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Bob Arum Perseveres as Many of His Old Stomping Grounds Bite the Dust

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Bob Arum Perseveres as Many of His Old Stomping Grounds Bite the Dust

Someone once said that the only constant in life is change. That goes double for Las Vegas, the city that is constantly re-inventing itself. Casino-resorts seemingly change ownership on a whim, begetting a make-over, and others are imploded to make way for whatever is next.

Top Rank honcho Bob Arum has seen it all in the four-plus decades he has been making waves in Sin City. He has out-lived so many Las Vegas casinos that we have lost count.

It was learned last week that three more Las Vegas hotel-casinos are headed to the scrap heap. Station Casinos is shedding three of their nine Las Vegas properties. Texas Station, Fiesta Rancho, and Fiesta Henderson are being torn down and the land underneath them has been put up for sale. Because these are locals-oriented casinos situated off the Las Vegas Strip, this wasn’t a national news story.

Texas Station in North Las Vegas happens to be the place where Floyd Mayweather Jr made his professional boxing debut. We have a suggestion for whoever buys the property – how about some sort of permanent marker to commemorate the event? One doesn’t have to like Floyd to acknowledge that he left a large footprint. Monuments have been built in homage to boxers of far less prominence.

Mayweather made his pro debut on Oct. 11, 1996, on a Top Rank show staged in a small outdoor arena. Two other future world title-holders – Diego “Chico” Corrales and Eric Morel – appeared on the undercard. The featured bout pit Johnny Tapia in a WBO 115-pound world title defense against Sammy Stewart (Tapia TKO 7). In hindsight, it was a show that merited more ink than it got.

By then, Bob Arum was well-established in the city. The first sighting of him had come in December of 1976 when he co-promoted a show at the Aladdin featuring Earnie Shavers. The following year, Arum co-promoted several more shows at the Aladdin, the most noteworthy of which was an October card that marked the first 10-rounder for U.S. Olympian Leon Spinks who was matched against Minnesota journeyman Scott LeDoux.

Arum’s partners in these ventures were veteran matchmaker Mel “Red” Greb, who kept his day job as a craps dealer, and the noted wise guy Irving “Ash” Resnick, a casino host whose specialty was collecting unpaid markers. Neon Leon managed only a draw against LeDoux which made it all the more shocking when he upset Muhammad Ali four months later.

The Aladdin was imploded in 1998. It sat where Planet Hollywood now sits. Two years earlier, the Hacienda was torn down to make way for Mandalay Bay. A small casino at the far south end of the Strip, the Hacienda housed club fights in its so-called Matador Ballroom. Arum has fond memories.

In February of 1981, Arum initiated a series of monthly shows at the Hacienda which were televised on the fledgling ESPN network. His second and fourth shows featured a fresh-faced, 21-year-old super bantamweight from Massachusetts who would go on to become a big local attraction. The kid’s name was Freddie Roach.

Arum took Freddie Roach with him when he settled in at the Showboat where the Top Rank ESPN series had a long run beginning in 1982.

There were actually two unrelated properties with Showboat motifs operating simultaneously in Las Vegas, one situated on the Las Vegas Strip and the other on Boulder Highway on the outskirts of the downtown gambling district. This second Showboat whose signature attraction was the bowling alley, a key stop on the professional tour, was heavily vested in boxing before Arum came along and crashed the party.

Freddie Roach had 15 fights on Top Rank shows at the Showboat, all of which were main events. He won 10. In his final fight here, he passed the torch, in a manner of speaking, to Greg Haugen, who stopped him in the seventh round. Haugen supplanted Roach and Texas lightweight Robin Blake as the ‘Boat’s most popular “house fighter.” He was 8-0 at the Showboat and won another fight for Top Rank on an ESPN show at the Sahara prior to wresting the IBF world lightweight title from Jimmy Paul at Caesars Palace.

The Showboat, which bore the name Castaways in its end days, is long gone. The casino with its 19-story hotel tower was demolished in July of 2005 and is now the site of an apartment complex.

