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Down Memory Lane with Renowned LA Sports Columnist Bill Dwyre

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Down Memory Lane with Renowned LA Sports Columnist Bill Dwyre

Whether it’s the NBA Finals, Super Bowl, World Series, college football’s biggest games, college basketball’s Final Four, thoroughbred horse racing or a boxing title fight, there is something special about being in the building or the stadium.

Perhaps it’s that history could be made or that it’s the beginning or ending of a dynasty.

Bill Dwyre has spent his entire adult life in the newspaper business, beginning in 1968 at the Milwaukee Journal when he was a staff writer and then as the sports editor from 1973 until 1981.

Dwyre then transitioned west to the Los Angeles Times starting in April 1981 until 2006 as the sports editor and as a columnist until his retirement in November 2015.

Dwyre, who in 2017 was bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism, confessed that he missed those salad days being press-box present, especially ringside for a major bout.

“As a writer, I liked the color, the passion and the total unpredictability of the sport,” he said of the sweet science. “The scene, especially at big fights in places like Las Vegas, was a writer’s dream. All you had to do was write with your eyes – watch the crowds, listen to the boxers and their handlers, try to figure out who is exaggerating the most. I loved it and I loved writing about it.”

Hanging around the other scribes was equally enjoyable for Dwyre, who still contributes freelance work to the Times and frequently writes for Palm Springs Life Magazine.

“I miss being around the other boxing media, the likes of Dan Rafael and Kevin Iole and Lance Pugmire and Norm Frauenheim and Ed Graney and Mark Whicker, plus [Bob] Arum and [Bill] Caplan and Fred Sternburg and Steve Brener and so many more,” he said.

Somewhere along the way, boxing kicked itself in the rear, according to Dwyre, who graduated from the University of Notre Dame and was given the Red Smith Award by the Associated Press Sports Editors in 1996.

“As in most things in sports, it [boxing] got run over by television, which made the huge pay-per-view fights less frequent. Television, and all its various iterations, is the monster that eats all in its path,” he pointed out. “For example, Top Rank had a nice flow of fighters and pay-per-view schedules and then along came ESPN, which backed up the Brinks truck and now we have so many “huge” fights, as hyped by ESPN and Showtime. TV doesn’t care. It thrives by saturation and indifference. Boxing allowed it. It took the money and ran.”

Boxing isn’t on par with the NBA, the NFL, MLB, college football and college hoops with regard to popularity, but a decent segment does like the sport.

“No, boxing will never be mainstream and doesn’t need to be. There are plenty of fans to support the sport, as long as the sport doesn’t screw it up with over-exposure through television, which it probably will,” Dwyre said.

Part of boxing’s allure is that at any time someone could get seriously hurt or even worse. It’s what separates boxing from the other sports.

“You can’t make boxing safer,” Dwyre said of the manly art. “People are hitting each other in the head. Put helmets on them and the fans go away.”

Having been ringside for hundreds of fights beginning in 1968, Dwyre witnessed some of the biggest and best boxers in their prime. Manny Pacquiao, in Dwyre’s mind, stood atop Mount Everest.

“Pacquiao was a once-in-a-lifetime guy. He carried with him the possibility of so many stories: rags to riches, almost successful politician in a Philippine world where nobody who is honest – and Pacquiao mostly is – will succeed; a man worshipped by a Philippine public starved for real heroes,” he said. “On and on. He won often with more courage than skill, and he was pretty skilled. When he beat [Keith] Thurman, it was 95 percent guts. When he lost to Mayweather he disappointed an entire sports world, not just boxing fans.”

Other fighters who made their mark: “Oscar De La Hoya (great talent, badly flawed personally). Tim Bradley (getting the most out of a career and talent and getting out of the sport at the right time to become a highly successful and articulate broadcaster),” he said. “Chico Corrales (won the best fight in the history of fights, getting up after two knockdowns to knock out Jose Luis Castillo). Mayweather (you started disliking him because he is so cocky and you watched, over the years, even after he retired and kept making millions fighting these silly fights with wrestlers, that he knew what he was doing all along). Even Butterbean (what a hoot.).”

