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Danny Garcia Looked Very Sharp in Ring Return, Not That Everyone Noticed

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After a career-long 19 months away from the ring, Danny “Swift” Garcia marked his victorious return in a new weight class with misty eyes that were not entirely shedding tears of joy. More like tears of relief, actually. The former super lightweight and welterweight world champion was discussing the reason why he had taken so much time off to reassess his life and the necessity to get his mind right in addition to whipping his body back into fighting shape.

“I was going through some mental things,” Garcia told SHOWTIME Championship Boxing interviewer Jim Gray after he had outpointed Jose Benavidez Jr. at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in his super welterweight debut. “I felt a little dark. I went through some anxiety and depression. I was just trying my best to stay strong.

“It was just the pressure of life, the pressure of boxing. Of being a good dad. It weighed on me for a year and a half. I knew the only way to get better was to fight, and to win. I’m a fighter. That’s what I do and I love to do. If you battle anxiety and depression, get over it. That is what I did tonight. I came here and fought my heart out. I do have some dark days but I do my best to stay positive. But I felt good tonight.”

Well, the 34-year-old Garcia (37-3, 21 KOs) could be excused for shedding a tear of anguish when the first scorecard was read by ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. after he had schooled Benavidez (27-2-1, 18 KOs) in so nearly flawless a performance that SHOWTIME’S unofficial scorer, Steve Farhood, had the Philadelphian winning 11 of 12 rounds, giving only the ninth to Benavidez. That 114-114 tally submitted by judge Waleska Roldan defied not only probability, but called into question the lady’s vision. Fortunately, the other two judges, Tony Paolillo and Glenn Feldman, ensured that a Brink’s Job-level robbery would not take place by favoring Garcia by margins of 117-111 and 116-112, respectively, although even those numbers were overly generous to Benavidez, the Phoenix fighter who had derided the eventual winner beforehand by claiming he was a one-trick pony, with no special quality other than a left hook which he could and would easily nullify.

Not one to easily give credit where credit was due, which would have been to acknowledge the superiority of the other guy on this particular night, Benavidez told Gray that “I’m happy with my performance. I feel like I did a good job. I took his punches like they were nothing. I honestly thought I won, but it is what it is. I’m not going to let this bring me down. A loss just makes you stronger.”

Asked if he would fight again, Benavidez – whose father-trainer, Jose Benavidez Sr., had said earlier in the day that “My son has to win tonight, or his career is basically over” – the younger man said, “Hell, yeah, I’d like to continue. I want a rematch.”

If it happens, which it almost certainly won’t, it’s reasonable to assume that Roldan won’t be seated at ringside with a pencil and score pad if the bout is held in the Big Apple or anywhere else in the Empire State. In this era of female empowerment, this latest head-scratcher from the New York City resident brought memories of another woman judge, C.J. Ross, whose qualifications for working major bouts was so called into question that she submitted her resignation from the Nevada State Athletic Commission – possibly not of her own volition — to then-executive director Keith Kizer shortly after she saw the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Canelo Alvarez bout in September 2013 as a 114-114 standoff. The other two judges had Mayweather, who appeared to win as handily as did Garcia against Benavidez, winning by margins of 117-111 and 116-112, making the Barclays bout nearly nine years later as a virtual repeat.

A bad night, if it is rare enough, can be excused, but not if it seemingly is part of a pattern. Ross had raised eyebrows by being one of two judges who had Timothy Bradley Jr. dethroning WBO welterweight titlist Manny Pacquiao on a 12-round split decision on June 9, 2012, but that was a bit closer than Garcia-Benavidez was, although a majority of ringside reporters and other knowledgeable observers felt Pacquiao had done enough to get the victory. Roldan’s companion piece to that curious call was her 117-111 card favoring Jeff Horn in his WBO welterweight title-wresting unanimous decision over Pacquiao in Horn’s home country of Australia, another instance where many media types covering the event believed “PacMan” to have won at least semi-convincingly.

