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Elite Trainer Jesse Reid Has Schooled Some of Boxing’s Most Mercurial Champions

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Elite Trainer Jesse Reid Has Schooled Some of Boxing’s Most Mercurial Champions

In olden days, the boxing coach of an athletic club was invariably called a professor. To take but one example, the man that taught James J. Corbett the rudiments of boxing at San Francisco’s Olympic Athletic Club, Walter Watson, was almost always referenced as Professor Walter Watson.

At Tru Nevins’ DLX boxing gym in Las Vegas, there are two professors in residence. Drop in any afternoon and you will most likely find Kenny Adams and Jesse Reid on the premises, each there to pass on his knowledge to the young men (and young women) that walk in the door, many of whom are too young to drive. Adams and Reid are both now in their early eighties and each can boast of having trained more than two dozen world title-holders.

Jesse Reid, the subject of this story, was born in 1942 in East Los Angeles when that densely populated census tract wasn’t yet thoroughly Hispanic. Sicilian on his mother’s side, Reid played football in high school and at Cal State LA (then called Los Angeles State) before joining the Navy where he first laced on a pair of boxing gloves. In 1968, he was an alternate on the U.S. Olympic boxing team representing the Alameda (CA) Naval Base. In those days, the bulk of America’s top amateur boxers were members of the Armed Forces.

Reid had a brief pro career, finishing 5-1-2. His final bout with fellow unbeaten Rudy Robles was the headline attraction of a 1971 show at the Olympic Auditorium. Robles, a future world title challenger who lasted 15 rounds with Rodrigo Valdez, won a lopsided decision.

Reid’s manager Jackie McCoy who hung his hat at LA’s Hoover Street Gym could see that Reid had a dim future as a pro boxer but saw something in Reid that suggested to him that Reid would make a fine trainer. McCoy had recently acquired the contract of Guadalajara lightweight Rodolfo Gonzalez and Reid started working with him.

On Nov. 10, 1972, Gonzalez challenged WBC 135-pound champion Chango Carmona at the LA Sports Arena. Carmona had won the belt from another Jackie McCoy fighter, Mando Ramos, and would enter the ring a 3/1 favorite. In a major surprise, Gonzalez not only de-throned Carmona but in a dominant fashion, winning virtually every round until Carmona was pulled out after the 12th frame.

Jesse Reid had his first champion.

Reid’s work caught the attention of Billy Baxter, a high-stakes gambler who had become smitten with boxing after acquiring the contract of Las Vegas super welterweight Rocky Mosley Jr, a parcel he purportedly won in a poker game. Baxter subsequently purchased the contract of Bruce Curry from Fort Worth, Texas promoter Dave Gorman.

With Reid in his corner, Curry, the half-brother of the brilliant Donald Curry, won the WBC world super lightweight title in 1983 and made two successful defenses before losing the belt to Billy Costello. But what seemed like a healthy relationship turned toxic in a hurry.

Curry was showing signs of paranoia before his match with Costello and the defeat preyed on his mind. On the afternoon of Feb. 3, 1984, five days after losing his title to Costello, Curry confronted Reid at the old Golden Gloves gym in downtown Las Vegas and started punching him. Reid retaliated and opened an old cut between Curry’s eyes. The boxer then ran to his car and returned with a handgun, firing a bullet through the front door of the gym. Reid had the presence of mind to have locked it and was out of harm’s way.

At Reid’s recommendation, Curry was released without bail with the proviso that he return to Fort Worth and seek psychological help. “Bruce went through a lot growing up,” says Reid, looking back. “I didn’t want him to go to prison, because I knew that someone would kill him in there.”

Reid was then involved with Roger Mayweather who had signed with Baxter coming out of the amateur ranks. A multi-belt champion, Mayweather won his first world title in his fifteenth pro bout, unseating Puerto Rican veteran Samuel Serrano in San Juan. Roger would go on to train his famous nephew, applying some of the principles that Jesse Reid had taught him.

The next future champions that Reid helped develop – middleweight Frank Tate, featherweight Calvin Grove, and the Canizales brothers, Gaby and Orlando – represented the fertile but short-lived Houston Boxing Association, an entity founded by Josephine Abercrombie, the heiress to a Texas oil fortune.

“Josephine was a wonderful lady,” says Reid, who notes that she sponsored the 1984 U.S. Olympic team that prepared for the LA Games at her 5,000-acre Texas cattle ranch. (Abercrombie, a noted philanthropist, died earlier this year at age 95.)

The under-appreciated Frank Tate won the vacant IBF middleweight title at Caesars Palace in 1987 with a one-sided decision over Michael Olajide. It was a battle between former Olympic gold medalists, both undefeated, and was a particularly gratifying night for Reid as he had worked with Tate from the very onset of Tate’s pro career, not to mention the fact that his guy was a 2/1 underdog. “Winning a world title is always sweeter when your guy upsets the odds,” says Reid.

The younger Canizales brother, Orlando, and Jesse Reid had one of the most successful runs of any boxer-trainer tandem in boxing history. Canizales, who entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009, holds the bantamweight record for successful title defenses with 15.