While the boxers are the main story, Dwyre also enjoyed the side show.

“My favorite characters are not fighters. They are [Top Rank CEO] Arum and publicists Caplan and Sternburg. Arum is damn near 90 [he turned 91 on December 8] and I still would drive hours to be sure to be there if he were running a press conference. It was always can’t-miss television, and it wasn’t even on television,” he said. “Caplan was the kind of old-time public relations guy, schmoozing and getting stories that way. Sternburg was the best because he was honest, efficient and understood the newspaper and broadcast game better than anyone. Then there was Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer and alter-ego. He triggered a million stories. The most attractive thing about Freddie was, and is, that he cannot tell a lie. He is the George Washington of boxing.”

Over those hundreds of bouts, a pair of clashes are indelibly etched into Dwyre’s mind:

“The aforementioned Chico Corrales knockout of Castillo. Unbelievable finish. Unmatched sports drama, and Pacquiao getting knocked out by [Juan Manuel] Marquez, while easily winning the fight,” he offered. “When he went down, I was sure Pacquiao was dead.”

Dwyre’s been close to the action for nearly five decades, and knows a thing or two about what he likes and lined up his all-time favorite sporting events.

“Big horse races like Zenyatta closing on the field from way behind in a Breeders’ Cup Classic would be No. 1 and Ali-Frazier II in the Garden and Pacquiao-Mayweather in Vegas are tied for No. 2,” he said. “Super Bowls? No. 500. All Super Bowls. Too many people. Too much hype. You can’t breathe.”

Maybe you can’t, but all those memories are fodder for a great book.

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Australia’s Liam Paro Aims to Steal the Show on the Haney-Prograis Card

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These are heady days for the sport of professional boxing in Australia. Cruiserweight Jai Opetaia is the best fighter in his weight class. Tim Tszyu is a major star in the Land Down Under and his younger brother Nikita is lapping at his heels. Then there’s undefeated super lightweight Liam Paro, 27, whose profile will grow immensely if he can get past Cleveland’s Montana Love when they meet on Dec. 9 in San Francisco at the home of the Golden State Warriors. It’s a 12-rounder that will serve as the chief supporting bout to the showdown between Devin Haney and Regis Prograis.

Forget the fact that Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn has seen fit to dress up this fight with some frivolous title; this is a good match-up. An undefeated southpaw, Liam Paro (23-0, 14 KOs) is coming off the best win of his career. Montana Love (18-1-1, 9 KOs) would likely be undefeated too if not for a bizarre disqualification in his most recent bout. He too is a southpaw.

Paro turned heads in is his last outing when he scored a brutal, one-punch, opening-round knockout of countryman Brock Jarvis. Paro was favored, bur Jarvis, a disciple of Jeff Fenech, Australia’ most famous living boxer, was accorded the better chance of ending the bout with one punch.

Paro vs. Jarvis, staged in October of last year in South Brisbane, marked Matchroom’s first foray into Australia. Paro has had two fights fall out in the interim. The British Boxing Board of Control pulled Paro out of a March 11, 2003 match in Liverpool, England with Robbie Davies Jr. when a routine but mandatory scan showed evidence of a facial fracture. Three months later, Paro was forced to withdraw from a title fight with WBA 140-pound belt-holder Regis Prograis because both of his Achilles tendons were inflamed, compromising his mobility.

The facial fracture, insists Paro, was a false positive; the test was defective. As for the Achilles issue, that’s cleared up. “It’s in my rear-view mirror,” he says.

Paro was raised in the city of Mackay which is near the Coral Sea coast of Queensland. His ancestors migrated here from Italy to work in the sugarcane fields. Unlike so many other dads, his father Errol, a welder in the steel industry, has no boxing background and isn’t directly involved in preparing his son for a fight. Errol is with his son in Las Vegas at the moment (Errol’s first visit to Sin City) and will be there with several other family members to cheer on Liam when he resumes his career in San Francisco on Dec. 9.

