffic control. It would be written that all 50,000 tickets were sold before the ink was dry on them.

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Originally set for Sept. 6, 1949, the fight was pushed back 10 months when Woodcock suffered a shoulder injury in an automobile accident; he wrapped his lorry around a tree.

When the fight finally came to fruition, the action in the ring was somewhat similar to the first meeting, only a lot bloodier. When Woodcock’s corner pulled him out after four frames, he was bleeding from his nose and his mouth and had a two-inch gash over his left eye that “spurted blood like a fountain.”

Woodcock caught Savold flush with a number of right hooks but they had no effect; Savold kept moving forward. The American invader, said the ringside reporter for the Nottingham Evening Post, was a “cold, cruel and calculating fighting machine.”

Savold had only two more fights before calling it quits. On June 15, 1951, he met Joe Louis at Madison Square Garden in a fight that was forced out of the Polo Grounds by bad weather. Beset by tax problems, the Brown Bomber had returned to the ring after a 27-month hiatus.

On this night, Savold’s opponent was the cold, cruel, and calculating fighting machine. Louis carved him up before ending matters in round six with a series of punches climaxed by a short, left hook to the jaw that knocked Savold off his pins. He struggled to get upright but wasn’t able to beat the count.

Across the pond, this made Joe Louis the world heavyweight champion once again. It mattered not that Louis had been widely out-pointed by Ezzard Charles in his first comeback fight.

Eight months later, Savold met Rocky Marciano in a 10-rounder at Philadelphia’s Convention Hall. This was a terrible fight. Marciano’s punches were mostly wild but Savold offered little in return and his torso was smeared with blood when his corner pulled him out after six rounds. In an odd comparison, the great sportswriter Red Smith likened Savold’s poor showing to that of a man with a bellyache carrying an armful of packages across Times Square during rush hour.

And so, this is how it ended for Lee Savold, a shell of his former self and his former self was never that great to begin with. His final record, per boxrec, was 98 wins, 41 losses and three draws. He scored 72 knockouts and was stopped 12 times. But for 13 months he reigned as the heavyweight champion of the world in merry old England, the cradle of pugilism, heady stuff for a farm boy from Minnesota who was once a hog-fat bartender.

Having answered the bell for 814 rounds, Savold was a prime candidate for pugilistic dementia but he beat the transmutation to the punch as it were. In April of 1972, he suffered a stroke and died a month later at a rehab hospital in Neptune, New Jersey. He was 58 years old.

Postscript: The BBBofC never did recognize Ezzard Charles or Jersey Joe Walcott who took turns beating each other in 1951. The title became vacant yet again that year in the eyes of British interests when Louis was knocked out by up-and-comer Rocky Marciano and it remained vacant until Rocky made things whole again. With no viable alternative, the Brits acknowledged the Rock as the true champion after he toppled Walcott on Sept. 23, 1952, felling Jersey Joe, who was ahead on the cards, with a pulverizing punch that would have felled a horse.

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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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Jake Paul vs Tommy Fury on Feb. 26 in a Potential Pay-Per-View Blockbuster

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It’s now official. The twice-postponed “grudge match” between Jake Paul and Tommy Fury will come to fruition on Sunday, Feb. 26, at Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. An 8-rounder contested at a catch-weight of 185 pounds, the match and several supporting bouts will air in the U.S. on ESPN+ PPV at a cost of $49.99.

The hook for this promotion – a come-hither that will be hammered home incessantly in the coming weeks – is that Jake Paul will finally touch gloves with a legitimate professional boxer. Paul’s previous opponents were a fellow YouTube influencer (AnEsonGib), a retired NBA player (Nate Robinson), and three former MMA champions: Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley, and Anderson Silva. He fought Woodley twice.

Tommy Fury, the half-brother of reigning WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, made his pro debut in December of 2018 in a four-round bout in his hometown of Manchester. He was two fights into his pro career when he became a contestant on the TV reality show “Love Island.” An enormously popular show in Great Britain, especially among the coveted 18-34 demographic, “Love Island” was in its fifth season.

Fury was paired with supermodel Molly-Mae Hague with whom he finished second. They developed a great chemistry, on and off the set, became engaged, and purportedly welcomed a baby girl this week.

What about Tommy Fury the boxer? How legitimate is he?

Fury’s record currently stands at 8-0 (4 KOs). His first opponent was a professional loser from Latvia whose current ledger reads 10-113-3. His next six opponents were a combined 4-73-2. Finally, in his last fight, which occurred in April of last year, he met an opponent with a good record, Poland’s Daniel Bocianski, who was 10-1. But look closer and one discovers that all but one of Bocianski’s 10 triumphs came against opponents with losing records. The exception was a 6-round decision over a fellow Pole whose record currently stands at 18-16-1 and who has been stopped 13 times.

