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Gridiron Stars Bell and Peterson to Give, Take Some Really Off-Tackle Hits

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NFL running backs Adrian Peterson and Le’Veon Bell face off Saturday night in the co-main event of Social Gloves 2

You see it at virtually every much-anticipated, big-ticket boxing event. The premium seats at or close to ringside are often occupied by standout athletes in other sports, there to witness the action, of course, but also to indulge in the sort of what-if daydreams that can fire the imagination of even the most sedentary of couch potatoes.

Each daydream, individually tailored though it might be, goes something like this: If I took time to train and get myself into decent shape, I bet I could do that. By “that,” the dreamer imagines being inside the ropes, winging loaded-up shots and knocking his (or, increasingly so, her) opponent colder than a gutted mackerel stashed since the preceding month or two in the freezer compartment of their kitchen refrigerator.

Two outstanding NFL running backs of reasonably recent vintage, Adrian Peterson and Le’Veon Bell, get to possibly live their shared dream Saturday night as the co-main event of a highly dubious pay-per-view card to be televised via FITE.tv from Banc of California Stadium, home of MLS’ LA Galaxy. How dubious is most of the 10-bout lineup, collectively titled Social Gloves 2?  Well, Peterson and Bell, who collectively have made millions of dollars from football and have six first-team All-Pro selections between them, are getting secondary billing to a matchup of somebody named Austin McBroom (0-0) against another somebody named Ali Eson Gib, who is 0-1 with his only previous bout a technical-knockout loss to Jake Paul, the YouTube guy who has a gazillion social media followers and now is the undisputed champion of all those pugilistic daydreamers who once got the better of a classmate in a sixth-grade schoolyard fight.

Also on the card is a bout between former Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young, who now prefers to go by his nickname, Swaggy P, and whomever is the last-minute replacement for rapper Blueface, whose birth certificate lists him as the much less intriguing Johnathan Jamall Porter.

Make no mistake, Jake “The Problem Child” Paul now would seem to be an erstwhile combination of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali in comparison to McBroom and Gib, who are said to have substantial presences on such platforms as TikTok. When Paul (5-0, 4 KOs, but with none of his wins coming against an actual professional boxer) swaps punches in the ring with UFC legend Anderson “The Spider” Silva on Oct. 29 in Glendale, Ariz., it will be the most legitimate step yet taken by the incrementally more-proficient fighter and extraordinarily adroit self-promoter. Silva might be 47, but he has some boxing experience (going 3-1) and was a lights-out striker in the Octagon, where he was 34-11, but lost seven of his last nine fights, including one no-decision. If Paul gets past Silva, you can bet he’ll grab a bullhorn and call out, say, Canelo Alvarez. Wait a second … he’s already done that.

Peterson’s glory seasons were with the Vikings, for whom he played through the 2016 season, whereupon he became something of a vagabond ball-carrier for hire, logging cameo stints with the New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, then-Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks. Playing in just four games in 2021 with the Titans and Seahawks, he rushed for a total of just 98 yards, seemingly finishing a career that should earn him first-ballot induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with 14,918 yards, fifth on the all-time list. Bell, 30, had a more abbreviated prime, mostly for the Pittsburgh Steelers with stopovers with the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  He was a capable receiver too,  apparently finishing his nine-year NFL career with 6,554 rushing yards and 3,289 more through the air.

Given their production while wearing helmets and shoulder pads, Peterson and Bell both express confidence that their transition will be successful, if not necessarily seamless.

“At the end of the day, I’m leaving with a `W,’” Peterson said when asked by an interviewer for his expected outcome.

Countered the slightly favored Bell, mostly based on his being seven years younger and presumably having less wear-and-tear on his body, “I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase my skills and show what I’m working hard on,” he said when asked the same question. “I’m obviously confident in myself.” Another potential factor that might prove to Bell’s advantage is the running style he exhibited to great effect with the Steelers, that being an ability to patiently wait for holes to open, then stomping on the accelerator and bursting through them.

“Picking and choosing your shots,” Bell said of the one trait of his on the field he hopes translates well to the ring. “When to turn it up and when not to.  It’s a little different in football. In football, you get a play, you run the play. In boxing there ain’t no play. You get a read on the guy as you go.”

The history of football players who daydream of becoming heavyweight champion of the world – or in whatever weight class they might find themselves – is spotty at best and depressing at worst. Maybe the best of the lot is former San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders wide receiver Charlie Powell, who at one point in the late 1950s rose as high as a No. 2 ranking. At least Powell’s resume, which saw him go 25-11-3 with 17 wins inside the distance and eight losses in similar fashion, was mostly compiled against legitimate competition. He was 5-8-1 in his final 14 appearances, the last of which was a third-round stoppage at the hands of Muhammad Ali, still known then as Cassius Clay, on Jan. 24, 1963.

Many of the football guys following Powell, some of whom were quite accomplished on the field, were able to milk their fame in that sport en route to building artificially inflated records that crumbled like sand castles once they stepped up in class. Cowboys defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones tried his hand at boxing for a year and all six of his bouts were nationally televised by CBS. He was 6-0 against a parade of pretenders especially picked for the likelihood they would fall down quickly if hit, but even though he had shown some ability fighting as a young kid, enough to convince one notable observer, Angelo Dundee, with whom Jones was not associated, that he might have had something going had he stuck with it, the fight game is not something you can walk away from for two decades and pick up just like that.

Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau, former NFL single-season record holder for sacks, went 15-2 with 15 KOs in his five years as a pro, but all his wins came against carefully selected designated victims. He retired after being stopped in two one-sided rounds by another former NFL star, running back Alonzo Highsmith, who was 27-1-2 with 23 KOs. Highsmith rightly took umbrage in being compared to the mostly inept Gastineau, but he never took the kind of step-up bouts that might have stamped him as something more viable than a curiosity item.

More recently, there was Golden Boy-backed former Michigan State linebacker Seth Mitchell, whom some saw as a superstar-in-the-making during a quick ascent into semi-prominence. But Mitchell (26-2-1, 19) lost two of his last three fights, both on stoppages, one against Johnathon Banks and a bit later against Chris Arreola, which convinced him that the best way to enjoy the rest of his life was to walk away and stay away from that squared circle.

Still, Peterson and Bell are clinging to the remote possibility that whatever best part of themselves they didn’t leave between those chalked sidelines might be resurrected if they don’t embarrass themselves Saturday night. And you can hardly blame either for daring to think that way. They were, after all, once great at their former jobs. Peterson remarked that he even kayoed an unidentified sparring partner in preparation for squaring off against Bell.

“It was in the last minute of the fifth round,” he recalled. “He threw a good combination. I was able to block (most of the punches). Then I came back with a left and was able to swing through his guard with the right and it landed.

“It didn’t really feel like I hit him with a lot of power, but I was talking to some of the fighters (in his Houston gym) and they said that’s kind of how it goes.”

Sometimes it does go like that for a fighter, even a football player on a busman’s holiday. Then again, a lot of times it does not.

I’ll be interested in reading about how this particular bout goes. And no, I won’t be springing for the PPV.

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, a so-called influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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