When healthy, Liam Paro can usually be found training at the Top Rank Gym in Las Vegas. The boxing infrastructure of the Southern Nevada city draws prizefighters from around the world. He has sparred extensively with Jamel Herring and has boxed with the likes of Shakur Stevenson and Devin Haney. Practicing his craft with fighters of that caliber may give him an edge when he touches gloves with Montana Love.

Montana Love

Montana Love came to the fore in August of 2021 when he stepped up in class and upset Russian tough guy Ivan Baranchyk on a Jake Paul promotion in Cleveland. Baranchyk’s handlers stopped the one-sided affair after seven rounds. Five weeks later, Love signed with Matchroom.

Montana Love

Montana Love

What followed was a third-round blast-out of 29-1 Carlos Diaz followed by a hard-earned 12-round decision over Gabriel Gollaz Valenzuela and then a match with Australia’s Steve Spark which marked Love’s debut as a top-of-the-marquee attraction in his hometown.

The fight between Love and Spark was even on two scorecards after five rounds. In the sixth, shortly after a clash of heads left Love with a bad cut over his left eye, Love pushed Spark out of the ring and was immediately disqualified by referee David Fields. It was a controversial call; a “terrible call” in the words of Eddie Hearn. For the record, after flipping over the top strand of rope, Spark landed on his feet and was fit to continue.

A 28-year-old father of three, Love has always had the vibe of a hungry fighter, a residue of the adversity he has had to overcome. His father died when he was three years old and his mother was only 38 when she passed away from colon cancer. In 2015, as his career was just getting started, he was remanded to prison on theft- and drug-related charges and served 16 months.

It’s rather ironic that Love will be facing an Australian opponent on American soil in back-to-back fights. Needless to say, he hopes that the second installment will go better than the first.

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The Murder of Samuel Teah Calls to Mind Other Boxers Who Were Homicide Victims

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There will be a boxing show this Friday at Philadelphia’s 2300 Arena, a low-budget card featuring the return of former IBF 130-pound world title-holder Tevin Farmer. During the event, there will assuredly be a somber moment when those in attendance stand and silently pay homage to Samuel Teah as the timekeeper tolls the traditional 10-bell farewell. Teah passed away last week on Black Friday, Nov. 24, another victim of America’s epidemic of gun violence. He was 36 years old.

Teah was shot in the mid-afternoon during an altercation that spilled onto the sidewalk of a street in Wilmington, Delaware, and died at a Wilmington hospital. As of this writing, there’s been no arrest, but the shooting was apparently not random. A bus driver for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority, Teah was purportedly in Wilmington (roughly 35 miles from his home in Philadelphia) to visit the mother of his child.

Samuel Teah fought as recently as this past May when he suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of journeyman Andrew Rodgers at a show in Pennsylvania’s Newton Township, reducing his record to 19-5-1. Two months earlier he had spoiled the undefeated record of Enriko Gogokhia, an Egis Klimas fighter (think Oleksandr Usyk and Vasily Lomachenko) on a card in Ontario, California. This embellished his reputation as a spoiler. Earlier in his career, he had spoiled the undefeated record of O’Shaquie Foster, winning an 8-round unanimous decision over the man that currently reigns as the WBC world super featherweight champion.

What made Teah’s death more tragic, if that were possible, were all the tragedies that he had overcome. He was born in Liberia when that country was embroiled in a civil war. The family escaped to a refugee camp in Ghana and eventually reached the United States, settling first in New York and then Philadelphia. On the day after Christmas in 2008, when Teah was 21 and working at a Home Depot, he lost six members of his family in a fire that swept his mother’s West Philadelphia duplex after a kerosene heater exploded.

For some, Teah’s violent death may call to mind the murder of another Philadelphia boxer, Tyrone Everett.

That’s an awkward comparison.