Roldan declined to comment on her rationale for scoring Saturday night’s fight as she did, and the New York State Athletic Commission also was mum, ostensibly until it has the opportunity to speak to Roldan. It will be interesting to learn if NYSAC executive director Kim Sumbler is amenable to whatever Roldan has to say and gives her more judging assignments. But justifying that scorecard might require the verbal dexterity of the late F. Lee Bailey.

“How Waleska Roldan got the score she got, I have no idea,” Farhood opined. “She had Benavidez ahead after 11 rounds. She scored it even only because she gave Garcia the 12th. I saw a totally different fight. I saw total domination by Danny Garcia.”

Punch statistics, never an indisputable method of determining who should or should not deserve to win a fight, would appear to support the notion of Garcia deserving better than a majority decision. Although he out-landed in total punches, 233 of 746 (32.1 percent) to 117 of 600 (19.5 percent), the gap in body shots was Grand Canyonesque. Garcia connected on 153 body blows to just 12 for Benavidez.

But Roldan’s scorecard wasn’t the only mess the NYSAC might have to sweep under the rug. In the first of the three PBC on SHOWTIME televised bouts, referee Shada Murdagh waved off further action 50 seconds into the sixth round of the scheduled 10-rounder between super lightweights Gary Antuanne Russell (16-0, 16 KOs) and former two-division world champ Rances Barthelemy (29-2-1, 15 KOs) after Russell, a southpaw, registered a knockdown with a ripping right hook. Barthelemy beat the count and did not appear to be unduly damaged, but Murdagh showed he had a quicker trigger finger than Wild Bill Hickock.

“No, no, they shouldn’t have stopped the fight,” Barthelemy complained. “This is not the first time I’ve fallen and gotten up. I felt good. It was a good shot, I’m not denying that, but they shouldn’t have stopped the fight.”

Russell, fighting for the first time without his late father Gary Russell Sr. as his chief second, figured the ending was preordained regardless of whether Murdagh was hasty in making the call that he did.

“If they would have let the fight continue, I’m pretty sure later on down the road, the same outcome would have been it,” he said.

The middle bout paired 513 pounds of fleshy heavyweights, Poland-born, Brooklyn-based Adam Kownacki (20-3, 15 KOs) and Turkish national Ali Eren Demirezen (17-1, 12 KOs). Kownacki, fighting at Barclays Center for the 11th time, started fast, winning the first two rounds, but he faded thereafter in losing a 10-round unanimous decision. It was the third straight loss for Brooklyn favorite Kownacki, who hinted at retirement, if not immediately, then soon.

“I have two kids,” he said. “I’ll have a long talk with my wife to see what I want to do. I’ve had so many fights here, so many great memories. I don’t want to go out like a loser. I would like another fight to leave my fans with a win.”

Back to the main event. Roldan’s dubious arithmetic did not and should not overshadow the excellent work done by Garcia, who claimed to feel comfortable at a career-high 152¾ pounds, but it will take more than one good win at super welter to validate him as a legitimate player in his new division, even if the WBC did list him as its No. 5 contender without his fighting even once at the heavier weight. Former IBF super welterweight champ Tony Harrison was in the house – as were Philly fighters Jaron “Boots” Ennis and Stephen Fulton Jr., supporting their hometown buddy — and he said he’d like to be the next man up for Garcia.

“It’s a logical next fight,” SHOWTIME analyst Al Bernstein said of the idea of a Garcia-Harrison pairing. “What Danny Garcia showed tonight is that technically he’s a proficient fighter, he still is a good fighter. What he would like to show now is that he can beat a proper 154-pounder – and maybe he can. Tony Harrison would be a perfect example of a really good 154-pounder for him to face.”

That is a roundabout way of saying that maybe Benavidez, 30, wasn’t, even though his record and his lineage (he has two other brothers who are quite accomplished pros) suggest otherwise. But Benavidez had his own comeback story to tell in the lead-up to the fight, and it was equal to or even more interesting than Garcia’s. He was shot in his right leg in August 2016 while walking his cat, of all things, and for a time it appeared he might never fight again. He was inactive for three years, gorging his way past 210 pounds and spending his afternoons watching soap operas as a couch potato eating, well, potato chips. He had to pare 70 pounds in order to procure his most recent bout prior to Garcia, in which he had to settle for a 10-round majority draw with Francisco Torres on Nov. 13, 2021.