“We never had a formal contract,” says Reid. “Orlando was a great guy to work with. A guy with a very high ring IQ and very loyal.”

Reid wasn’t with Lamon Brewster when Brewster won the WBO version of the world heavyweight title with a fifth-round stoppage of Wladimir Klitschko. But Brewster’s performance was lacking in his first title defense – he was lucky to escape with a split decision over unheralded Kali Meehan – and that led him to reach out to Reid who had worked with him in his amateur days.

Brewster brought to Reid what is every boxing trainer’s dream, the opportunity to work with a world heavyweight champion. He made two successful title defenses with Reid in his corner, the first a 52-second blowout of Andrew Golota in Chicago.

The late Erie, Pennsylvania promoter Mike Acri would figure prominently in Reid’s life. Acri was best known as a re-furbisher; as someone adept at taking a high-profile fighter whose best years were behind him and orchestrating a late-career surge.

Hector Camacho had fallen out of favor after one-sided defeats to Julio Cesar Chavez and Felix Trinidad. Acri picked up his contract for peanuts and navigated him into good paying matches with 45-year-old Roberto Duran and 40-year-old Sugar Ray Leonard, preludes to a more lucrative match with Oscar De La Hoya.

The De La Hoya fight didn’t go well (the Macho Man fought a survivor’s fight and lost every round) but with Reid on board, Camacho toppled Duran and Leonard, sending Sugar Ray off into a final retirement with a fifth-round stoppage.

Camacho had the reputation of someone who was difficult to handle. That went double for Johnny Tapia who had Reid and the great Eddie Futch in his corner for what was arguably his biggest fight, a match in Las Vegas with Albuquerque rival Danny Romero with two world title belts at stake. Romero, considered the bigger puncher, went to post the favorite. Tapia outclassed him.

Dealing with Tapia meant dealing with Theresa Tapia, Johnny’s over-protective wife and manager. “One time I showed up at the gym wearing a Roberto Duran tee shirt,” recalls Reid, laughing at the memory. “Theresa didn’t appreciate that and made me buy 25 of her Johnny Tapia tee shirts.”

Mike Acri, the re-furbisher, proved that he could also “move” a good prospect when he took Paul Spadafora under his wing. Spadafora, who was from McKees Rocks, a rough-and-tumble former iron works town on the Ohio River near Pittsburgh, went from being the house fighter at the Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino in West Virginia to the IBF world lightweight champion.

Spadafora was two fights into his title reign when Acri hired Jesse Reid to assist Paul’s longtime trainer Tom Yankello. Five more successful title defenses would follow preceding a 12-round draw with rugged Romanian-Canadian battler Leonard Dorin, the first blemish on Spadafora’s record.

Spadafora, dubbed the “Pittsburgh Kid,” had his demons. Before turning pro, he was shot in the leg by a policeman while riding in a car that was the subject of a police chase. In his most infamous incident, he shot his girlfriend Nadine Russo in the chest at a McKees Rocks gas station. After that alcohol-infused incident, which he doesn’t remember, he was out of the ring for 27 months while serving time in various correctional institutions.

Spadafora reeled off 10 straight wins after returning to the ring, bumping him into a bout with Venezuela’s Johan Perez, a match sanctioned for the interim WBA 140-pound title. Perez won the decision, becoming the first and last man to defeat Paul Spadafora who had one more fight before leaving the ring with a 49-1-1 (19) record.

Spadafora would be arrested twice more after his final fight. The catalysts were disturbances at the home of his mother and at a Pittsburgh-area tavern.

Before his next-to-last fight, there had been talk of Spadafora moving up in weight to challenge Floyd Mayweather. They had shared the ring once previously, a 6-round sparring session at Richard Steele’s North Las Vegas gym.

Jesse Reid remembers how that came about. “Floyd’s father, Floyd Mayweather Sr, came up to me and said, ‘Why don’t you let that paisan of yours spar somebody good for a change?’ Paul felt disrespected and asked me to make it happen.”

Ask Jesse Reid and he will tell you that Spadafora had all the best of it. “I told him to get in Floyd’s grill and concentrate on the body and he brought out the puppy dog in Mayweather.”

Floyd and his dad, needless to say, likely remember things differently. Regardless, talk of a possible fight between Spadafora and Mayweather ceased when Spadafora was upset by Johan Perez.

Jesse Reid has stayed loyal to Spadafora, as has Nadine (a story for another day). Nowadays, you can find Paul and Nadine and their 17-year-old son Geno Spadafora, an amateur boxer, most afternoons at DLX. The erstwhile Pittsburgh Kid, now 46 years old,  isn’t merely an observer. He works out ferociously, setting an example for Geno and the other young boxers going through their paces.

“He’s doing great,” says Jesse Reid, the professor of pugilism who may not be done manufacturing champions.

Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” has rolled off the press. Published by McFarland, the book can be ordered directly from the publisher (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/clash-of-the-little-giants) or via Amazon.

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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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