Tyrone Everett was a world-class fighter. Six months before he was shot dead by his girlfriend in May of 1977, Everett, then 34-0, lost a 15-round split decision to Puerto Rico’s Alfredo Escalera in a failed bid to win Escalera’s WBC junior lightweight title, a decision so rancid that it stands among the worst decisions of all time. Moreover, the circumstances of Everett’s murder were sordid. His girlfriend, no stranger to the police, fatally shot him after finding him with a transvestite and there was heroin in the apartment they shared. (Editor’s note: For more on this incident, check out the new book by TSS contributor Sean Nam: “Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, Fixed Fights, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing” available on Amazon).

Samuel Teah was no Tyrone Everett. A man of deep faith, Sam’s positive attitude, despite all his tribulations, was infectious. “Everyone liked Teah,” said prominent Philadelphia sports journalist Joe Santoliquito who, upon hearing of Teah’s death, tweeted, “he will always have a special place in my heart.”

While the circumstances are different in every case, Teah joins a long list of boxers who met a violent death. If we limit the list to fighters who were still active at the time of their passing, here are four that jump immediately to mind.

Stanley Ketchel

The fabled Michigan Assassin, Ketchel met his maker on Oct. 15, 1910, at a ranch in Conway, Missouri. In the immortal words of John Lardner, “Stanley Ketchel was twenty-four years old when he was fatally shot in the back by the common-law husband of the lady who was cooking his breakfast.”

Battling Siki

Famed for knocking out Georges Carpentier when the “Orchid Man” held the world light heavyweight title, Siki was only 28 years old when he was gunned down in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan on Dec. 15, 1925, but by then the Senegal-born Frenchman had already degenerated into a trial horse. Siki’s body was found in the middle of the street with two bullets in his back fired at close range by an assailant, never identified, who was thought to be avenging a beating he suffered at one of the speakeasies that Siki was known to frequent.

Oscar Bonavena

At age 33, Oscar Bonavena was still an active boxer when he was gunned down on May 22, 1976, on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada, at the front gate of the infamous Mustang Ranch, a legal brothel. Bonavena had come up short in his biggest fights, losing a 15-round decision to Joe Frazier and losing by TKO in the 15th round to Muhammad Ali, but the rugged Argentine was still a major player in the heavyweight division.

The shooter was a bodyguard for the brothel’s owner Joe Conforte, and rumor has that Conforte was the de facto triggerman, having Bonavena assassinated because the boxer was having an affair with Conforte’s 59-year-old wife Sally who was also Bonavena’s manager of record at this point in the boxer’s career. The story about it spawned “Love Shack,” a 2010 movie that despite a seemingly can’t-miss storyline and a formidable cast (Joe Pesci played Joe and Helen Mirren played Sally) proved to be a box-office dud.

Vernon Forrest

While all homicides are tragic, some are more distressing than others and the death of Vernon Forrest on July 25, 2009, was particularly gut-wrenching. Forrest was shot twice in the back by would-be robbers with whom he exchanged gunfire on July 25, 2009 at a gas station in Atlanta.

Forget the fact that Forrest was a two-division title-holder who had regained the WBC world super welterweight title in his most recent fight with a lopsided decision over Sergio Mora. Few in the sport were as widely admired. His philanthropic work included establishing group homes in Atlanta for the mentally disabled. His death came just two weeks after the death of Arturo Gatti who left the sport following a loss by TKO to Alfonso Gomez in July of 2007 and died under suspicious circumstances at age 37 at a hotel in Brazil.

We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to Samuel Teah’s family and loved ones. May he rest in peace.

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Benavidez Dismantles Andrade: Will Canelo Be Next?

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SHOWTIME aired its final pay-per-view event tonight with a show that aired from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The four-fight PPV card included world title fights in the 140 and 130-pound divisions, plus an interim title fight at 168 and the return of former two-division title-holder Jarmall Charlo. The interim title fight was a battle of unbeatens between David Benavidez and Demetrius “Boo Boo” Andrade and that was the featured attraction.