All three SHOWTIME fights were worthy of viewer attention from a strictly boxing standpoint. It’s unfortunate that a referee and a judge siphoned off some of the spotlight by insinuating themselves, intentionally or not, into the narrative.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the Class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sports writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Round 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, is currently out. The anthology can be ordered through Amazon.com and other book-selling websites and outlets.

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Johnny Famechon was a Hero in Australia Where Willie Pep Had a Bad Night

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Willie Pep was good at boxing. He wasn’t so good at math. Ah, but hold the phone; we are getting ahead of ourselves. This isn’t a story about Willie Pep, but about former world featherweight champion Johnny Famechon who passed away last Thursday, Aug. 4, in Melbourne, Australia, at age 77.

Famechon was five years old when his parents left his birthplace in Paris and settled in Melbourne. He came to the fore in an era when boxing was still a mainstream sport and home-grown champions were national idols. The locals turned out in droves for the parade in Johnny’s honor when he returned to Melbourne after taking the featherweight crown from the Cuban-born Spaniard Jose Legra in a big upset at London’s Prince Albert Hall.

HeraldSun

Famechon’s Welcome Home Parade

Famechon’s first title defense came against Japan’s Fighting Harada. They met in Sydney, Australia, on July 28, 1969.

At age 26, Harada was a battle-tested veteran. He previously held world titles at flyweight and bantamweight and would be remembered as the only man to defeat the great Brazilian boxer Eder Jofre, a feat he accomplished not once, but twice.

Only two boxers in history – Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong – had won world titles in three of the eight classic weight divisions. Harada, who entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995, was bidding to become the third.

Team Harada insisted on a neutral referee. The British promoters chose Willie Pep. A legend in the sport, Pep had previously shared a ring with another Famechon, having out-pointed Johnny’s uncle Ray Famechon in a featherweight title defense at Madison Square Garden in 1950.

Some thought that Pep would favor Fighting Harada. American referees put a higher premium on aggression than did their foreign counterparts and Harada was a little buzzsaw who rarely took a backward step. But others thought that Pep’s selection favored Famechon, an elusive counterpuncher with whom the Connecticut “Will-‘o-Wisp” could identify; their styles were similar.

Pep had been the third man in the ring for four previous title fights, three in Jamaica and one in Brazil. But this fight would be different. He would be the sole arbiter. If the fight went the full 15 rounds, Willie Pep would be the judge and jury.

During the bout, Famechon scored one knockdown, sending Harada to the canvas in round five, but Harada scored three, knocking Famechon down in rounds two, 11, and 14. The last of the three knockdowns was the harshest, but Famechon made it to the final bell.

The fight ended in a clinch. Immediately upon separating the fighters, Pep raised both of their hands, a signal that the fight was a draw.

Fighting Harada’s handlers were outraged and demanded to see the scorecard. A policeman at ringside was empowered to give it a look-over (Australia had no boxing commission). What the policeman found was that there was indeed a discrepancy. However, it was the opposite of what Team Harada anticipated!

The fight was scored on the antiquated system whereby the winner of a round was awarded five points and the loser four points or less. In the case of an even round, both fighters got five points.

After 13 rounds, Fighting Harada had amassed 59 points on Pep’s card. He won the 14th round, giving him an aggregate total of 64 points. But when Pep added up the numbers “59” and “5” in the column where he kept the aggregate total, he came up with “65.”

Oops.

When Pep signaled that the fight was a draw, people stormed the ring from all sides. Newspaper reports said the belligerents were about evenly divided. Famechon, the Aussie, was the crowd favorite, but Fighting Harada was well-backed in the betting markets, a very big industry in Australia. Many were even angrier when Famechon was summoned back to the ring to have his hand raised.