Fury bloodied Bocianski and won a wide 6-round decision, but his performance was underwhelming. “Fury had the Hollywood teeth, tan, and diamante-colored shorts,” wrote Chasinga Malata of the London Sun, “leaving only his performance without sheen and sparkle.”

There is nothing in Tommy Fury’s background, aside from his biological pedigree, to suggest that he has the tools to become a world-class boxer. If he were a member of the Three Stooges, he would be Shemp.

Jake Paul, by contrast, may actually be legit. Those in the know that have watched him train have come away impressed. It says here that Paul isn’t moving up in class on Feb. 26; it’s the other way around.

In the co-feature, Ilunga Makabu (29-2, 25 KOs) will make the third defense of his WBC world cruiserweight title against Badou Jack (27-3-3, 16 KOs). A Congolese-South African, Makabu is the older brother of heavyweight contender Martin Bakole. Jack, four years older than Makabu at age 39, formerly held world titles at 168 and 175 pounds.

Although Badou Jack was born in Sweden and keeps a home in Las Vegas where he has long been affiliated with the Mayweather Boxing Club, he will have the home field advantage in Saudi Arabia where he has cultivated a loyal following. A devout Muslim, Jack will be making his fourth straight start in the Persian Gulf Region. In his last outing, he outpointed Richard “Popeye” Rivera at Jeddah, winning a 10-round split decision.

Badou Jack

Badou Jack

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 223: A Lively Weekend in SoCal with Three Fight Cards in Two Days

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 223: A Lively Weekend in SoCal with Three Fight Cards in Two Days

Big money prizefighting returns to the Los Angeles area with back-to-back shows. First, Serhii Bohachuk heads a 360 Promotions card on Friday and then Alexis Rocha is featured on Saturday in a Golden Boy Promotions production. And on the same day Riverside’s Saul Rodriguez fights in his hometown.

Bohachuk, Rocha, and Rodriguez are aggressive big hitters.

Ukraine’s Bohachuk seeks to regain footing in the super welterweight division. He was rapidly climbing up the ratings ladder when first he was defeated by Brandon Adams two years ago. And then the invasion of his home country Ukraine stalled him even more.

On Friday Jan. 27, at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello, Calif. Bohachuk (21-1, 21 KOs) meets Nathaniel Gallimore (22-6-1, 17 KOs) in the main event. UFC Fight Pass will stream the 360 Boxing Promotions card.

Few fighters are as well-liked outside of the prize ring as Bohachuk. Always amiable, he’s one of the handful of fighters that always smiles. Inside the ring, he’s a killer. No one leaves without someone getting knocked out.

Gallimore, 34, is no slouch. He has a knockout win over former world titlist Jeison Rosario and has battled almost all of the top super welterweights. He is a veteran and very crafty.

The Quiet Cannon venue is not very large, but it does have a patio and good food and drink. Most of the crowd ventures from all over Southern California to attend the fights at that venue. It gets packed.

Golden Boy in Inglewood

Welterweight contender Alexis Rocha headlines the Golden Boy Promotions card on Saturday, Jan. 28, at the brand new YouTube Theater in Inglewood, Calif. DAZN will stream the fight card.

Rocha (21-1, 13 KOs) faces George Ashie (33-5-1) in the main event set for 12 rounds. Finally, there is an opponent for the left-handed fighter from Santa Ana. It didn’t look like he was going to fight after opponent after opponent fell out for one reason or another.

“You have to be ready for anybody they put in front of you. If it’s you or George Ashie, I have to prepare for it. I have to focus on what I can do,” said Rocha.

Others on the card include super middleweight Bektemir Melikuziev (10-1) vs Ulises Sierra (17-2-2) set for 10 rounds. Also, good looking lightweight prospect Floyd Schofield (12-0, 10 KOs) meets Alberto Mercado (17-4-1).

Schofield fights out of Austin, Texas and looks like someone to watch.

Doors open at 3 p.m.

Neno Returns in San Bernardino        

Garcia Promotions stages a boxing card on Saturday Jan. 28, at the Club Event Center in San Bernardino. Garcia Promotions is associated with trainer Robert Garcia and family whose training compound is located in nearby Riverside.

A primarily local fight card featuring all fighters from Garcia’s gym will be performing.

Headlining is Saul “Neno” Rodriguez out of Riverside, California.

It’s been nearly three years since Rodriguez (24-1-1, 18 KOs) last fought and he faces Mexico’s Juan Meza Angulo (6-1, 3 KOs) in the co-main event.