Benavidez, 26, is big for the weight class and lived up to his new nickname, “El Monstro.” He had too much firepower for the 35-year-old Andrade, a 2008 Beijing Olympian who began his pro career at 154 and had won world titles in two lower weight classes. His big moment came in the waning seconds of round four when he knocked Andrade to his knees with a sweeping right hand. The fight turned brutally one-sided at that point although one of the judges had Benavidez ahead by only one point when the sixth round ended. But there would be no seventh round. Andrade’s corner wisely stopped the fight.

A consensus 7/2 favorite in man-to-man betting, Benavidez (28-0, 24 KOs) began his pro career in Mexico at age 16. In his post-fight interview, he called out Canelo Alvarez while brashly predicting that he would be a legend before he left the sport (and you’ll get no argument from this corner). It was the first pro loss for Andrade (32-1).

Co-Feature

Jermall Charlo returned to the ring after a 29-month absence and scored a lopsided 10-round decision over Jose Benavidez Jr. The judges had it 100-90, 99-91, and 98-92.

This bout was slated for the catch-weight of 163 pounds. Charlo came in overweight (166.4) but the match went ahead. Benavides Jr, a world title challenger during his days as a welterweight, had his moments, but was outclassed by Charlo who advanced his record to 33-0 (22). Benavidez falls to 28-3-1.

Matias-Ergashev

In what shaped up as the most action-packed fight of the night, 31-year-old Puerto Rican Subriel Matias retained his IBF 140-pound title, battering Shohjahon Ergashev into submission in a match that was halted by Ergashev’s corner two seconds into the sixth round. The heavy-handed Ergashev, who was undefeated heading in, dominated the first round-and-a-half, but Matias (20-1, 20 KOs) gradually wore him down.

Matias, who avenged his lone defeat to Petros Ananyan with a dominant showing in the rematch, had become something of a forgotten man in the talent-rich 140-pound weight class, but tonight he showed that he belongs among the elite in the division. It was the first pro loss for Egrashev (23-1, 20 KOs), a southpaw from Uzbekistan who fights out of Detroit and had SugarHill Steward (formally Javan “Sugar” Hill) in his corner.

Garcia-Roach

In the pay-per-view opener, Lamont Roach (24-1-1, 9 KOs) wrested the WBA 130-pound title from Hector Garcia (16-2) with a well-earned split decision. The judges had it 116-111 and 144-113 for Roach with the dissenter favoring Garcia 114-113.

A 32-year-old Dominican southpaw, Garcia was making the first defense of the title he won from Roger Gutierrez, a belt he was allowed to keep after moving up to lightweight to challenge Gervonta Davis, a bout he lost on a ninth-round stoppage. Roach, an underdog in the betting making his first start in 16 months, had come up short in a previous world title fight, losing a decision to Jamel Herring in 2019.

Roach was trailing on two of the scorecards through 10 rounds in what had been a ho-hum fight. But he cranked up the juice in the homestretch, rocking Garcia in the 11th and flooring him with a right hook in the final stanza. Take away that knockdown (an illegal punch as it landed behind Roach’s head), and Garcia would have retained his belt with a draw.

Non-PPV

In his first start at 140 pounds, Puerto Rico’s Michel Rivera rebounded from his first pro loss (a wide decision at the hands of Frank Martin) with a unanimous 10-round decision over Sergey Lipinets. The judges had it 96-94 and 97-93 twice. Rivera, who improved to 25-1 (14) patterns his style and his persona after Muhammad Ali with whom he bears a strong facial resemblance.

It was the first fight in 16 months for the 34-year-old Lipinets (17-3-1), from SoCal via Kazakhstan. He rarely took a backward step but it wasn’t effective aggression.

In the opener on Showtime’s YouTube channel. 21-year-old super welterweight Vito Mielnicki Jr, now trained by Ronnie Shields, scored the best win of his career, advancing to 16-1 (11 KOs). The pride of Vineland, NJ, Mielnicki had Alexis Salazar on the canvas three times before the match was halted at the 2:27 mark of the opening stanza. Guadalajara’s Salazar (25-6) had been stopped only once previously.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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