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S.L. Price Talks About the Disappearing American Heavyweight and More

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S.L. Price Talks About the Disappearing American Heavyweight and More

Multi award-winning journalist and author S.L. Price likes to call himself a “parachute guy,” meaning he goes from venue to venue covering Grand Slam tennis events, the Olympics, the World Cup or the NBA Finals and then leaves for the next assignment.

Price graduated from the University of North Carolina and covered Michael Jordan’s sophomore season with the Tar Heels. A Sports Illustrated senior writer from 1994 to 2019, he earned his spurs as a columnist and feature writer at the Miami Herald and a columnist and NBA beat writer for the Sacramento Bee. The latest of his four books, titled “Playing Through The Whistle: Steel, Football And An American Town,” looks at the high school football team in the economically depressed western Pennsylvania town of Aliquippa which has produced the likes of Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Darrelle Rivas and Ty Law, to name a few.

“I’ve covered a lot of big sporting events but there is nothing like a heavyweight championship fight,” said Price in a conversation that veered into the disappearance of the American heavyweight.

Consider that four of the current top 10 ranked heavyweights are from the United Kingdom.
They are No. 1 Tyson Fury, No. 3 Anthony Joshua, No. 5 Joe Joyce and No. 7 Dillian Whyte.
Only two are native-born Americans: No. 4 Deontay Wilder and No. 6 Andy Ruiz Jr.

The others are No. 2 Usyk, No. 8 Joseph Parker who is from New Zealand, No. 9 Luis Ortiz, a Cuban who has taken up residence in the U.S., and No. 10 Filip Hrgovic who hails from Croatia.

That a top-tier athlete would pick basketball, football and baseball over boxing isn’t surprising and can be explained in part by the immediate and future amount of money that’s available.

A top-five pick in the NBA is going to get a boatload of guaranteed cash in his initial contract. The NFL isn’t guaranteed money, but it’s going to be substantial, especially after his rookie contract.

Price explained why boxing, once wildly popular in the United States, can now be categorized as a fringe sport. (Let’s not say boxing doesn’t have a loyal following, because it certainly does, but the overall numbers aren’t as high as football, basketball or baseball.)

“If you look at when boxing was at its absolute prime, starting in the early 20th century until 1984, or a little after, it was central in the culture, just like baseball and horse racing,” explained Price. “We were a celebratory immigrant culture, and this is one of the few ways that immigrants came up and were able to climb on the ladder of the American Dream. I’m going to be a boxer so my son can become a doctor, so my grandson can become an artist. It was part of the ladder.”

“And I don’t think it’s any mistake that boxing is not the only one that faded. Horse racing has also become marginal, and baseball is no longer the national pastime, no matter how much they want to sell it that way. No matter how many cornfields they go into. It just isn’t. The NFL is.”

Price added: “Things do go in cycles but the fact is that this is a massive cycle that isn’t changing any time soon and the biggest reason is the rise of television,” he postulated. “The problem is the sport, as it became covered more and more, the damages of the sport became more and more apparent. The damage that it does to the human brain, which you could sense early on even before the sciences stepped up and really explained it,” he said. “It brought home the base savagery of what the sport is: that you are beating up another man in public. There is something appealing [about boxing] to the human male heart but also the heart in general [but] there is also something repelling about it and television magnified it.”

“[Boxing] is still a lower-class entryway,” noted Price, who has had his work added nine times to the Best American Sports Writing series, “but we are far more protective now…Middle-class mothers and fathers are never going to send their sons to boxing. It’s CTE on steroids [and today] there are many elements working against lower-class desperation or lack of choice.”

The turbulent 1960s saw the rise of the outspoken athlete. Muhammad Ali kicked it off and Jim Brown and Bill Russell followed suit as did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

What they were selling appealed to left-wing intellectuals, said Price.

“I’m going to speak about its social importance when it comes to something like Joe Louis and the progress of African-Americans in our country and then Muhammad Ali becomes a progressive icon because of his opposition to the Vietnam War,” he pointed out. “He was an important figure outside the ring. That made boxing palatable and fashionable for a time…Once they couldn’t dress it up as a political, social event to wholly embrace, it became a niche sport.”

Serious writers like Ernest Hemingway, Gay Talese, Pete Hamill, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer and Budd Schulberg have all been drawn to the sweet science.

“It’s incredibly appealing to a writer. It’s like a foot race. It’s all there for you. It’s incredibly appealing and the boxers are incredibly articulate,” Price said. “There is no pretense.”

Boxing is also so elemental. “Every combat sport is derived from boxing, says Price. “Tennis is boxing at a distance. You’re probing for weakness and you’re trying to score points and you’re trying to knock the guy out. It just happens with a racket and balls and not your fists. There is always something appealing about performance and exercise for power for an individual.”