Of all the Las Vegas hotel-casinos that have passed into antiquity, none is as fabled as the Sands. The Rat Pack frolicked here.

The number of boxing shows hosted by the Sands can be counted on one hand, but Bob Arum turned up here too. Top Rank promoted the March 30, 1991 card at which 19-year-old featherweight Rafael Ruelas stamped himself a rising star with a third-round blast-out of former title-holder Stevie Cruz. Future Hall of Famer James Toney appeared on the undercard in a stay-busy fight. Toney’s next bout would come against IBF middleweight champion Michael Nunn.

The Sands was reduced to rubble on Nov. 26, 1996. A mega-resort, the Venetian, rose like a Phoenix from the ashes.

Twenty years later, in the summer of 2016, another iconic Las Vegas casino-resort went poof when the Riviera was blasted into oblivion. Arum wasn’t nearly as active at this property as was his great rival Don King, but he brought Marvelous Marvin Hagler here in March of 1984 to oppose the rugged Argentine battler Juan Domingo Roldan.  Hagler, the undisputed world middleweight champion, was making his ninth title defense. He stopped Roldan in the 10th round.

Several of the venues where Top Rank did business are still standing but have been re-branded. The Las Vegas Hilton, where Arum parked Ali-Spinks I, morphed into the Westgate. The Holiday Casino, where Arum had a cup of coffee in 1990 (Michael Carbajal vs. Fernando Martinez was the featured bout) became Harrah’s. Bally’s, the city’s original MGM Grand, is in the process of being re-branded the Horseshoe. George Foreman fought one of his comeback fights at Bally’s on a Top Rank promotion.

There’s an old saying that when one window of opportunity closes, another opens. Bob Arum would know. Through all the hubbub, Arum never missed a beat. When in a pinch, he always found a new roosting place for one of his smaller shows as he was plotting another grand spectacle.

The newest addition to the ever-evolving Las Vegas skyline is Resorts World, a 3,506-room mega-resort that opened in June of last year. In March, the property on the grounds of the demolished Stardust held its first boxing event. Predictably, it was a Top Rank promotion. Top Rank returns here next month with a card featuring the return of Teofimo Lopez.

There will come a day when Resorts World joins its Las Vegas forerunners in the casino graveyard. It’s just the natural order of things. My goodness, will the indefatigable Bob Arum out-live this joint too?

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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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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

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A hockey Arena in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, roughly 100 miles south of Montreal, hosted tonight’s card on ESPN+, a co-promotion of Camille Estephan’s Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Bob Arum’s Top Rank. Arum wasn’t there; he was in Leeds, England, but the outcome would have mitigated his aggravation at seeing his fighter Josh Taylor fall short earlier in the day.

Super middleweight Christian Mbilli, of whom Arum owns a piece, needed only 40 seconds to conquer British import Mark Heffron who, on paper, was a very credible opponent. Mbilli backed Heffron into the ropes and collapsed him with a left hook that landed under his rib cage. Heffron, 30-3-1 heading in with 24 KOs, went down on all fours and was counted out. The contest was over almost before it began.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO. With the victory, he advanced his record to 27-0 (23 KOs). His next fight will reportedly come in August with rugged but battle-blistered Sergiy Derevyanchenko in the opposite corner. Mbilli has been chasing a fight with Canelo Alvarez, but has scant chance of landing it. At this juncture of his career, the red-headed Mexican undoubtedly wants less daunting assignments.

Co-Feature

Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, rebounded from his poor performance against Agit Kabayel with a second-round stoppage of sacrificial lamb Milan Rovcanin. Makhmudov (19-1, 18 KOs) knocked Rovcanin to the canvas with an overhand right in the opening round. The punch knocked Rovcanin sideways, his head resting on the ring apron. To Rovcanin’s credit, he beat the count and launched a futile offensive after he arose. A similar punch ended the brief bout at the 2:32 mark of the next frame.

Makhmudov is certainly heavy-handed, but he moves at a glacial pace and would be up-against-it against a world-class opponent with faster hands and better footwork. Rovcanin, who had  been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia, declined to 27-4.