At one time Rodriguez was a big fan favorite because of his fast work and knockout ability. Once he got to the top plateau he ran into another knockout puncher in Miguel Angel Gonzalez and lost by stoppage.

Prizefighting is a tricky road. One loss can mean difficulty in finding a big-time promoter or it can mean discovering what you need to do to re-establish your skills. A fighter can go the road of Kermit “The Killer” Cintron and find out other ways to win without a kill-or be-killed style. Or they can travel the road of Marco Antonio Barrera who was knocked out by Junior Jones but adapted a more boxer-puncher style that allowed him to defeat Erik Morales twice and Prince Naseem Hamed.

Rodriguez, 29, still has time to make a good run for a title bid. It all starts on Saturday.

Others on the Garcia Promotions card are fighters who are part of trainer Garcia’s stable including Gabriel Muratalla, Leonardo Ruiz, Jose Rodriguez and others.

Doors open at 4 p.m. with amateurs opening the boxing program.

Fights to Watch

Fri. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Serhii Bohachuk (21-1) vs Nathaniel Gallimore (22-6-1).

Sat. ESPN+ 11:30 a.m. Artur Beterbiev (18-0) vs Anthony Yarde (23-2).

Sat. DAZN  5 p.m. Alexis Rocha (21-1) vs George Ashie (33-5-1).

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Artur Beterbiev: “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need”

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Russian Artur Beterbiev, triple champion of the 175-pound division, is the only current world champion who, thanks to the enormous power he wields in his fists, has won all his fights inside the distance.

Beterbiev has 18 victories by way of chloroform since he debuted as a professional fighter in June 2013 when he anesthetized retired American, Christian Cruz, in the tenth round at the Bell Center in Montreal where Beterbiev currently resides.

Beterbiev, who turned thirty-eight last Saturday, will defend his WBC, IBF, and WBO titles against Brit Anthony “The Beast from the East” Yarde (23-2, 22 KOs) on Saturday, January 28th at the OVO Arena in London.

Beterbiev obtained the WBO belt on June 18th this past year when he defeated American Joe Smith (28-4, 22 KOs) in the second round at Madison Square Garden. This was Smith’s second defense of the belt.

Earlier, in November 2017, Beterbiev won the vacant IBF belt after defeating German Enrico Koelling (28-5, 9 KOs) by knockout in the twelfth round in Fresno, California.

Two years later, Beterbiev seized the WBC belt from Ukrainian Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1, 14 KOs) in Philadelphia. Three knockdowns in the tenth round forced referee Gary Rosato to stop the lopsided bout with 11 seconds remaining in the round.  Beterbiev maintains that although his intention is to win each fight, in no way does he want to harm his rival and that his greatest wish is for both of them to leave the ring healthy.

Referring to his upcoming matchup, Beterbiev told BoxingScene that “after the fight, I just hope he (Yarde) is okay.”

He acknowledged that he does not know much about the British boxer, although he has watched several of his fights: “He’s a good fighter, has good experience as a professional and he’s a boxer. He’s dangerous so I have to prepare for this fight like I always do.”

Beterbiev said that his main motivation is to successfully defend the three belts he owns and that is why he will try to be one hundred percent ready and then it will be evident who is the better fighter.

Regarding his knockout streak, Beterbiev emphatically denied that he enjoys knocking out his opponents: “No. There’s no pleasure in it. I just hope everything is OK with them. I just want to do good boxing, not hit people.”

Beterbiev smiles enigmatically and stares at the horizon when they ask him to what he attributes the strength of his fists to. “I know for sure, 1000 percent, that the secret to my power is somewhere in my boxing gym but I don’t know exactly where,” he adds. “I don’t know which exercise or bag gave me this secret. I don’t know where it comes from. I wasn’t always like this either, it has come from working every day. But really my dream is to be a good boxer one day.”

Aside from the upcoming fight with Yarde, Beterbiev acknowledges in each interview that his goal is to be the undisputed champion of the division, which means facing (and defeating) the undefeated Russian Dmitry Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs), who holds the WBA light heavyweight super championship belt.

“I need Bivol,” Beterbiev admits. “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need. I hope I fight him in 2023 but the hold-up is not from my side, it’s from their side. In the last three years he always says he will fight me next but in this time we’ve done unification fights against Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Joe Smith. We’ve done that whereas he has just been talking about it.

Beterbiev recalled that he was with Bivol on the Russian national team where they were amateurs. “I knew him then, but he is younger than me. We haven’t talked for 10 years now. He was 75kg back then, too small for me. We were never friends.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

 Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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