There’s no denying that the American heavyweight, once the king of the mountain is, at least for now, a fading breed, something truly unthinkable just a few decades ago. Still, during the ring walk of a heavyweight fight, it’s a prelude to what’s in store and when it’s good, it’s truly outstanding.

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Alexis Rocha KOs Brave but Overmatched George Ashie on DAZN.

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Golden Boy Promotions’ potted their first offering of 2023 at the recently opened YouTube Theater, a 6,000-seat venue situated inside the stadium built to house LA’s two NFL franchises. The main event was a scheduled 12-round welterweight match between Alexis Rocha, a southpaw from nearby Santa Ana and George Ashie, a 38-year-old Ghanaian making his U.S. debut. Ashie was a late substitute for Anthony Young who reportedly suffered a nose injury in training. The match and supporting bouts were live-streamed on DAZN.

Ashie, who was fighting above his normal weight class and carried a career-high 146 pounds, was brave but out-gunned. Rocha knocked him down in the third frame with a right hook and hurt him several more times as the fight progressed although Ashie never stopped trying. In round six, an accidental clash of heads left Rocha with a nasty cut on his left eyebrow. He fought with more urgency after this incident and knocked Ashie out cold in the next round. The official time was 2:08 of round seven.

It was the fifth straight win for Rocha who improved his ledger to 22-1 (14 KOs). After the bout, he expressed an interest in fighting Terence Crawford. Ashie fell to 33-6-1 (25).

Other Bouts of Note

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a precocious 20-year-old lightweight, had Albert Mercado on the canvas in the second round but was unable to put him away despite hurting him multiple times and went 10 rounds for the first time in his young career.

Schofield, the 2022 TSS Prospect of the Year, improved to 13-0 (11), winning 100-89 on all three cards. Mercado, a 35-year-old Connecticut-born Puerto Rican, declined to 17-5-1 but retained his distinction of having never stopped.

Super middleweight Bektemir Melikuziev, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist for Uzbekistan who lives and trains in Indio, California, overpowered San Diego’s Ulises Sierra who was on the deck twice from body punches before the fight was waived off at the 2:59 mark of round three. It was the fourth straight victory for Melikuziev (11-1, 9 KOs) after suffering a stunning one-punch knockout at the hands of seemingly shopworn Gabriel Rosado with whom he is pursuing a rematch. Sierra was 17-2-2 heading in with eight of his wins coming in Mexico.

In a match framed as a WBO minimumweight title eliminator, Oscar Collazo (6-0, 4 KOs) scored an impressive fifth-round stoppage of Yudel Reyes. Collazo knocked Reyes down twice in the fifth round, the second with a vicious right hand that put Reyes down so hard that the referee didn’t bother to count. The official time was 2:59 of round five.

In theory, Collazo’s next fight will come against the Filipino Melvin Jerusalem who won the title earlier this month with a second-round stoppage of Masataka Taniguchi in Osaka. Reyes, a 26-year-old Mexican making his U.S. debut, declined to 15-2.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Artur Beterbiev TKOs Anthony Yarde in a London Firefight

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The presumption, echoed by ESPN boxing commentator Bernardo Osuna, was that tonight’s bout at Wembley Arena in London between Artur Beterbiev and Anthony Yarde would be explosive and entertaining for as long as it lasted. That proved to be true and when the smoke cleared, Beterbiev, the rugged Montreal-based Russian had retained his three light heavyweight title belts and had added another knockout to his ledger, his nineteenth as a pro in as many opportunities.

Both men landed hard shots during the fight and both were marked up at the finish. Yarde had a cut under his right eye and Beterbiev had a cut on his left eyelid.

A chopping right hand from Beterbiev late in the first minute of the eighth round marked the beginning of the end for Yarde, the muscular 31-year-old Londoner who entered the contest sporting a record of 23-2 with 22 knockouts. The punch sent him reeling backward toward his corner where he landed on his knees. He beat the count, but turned toward his corner rather than referee Steve Gray.

Gray let the bout continue, but Beterbiev pressed his advantage and after a few more unanswered punches Yarde’s trainer Tunde Ajayi stepped up on the ring apron and summoned Gray to stop it. The official time was 2:01 of round eight.

Beterbiev hasn’t lost since losing a decision to amateur nemesis Oleksandr Usyk in the quarter finals of the 2012 London Olympics. At age 38, he shows no signs of slowing down.

In his post-fight interview, the self-effacing Russian said, “I hope some day I will be a good boxer,” and acknowledged that he would welcome a unification fight with fellow Russian Dmitry Bivol, the WBA title-holder.

