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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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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 280: Matchroom Snatches ‘Boots’ Ennis and More

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 280: Matchroom Snatches ‘Boots’ Ennis and More

It was bound to happen in professional boxing.

A British promotion company lured one of America’s top, if not the top, welterweight prizefighter in the world in Jaron “Boots” Ennis it was announced this week by Matchroom Boxing. It’s a multi-fight deal.

Ennis (31-0, 28 KOs) holds the IBF welterweight title after knocking out Venezuela’s Roiman Villa last July in Atlantic City. The Philadelphia-based fighter has long been considered one of the most talented and complete boxers in the world. And now he’s signed with Matchroom Boxing based in London.

“I’m excited for this partnership with Eddie Hearn, Matchroom and DAZN,” said Ennis. “I can’t wait to continue making my mark and becoming undisputed world champion.

It was just a matter of time before British promoters latched on to America’s best talent. Instead of pitting British fighters against American fighters, why not sign American fighters too.

Most fans in America fail to realize that boxing in the United Kingdom is a bigger more popular sport in that nation. Boxing ranks high in England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. It also ranks high in British Commonwealth countries like Australia.

Now Matchroom Boxing which streams boxing cards through DAZN will have another American star on its platform. The company previously had boxing’s biggest star, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, until his contract ran out. Signing Ennis could be the answer in finding the next big thing in boxing.

“I’ve watched this young man for many years, and I always believed he would become a pound-for-pound great, and I have no doubt he is already the greatest fighter in the division,” said promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing. “To win the race to sign Jaron is a massive coup for Matchroom Boxing and DAZN.”

Matchroom already has Conor Benn and the addition of Ennis gives the British promotion company two of the best welterweights in the division.

The signing of an American star like Ennis in some ways represents the international competition for sports talent whether its soccer, boxing or baseball as what we saw in the signing of Japan’s two biggest baseball stars by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Streaming has replaced television and the ability to watch fights live from any spot in the world has changed how we watch boxing and other sports.

A massive struggle by streaming giants has commenced and DAZN along with ESPN and Prime Video have joined the battle.

Manchester Card on Saturday

Two female world title fights lead the charge this weekend for Matchroom Boxing along with a men’s super featherweight clash between two former EBU titlists Jordan Gill and Zelfa Barrett.

IBF super bantamweight titlist Ellie Scotney (8-0) meets France’s Segolene Lefebvre (18-0) the WBO super bantamweight titlist in a unification match on Saturday April 13, at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

Also, Rhiannon Dixon (9-0) meets Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-1) for the vacant WBO lightweight title.

R.I.P.

Promoter Gary Shaw passed away this week according to several sources including WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman.

I first met Shaw when he was COO of Main Events in the late 1990s after Dan Duva passed away. At the time Ferocious Fernando Vargas was a rising star and the promotion company was a major player in the boxing scene. They also had Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, and Arturo Gatti on their roster.

Later, he moved on to form his own company and with fighters such as Rafael Marquez, Diego Corrales and others he staged many fights on Showtime. If I recall correctly, Shaw was connected with the Diego Corrales vs Jose Luis Castillo battles and the Israel Vazquez vs Rafael Marquez wars.

The fights between those warriors are considered the best for that period in the early 2000s.

Another sports figure, OJ Simpson passed away too.

I mention OJ because I often came across the USC Trojan football running back who lit up the gridiron during the 1960s and 70s.

As a college student I lived a few blocks from Simpson in the Brentwood area and often saw him with his family. Once while in New York City visiting a friend I ran into him again at La Guardia Airport.

Simpson was accused and acquitted of murdering his wife and her friend in 1994.

Fights to Watch

Sat. DAZN 9 a.m. Ellie Scotney (8-0) vs Segolene Lefebvre (18-0)).

Sat. ESPN 7 p.m. Jared Anderson (16-0) vs Ryad Merhy (32-2); Efe Ajagba (19-1) vs Guido Vianello (12-1-1).

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Resurgent Angelo Leo Turns Away Eduardo Baez on a Wednesday Night in Florida

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Resurgent Angelo Leo Turns Away Eduardo Baez on a Wednesday Night in Florida

The latest in the series of bi-monthly Wednesday Night Fights played out tonight at the ProBox TV Events Center (formerly Whitesands) in the Tampa Bay area community of Plant City, Florida.

In the main event, featherweight Angelo Leo improved to 24-1 (11) with a unanimous 10-round decision over stubborn but outclassed Eduardo Baez (23-6-2). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Leo, from Las Vegas by way of Albuquerque, was formerly a key member of Floyd Mayweather Jr’s “Money Team.” He briefly held a version of the world super bantamweight title, a diadem he lost to Stephen Fulton in his first title defense. Baez, a former world title challenger, never stopped trying, but Leo was stronger and sharper while scoring his third straight win at this venue following stoppages of Nicolas Polanco and Mike Plania.

Leo has his sights set on IBF world featherweight title-holder Luis “Venado” Lopez.

Co-Main

In a well-matched, 8-round super featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Jaycob Bradley Gomez (10-0-1) kept his unbeaten record intact with a hard-fought majority decision over scrappy Jose Arellano (11-2). The scores were 76-76 and 77-75 twice.

Gomez, whose father was a former cornerman for Miguel Cotto, was making his sixth appearance at this venue. Arellano, a Mexico-born Coloradoan, fought most of the fight with a deep cut over his right eye. Without that impediment, he just might have sprung the upset.

Other Bouts

In another super featherweight match, also slated for “8,” Puerto Rico-born Dominic Valle, a local product, improved to 9-0 (7 KOs) with a second-round stoppage of Mexico’s Angel Vazquez Lupercio (12-2). Valle hurt Lupercio with a body punch and then backed him into the ropes and unleashed a barrage of punches, leading referee Alica Collins to waive it off. The official time was 2:27 of round two.

A third-generation prizefighter who has a side gig as a model, the 23-year-old Valle is managed by the influential David McWater who also handles Valle’s brother Marques, a junior middleweight who fights here in two weeks.

Yoel Angeloni, a 20-year-old welterweight, stamped himself a fighter to watch with a 74-second blowout of obscure 42-year-old Michael Williams. The son of an Italian father and a Cuban mother, raised in Italy, Angeloni was purportedly 140-2 as an amateur (9-2 per boxrec).

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