Other Bouts of Note

In a bout contested at the catch-weight of 178 pounds, Montreal-based Mehmet Unal, a 31-year-old former Olympian for Turkey, scored the best win of his career with a fourth-round stoppage of 34-year-old Laredo, Texas campaigner Rodolfo Gomez.

Gomez, routinely matched tough and better than his record (14-7-3 heading in), protested loudly when the referee waived it off, but his corner stood poised to throw in the towel. He hadn’t previously been stopped, let alone knocked off his feet. Unal improved to 10-0 (8 KOs).

Super middleweight Mereno Fendero, a 24-year old French Army veteran, improved to 6-0 (4) with a six-round decision over 38-year-old Argentine journeyman Rolando Mansilla (19-15-1). Fendero won every round on all three cards including a 10-8 round on one of the cards although there were no knockdowns. Although badly out-classed, the teak-tough Mansilla, a glutton for punishment, earned his pay.

Local prospect Alexandre Gaumont, a middleweight, improved to 11-0 (7) with an unpopular 8-round split decision over Argentina’s Santiago Fernandez (8-1-1). Two of the judges gave Gaumont six rounds, ridiculed as home town bias, with the other awarding five rounds to the Argentine who received a loud ovation as he left the ring.

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Sweet Revenge for the ‘Cat’: Catterall Outpoints Taylor in a Fan-Friendly Fight

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Former unified junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall renewed acquaintances tonight in a sold-out arena in Leeds, England. Their first bout 27 months ago in Glasgow ended in favor of Taylor, a controversial winner by split decision as most felt that Catterall was robbed. Tonight, the Cat, as he is nicknamed, turned the tables, winning a unanimous decision in a 12-round non-title fight that was more entertaining than their first encounter.

Catterall, who closed a short favorite, came out fast and was plainly ahead at the mid-point of the fight. But Taylor closed the gap and on unofficial scorecards it was an even fight after 10 frames. Then, in the 11th, shortly after the referee halted the action to warn the fighters about something, Catterall turned the tide back in his favor, stunning Taylor with a looping left hand coming out of the break. Seconds later, both fighters went down in a heap in front of a corner post.

Both fighters were marked-up at the finish, more so Taylor who ended the fight with his right eye swollen and nearly closed shut.

A draw would not have been unreasonable, but two of the judges gave Jack Catterall nine rounds (117-111) and the other had it 7-4-1 (116-113).

In his post-fight interview, Eddie Hearn, Catterall’s promoter, conceded that the scores were too wide but opined that the right guy won. Few would disagree, but co-promoter Bob Arum had a different take. “Those scores were a disgrace,” he said, taking the microphone. “I feel sorry for Josh. I thought he won the fight….”

In avenging his lone defeat, Catterall improved to 29-1 (13). It was second straight loss for Taylor (19-2) who had been inactive since losing his unified title to Teofimo Lopez.

A rubber match would be welcome.

Semi Wind-up

In the chief supporting bout, Cheavon Clarke improved to 9-0 (7 KOs) with an eighth-round stoppage of Ellis Zorro. Clarke, who represented both his native Jamaica and England in international amateur competitions, won the BBBoC British cruiserweight title.

This fight didn’t provide a lot of action. The humdrum ended in the waning seconds of round eight when Clarke nailed Zorro with a chopping right hand. He seized the moment, swarming after Zorro, and chopped him down with a series of punches. None appeared to land very cleanly, but Zorro was counted out with a mere second remaining in the round. It was his second straight defeat after opening his career with 17-0. In his previous bout, Zorro was blasted out in the opening round by Jai Opetaia.

Clarke, 33, is eyeing the winner of the forthcoming fight in London between WBO cruiserweight champion Chris Billam-Smith and Richard Riakporhe.

Also

Welterweight Paddy Donovan, a Traveler from Limerick, Ireland, advanced to 14-0 (11 KOs) with a ninth-round stoppage of former British lightweight champion Lewis Ritson (25-4).