WBA Title Fight

In a bout that was in theory the co-feature but went off during the earlier portion of the ESPN+ livestream, Artem Dalakian (21-0, 15 KOs) retained his WBA world flyweight title with a unanimous and somewhat controversial 12-round unanimous decision over Costa Rica’s David Jimenez (12-1). The judges had it 116-112 and 115-113 twice.

An Azerbaijan-born Ukrainian, Dalakian was making the sixth defense of the title he won in 2018 with a 12-round decision over Brian Viloria in Los Angeles in his lone previous appearance at a venue in the English-speaking world. His five title defenses were in Kiev. Jimenez was coming off a 12-round majority decision over Ricardo Sandoval in what ranked as one of the bigger upsets of 2021.

A Split for the Itauma Brothers

Promoter Frank Warren’s newest signee, 18-year-old heavyweight Moses Itauma, made a big splash in his pro debut, blasting out Czechoslovakia’s Marcel Bode (2-2) in 23 seconds. Moses and his older brother Karol Itauma are sons of a British citizen of Nigerian ancestry and a Slovakian mother.

In a shocking upset, Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna, a 36-year-old Argentine who had lost six of his previous eight fights, forged a fifth-round stoppage of well-touted Karol Itauma who was 9-0 (7 KOs) as a pro coming in. Itauma ate numerous straight right hands before a straight right hand knocked him down for the count. The official time was 1:04 of round five. Maderna improved to 29-10 (11).

Also

The Frankham cousins, super welterweight Joshua and super featherweight Charles, improved their ledgers to 7-0 with 6-round shutouts over their respective opponents. The cousins are grandsons of John “Gypsy Johnny” Frankham, a former British light heavyweight champion.

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Jake Paul vs Tommy Fury on Feb. 26 in a Potential Pay-Per-View Blockbuster

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It’s now official. The twice-postponed “grudge match” between Jake Paul and Tommy Fury will come to fruition on Sunday, Feb. 26, at Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. An 8-rounder contested at a catch-weight of 185 pounds, the match and several supporting bouts will air in the U.S. on ESPN+ PPV at a cost of $49.99.

The hook for this promotion – a come-hither that will be hammered home incessantly in the coming weeks – is that Jake Paul will finally touch gloves with a legitimate professional boxer. Paul’s previous opponents were a fellow YouTube influencer (AnEsonGib), a retired NBA player (Nate Robinson), and three former MMA champions: Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley, and Anderson Silva. He fought Woodley twice.

Tommy Fury, the half-brother of reigning WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, made his pro debut in December of 2018 in a four-round bout in his hometown of Manchester. He was two fights into his pro career when he became a contestant on the TV reality show “Love Island.” An enormously popular show in Great Britain, especially among the coveted 18-34 demographic, “Love Island” was in its fifth season.

Fury was paired with supermodel Molly-Mae Hague with whom he finished second. They developed a great chemistry, on and off the set, became engaged, and purportedly welcomed a baby girl this week.

What about Tommy Fury the boxer? How legitimate is he?

Fury’s record currently stands at 8-0 (4 KOs). His first opponent was a professional loser from Latvia whose current ledger reads 10-113-3. His next six opponents were a combined 4-73-2. Finally, in his last fight, which occurred in April of last year, he met an opponent with a good record, Poland’s Daniel Bocianski, who was 10-1. But look closer and one discovers that all but one of Bocianski’s 10 triumphs came against opponents with losing records. The exception was a 6-round decision over a fellow Pole whose record currently stands at 18-16-1 and who has been stopped 13 times.

Fury bloodied Bocianski and won a wide 6-round decision, but his performance was underwhelming. “Fury had the Hollywood teeth, tan, and diamante-colored shorts,” wrote Chasinga Malata of the London Sun, “leaving only his performance without sheen and sparkle.”

There is nothing in Tommy Fury’s background, aside from his biological pedigree, to suggest that he has the tools to become a world-class boxer. If he were a member of the Three Stooges, he would be Shemp.

Jake Paul, by contrast, may actually be legit. Those in the know that have watched him train have come away impressed. It says here that Paul isn’t moving up in class on Feb. 26; it’s the other way around.

In the co-feature, Ilunga Makabu (29-2, 25 KOs) will make the third defense of his WBC world cruiserweight title against Badou Jack (27-3-3, 16 KOs). A Congolese-South African, Makabu is the older brother of heavyweight contender Martin Bakole. Jack, four years older than Makabu at age 39, formerly held world titles at 168 and 175 pounds.

Although Badou Jack was born in Sweden and keeps a home in Las Vegas where he has long been affiliated with the Mayweather Boxing Club, he will have the home field advantage in Saudi Arabia where he has cultivated a loyal following. A devout Muslim, Jack will be making his fourth straight start in the Persian Gulf Region. In his last outing, he outpointed Richard “Popeye” Rivera at Jeddah, winning a 10-round split decision.

Badou Jack

Badou Jack

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