The Famechon-Harada fight aired live on Japanese television. In Japan, there was a great outpouring of outrage. Pep had been instructed to score a round 5-4 if the round was narrow and 5-3 if there was a clear-cut winner. Despite the knockdowns, Pep scored every round 5-4 or 5-5. In the revised tally, he had Famechon winning 6-5-4 in rounds.

“Harada loses to referee” was the headline in Japan’s leading sports daily. Willie Pep made no friends in Australia either. There were shouts of “Yankee go home” as he left the ring.

Famechon and Harada met again five months later in Tokyo. One would assume that Fighting Harada proved superior and got a fair shake, winning the third title denied him in Sydney. But don’t assume.

Harada was well ahead after ten rounds but faded. On the deck in round 10, Famachon returned the favor three rounds later, knocking Harada down hard with a perfectly placed left hook. Harada was in dire straights when he came out for round 14 and Famechon put him away.

Harada never fought again and Famechon left the sport six months later after losing his crown to Vicente Saldivar. Johnny was only 25 years old, but had crammed 67 fights into a nine-year pro career and said enough is enough.

Famechon’s post-boxing life took a tragic turn in 1991 when he was hit by a car while out jogging on a Sydney highway. He spent several weeks in a coma and several years in a wheelchair but eventually recovered most of his motor skills and regained his speech to the point where he could serve as a boxing color commentator on television. In 2018, a larger-than- life statue of Famechon was unveiled at a public park in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston where he was a longtime resident.

For the record, Johnny Famechon finished his career with a record of 56-5-6 with 20 KOs. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his loved ones.

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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Fast Results from Fort Worth Where Vergil Ortiz Jr Won His 19th Straight by KO

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In a match pushed back from March 19, Vergil Ortiz Jr moved one step closer to a mega-fight with Terence “Bud” Crawford or Errol Spence Jr or Boots Ennis with a ninth-round stoppage of England’s feather-fisted Michael McKinson. The end came 20 seconds into round nine when McKinson appeared to injure his knee as he fell to the canvas, an apparent residue of the body punch that put him on the deck late in the previous stanza. To that point, Ortiz had seemingly won every round.

It was the 19th win inside the distance in as many opportunities for Ortiz who resides in nearby Grand Prairie and was making his first start with new trainer Manny Robles. McKinson was undefeated heading in, but had scored only two knockouts while building his record to 22-0.

Ortiz, ranked #1 at welterweight by the WBA and the WBO, pulled out of the March 19 bout after being diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a muscle disorder associated with over-training.

Ortiz’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, says that Ortiz will fight the winner of Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford next assuming that the fight gets made, and if doesn’t get made, Ortiz’s next fight will be with one or the other. The WBA, which stamped tonight’s fight an eliminator, may push to have Ortiz fight their secondary title-holder, Eimantas Stanionis.

Co-Feature

Houston’s Marlen Esparza (13-1, 1 KO) successfully defended her WBA/WBC world flyweight title with a unanimous decision over plucky 4’11 ½” Venezuelan southpaw Eva Guzman who had won 14 straight coming in, albeit against soft opposition. The judges had it 98-92 and 99-91 twice.

Guzman (19-2-1) was game, but just didn’t have the physical tools to overcome Esparza whose lone defeat came at the hands of talented Seneisa Estrada.

Other Fights of Note

In a 10-round match contested at the catchweight of 150 pounds, Blair “The Flair” Cobbs rebounded from his first defeat with a career-best performance, a wide decision over former WBO 140-pound world titlist Maurice Hooker. It was the second straight loss for Hooker who returned to the ring after a 17-month hiatus and came out flat. Cobbs put him on the canvas in the opening frame with a combination and decked him twice more with straight lefts in round two.

Things got somewhat dicey for Cobbs in round five when he suffered a bad gash on his forehead from an accidental head butt, but Hooker, who had stablemate Bud Crawford in his corner, hesitated to let his hands go and couldn’t reverse the tide. The judges had it 96-91 and 97-90 twice for the flamboyant Cobbs who improved to 16-1-1 (10). Hooker, a consensus 5/2 favorite, lost for the third time in his last five starts and slumped to 27-3-3.