Donovan, trained by former middleweight titlist Andy Lee, fought off his back foot for the first seven rounds as Ritson forced the pace. He changed tactics in round eight which was a strong round for him and then closed the show in the ninth. A series of punches had Ritson plainly hurt and the referee stepped in after 32 seconds and waved it off. It was Donovan’s fifth straight win inside the distance.

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Okolie Demolishes Rozanski to Jump-Start a Busy Boxing Weekend

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The weekend boxing activity got underway today in Rzesnow. Poland where, to the dismay of the locals, Lukasz Rozanski, was blown away in the opening round by UK invader Lawrence Okolie. Heading in, the Pole was 15-0 with 14 knockouts, was coming off back-to-back first-round stoppages, and had never fought beyond the fourth round. And he was a world champion of sorts, making the first defense of his WBC bridgerweight title.

Okolie (20-1, 15 KOs) knocked him down hard on the seat of his pants with a straight right hand, the first of three knockdowns. The final knockdown was the result of a combination that knocked Rozanski to his knees with his head landing outside the ropes. There were only seconds to go in the round, but when Rozanski arose on unsteady legs, the referee properly waived it off. At age 38, his first career loss may also mark the end of his career.

A 2016 Olympian co-managed by Anthony Joshua, Okolie (pictured) was making his first start with trainer Joe Gallagher after previously working under Shane McGuigan and SugarHill Steward and his first start since losing his WBO cruiserweight title to Chris Billam-Smith.  At six-foot-five and with an 82-inch reach, the 31-year-old Londoner is a very interesting specimen. His stated goal when he turned pro was to unify the cruiserweight division before moving up to heavyweight.

Had Rozanski won, there was talk of him fighting Badou Jack. The guess is this may be Okolie’s first and last fight at bridgerweight (under 225), a division recognized only by the WBC which invented it. (The WBA is poised to follow its lead. The WBA board of directors recently approved the addition of a super cruiserweight weight class.)

Saturday

The action tomorrow in regard to major fights begins at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen where the Fighting Dane, Dina Thorslund (21-0, 9 KOs), defends her WBC/WBO female world bantamweight title against Turkey’s Seren Cetin (11-0, 7 KOs). Thorslund, whose name appears on many pound-for-pound lists, is appearing in her 11th world title fight.

The marquee event takes place in the late afternoon (USA time) in Leeds, England, where Josh Taylor (19-1, 13 KOs) clashes with Jack Catterall (28-1, 13 KOs) in an eagerly-anticipated and twice-delayed rematch. Catterall will be seeking to avenge his lone defeat.

Their first encounter took place in February 2022 on Taylor’s turf in Glasgow, Scotland. Taylor won a split decision. To say that it was controversial would be putting it mildly. One pundit called it the biggest robbery in British boxing history. At stake was Taylor’s unified welterweight title which he would lose in his next outing when he was upset by Teofimo Lopez.

Catterall has fought twice since that night in Glasgow, most recently scoring a 12-round decision over globetrotter Jorge Linares who announced his retirement after the match. This is Taylor’s first ring outing since the Teofimo fight in New York. He and Catterall have engaged in a nasty war of words since their first encounter and the match – televised live exclusively in the U.S. on ESPN+ and around the world on DAZN — is an advance sellout. Check local listings for start times.

There’s been steady money on Catterall today and, if the odds hold up, Josh Taylor will assume the role of an underdog for the first time in his career.

Lastly

We’re back to ESPN+ again for a show in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, a co-promotion between Eye of the Tiger and Top Rank.

In the featured bout, Christian Mbilli (26-0, 22 KOs) meets England’s Mark Heffron (30-3-1, 24 KOs) in a 10-round super middleweight contest.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO.

In the co-feature, heavyweight Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, returns to the ring looking to rebuild a reputation that was badly tarnished last December when he was manhandled by underdog Agit Kabayel in Saudi Arabia. Makhmudov (18-1, 17 KOs) opposes no-hoper Milan Rovcanin (27-3, 18 KOs) who has been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia. The TV portion of this Saturday Night card has a scheduled starting time of 7 pm ET/4 pm PT.

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