In the opener to the main portion of the DAZN card, Uzbekistan’s Bektimir Melikuziev (10-1, 8 KOs), a super middleweight growing into a light heavyweight, dominated and stopped overmatched Sladan Janjanin. Melikuziev put Janjanin down with a body punch in the opening minute of the fight and scored two more knockdowns before the bout was halted at the 2:18 mark of round three.

This was Melikuziev’s third fight back after his shocking one-punch annihilation by Gabriel Rosado. Janjanin, a well-traveled Bosnian who fought three weeks ago in Massachusetts, declined to 32-12 and was stopped for the eighth time.

Also

Chicago welterweight Alex Martin (18-4, 6 KOs) overcame a first-round knockdown to win a unanimous decision over 38-year-old Philadelphia journeyman Henry Lundy. The judges had it an unexpectedly wide 98-91, 97-92, 97-92.

Martin was coming off a points loss to McKinson and this bout was his reward for taking that fight on short notice. Lundy (31-11-1) has lost five of his last seven.

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a lightweight who appears to have a big upside, advanced to 11-0 (9 KOs) at the expense of Mexican trial horse Rodrigo Guerrero whose corner wisely pulled him out after five one-sided rounds. It was the ninth straight loss for Guerrero (26-15).

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Conlan Wins His Belfast Homecoming; Breezes Past Lackadaisical Marriaga

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“The Return of the Mick” was the label attached to tonight’s show at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The reference was to local fan favorite Michael “Mick” Conlan who returned to his hometown in hopes of jump-starting his career after suffering his first pro loss in a brutal encounter with Leigh Wood.

In that bout, a strong “Fight of the Year contender, Conlan was narrowly ahead on all three cards heading into the 12th and final round when the roof fell in. Wood, who was making the first defense of his WBA world featherweight title on his home turf in Nottingham, knocked the favored Conlan unconscious and clear out of the ring.

This was the sort of fight that can shorten a man’s career. Hence the intrigue in Conlan’s homecoming fight tonight against Miguel Marriaga. On paper, the Colombian, a three-time world title challenger, was a stern test considering the circumstances.

To the contrary, Marriaga had no fire in his belly until the final round when he hit Conlan with a shot that buckled his knees. But, by then Conlan was so far ahead without overly exerting himself that there was virtually no chance of another meltdown.

While Conlan won lopsidedly, the scores – 99-89 and 99-88 twice – were somewhat misleading. True, “Mick” had Marriaga on the deck in rounds 7, 8, and 9, but the punches that put him there did not look particularly hard.

Conlan, 30, improved to 17-1 (8). Marriaga, 35, declined to 30-6.

After the fight, Conlan expressed the hope that Leigh Wood would give him a rematch.

Other Bouts of Note

In an entertaining 10-round welterweight scrap that could have gone either way, Belfast’s Tyrone McKenna (23-3-1, 6 KOs) rebounded from his defeat in Dubai to Regis Prograis (TKO by 6) with a hard-fought unanimous decision over 33-year-old Welshman Chris Jenkins (23-6-3). The judges favored the local fighter by scores of 97-94 and 96-95 twice.

Jenkins, a former British and Commonwealth title-holder, had the best of the early going, working the body effectively while frequently finding a home for his uppercut, but he could not sustain his advantage.

Thirty-four-year-old Belfast super middleweight Padraig McCrory who got a late start in boxing, scored the most important win of his career with a fifth-round stoppage of Marco Antonio Periban, a former world title challenger. McCrory had Periban on the deck three times – once in the second and twice in the fifth – before the bout was halted at the 2:14 mark of round five.

It was the fourth straight win inside the distance for McCrory who improved to 14-0 (8 KOs). Mexico’s Periban, who returned to the sport in April after missing all of 2020 and 2021, fell to 26-6-1.

Highly-touted welterweight Paddy Donovan improved to 9-0 (6) with an 8-round unanimous decision over Yorkshireman Tom Hall (10-3). The referee scored every round for Donovan, an Irish Traveler trained by Tyson Fury’s bosom buddy Andy Lee, the former world middleweight title-holder.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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