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For Whom the Bell Tolled: 2022 Boxing Obituaries PART ONE (Jan.-June)

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The American flag at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the village of Canastota is lowered to half-mast whenever a person enshrined in the Hall passes away. That exercise was performed six times in 2022. Among the leave-takers were two all-time greats, the fighter widely considered the best bantamweight ever and the first boxer of Puerto Rican descent to be inducted into the upstate New York shrine.

Here, in our annual year-end report, we pay homage to those six and other boxing notables who departed this earthly realm during the past year.

January

Jan. 5 – JOSEPHINE ABERCROMBIE. Heiress to a Texas oil fortune, Abercrombie founded the Houston Boxing Association in 1982 and for the next seven years was a force on the national boxing scene. The HBA stable included such notables as Frank Tate, Calvin Grove, and Orlando Canizales, all future champions. At age 95 at her thoroughbred horse farm in Versailles, Kentucky.

Jan. 7 – AREST SAAKYAN. The first ring fatality of 2022, Saakyan was knocked out in the eighth and final round of a match in Tolyatti, Russia, and spent 12 days in a coma before he was taken off life support. A super middleweight, Saakyan was 6-2 heading in. He was 26 years old.

Jan. 12 – MARION CONNER. A journeyman light heavyweight who finished 29-23-2, Conner fought extensively in Boston where he split two fights with Tom McNeeley in bouts billed for the New England heavyweight title. He gave up 30 pounds to McNeeley and 20 pounds to Joe Frazier who stopped him in three. At age 81 in Canton, Ohio, his lifelong home, where he was a pillar of the community.

Jan. 20 – BERNARDO CARABALLO. The first Colombian to fight for a world title, Caraballo, a bantamweight, came up short in matches with Eder Jofre (L KO 7) and Fighting Harada (L UD 15). He finished 69-18-5 in a 17-year career that began in 1961. At age 87 in Cartagena where an arena is named for him.

Jan. 20 – PERCY PUGH. A slick boxer who would have gone further if he had packed a harder punch, Pugh fought mostly in his hometown of New Orleans. Remembered for his 4-fight series with future world title-holder Billy Backus, he spent 46 months in the Top 10 of the welterweight rankings of The Ring magazine, advancing to #1 after defeating Oscar Albarado in 1970. At age 81 in New Orleans.

Jan. 23 – ALAIN RUOCCO. He won and lost the French welterweight title in bouts with future world title challenger Louis Acaries and finished 29-8-1 in a 10-year career that began in 1970. In retirement he founded a boxing club and became one of France’s most notable trainers. In Toulon, his lifelong home, at age 76 after suffering a debilitating stroke.

Jan. 25 – BRIAN HUGHES, MBE. A legend in British amateur boxing circles, he produced several British, European, and world title-holders at the Collyhurst Lads Club in Manchester, the gym he founded in 1964. Honored for his work in the community at Buckingham Palace in 2000, he authored several small bios of sporting personalities including Jock McAvoy and Thomas Hearns. At age 82 in Manchester.

February

Feb. 1 – MEL BARKER. From Rockdale, Texas, Barker turned pro in 1955 at age 19 and was a headline attraction in the Lone Star State while his career was still in its infancy. He fought some of the top welterweights of his era and was stopped only twice, finishing 29-17-7. In Austin, Texas, at age 86 where he owned a roofing company.

Feb. 4 – ZOLANI MARALI. Competing primarily as a junior lightweight, he finished 24-6 in a career that began in 2001 in South Africa and ended in 2115 in Namibia. Along the way, he acquired world title belts from two different fringe organizations. At age 46 in Johannesburg where he was shot dead in a presumed gangland hit.

Feb. 9 – RONNIE RUSH. Born in Trinidad, Rush, a junior welterweight, turned pro in 1956 after moving to the U.K. His career was unexceptional (15-16-4) but he achieved local renown as a trainer in Cardiff, Wales, where his pupils included Jane Couch, the first licensed female boxer in Great Britain, and WBO world featherweight title-holder Steve Robinson. At age 87 at a Cardiff nursing home where he was suffering from dementia.

Feb. 15 – BOBBY NEILL. A hard-punching featherweight, born in Scotland, Neill finished 28-7 and briefly held the British 126-pound title. His final fight left him in a coma, but he recovered and remained in boxing as a trainer, steering Alan Minter and Lloyd Honeyghan to world titles. At age 88 in London from COVID-19 complications.

Feb. 17 – GUISSEPE “BEPI” ROS. A bronze medalist at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Ros won and lost the Italian heavyweight title three times. He finished 42-16-2 and was stopped only once in a 12-year career that began in 1965. Ros was suffering from Alzheimer’s when he died from COVID-19 complications in Treviso, Italy, at age 79.

Feb. 25 – EDDIE OWENS. A lifelong resident of Massachusetts, “Red Top” Owens evolved from a leading light heavyweight contender into an “opponent” during a 14-year career in which he finished 39-35-3. In retirement, he worked as a Deputy Sheriff for Hamden County which includes the city of Springfield where he died at age 81.

March

March 2 – ROBERT COHEN. Born in Algeria when that country was a French territory, Cohen was the toast of Paris after winning the vacant world bantamweight title in 1954 before a hostile crowd of 60,000 in Bangkok, Thailand. Plagued by injuries, he lost the title in his second defense and retired two years later with a record of 36-3-3. At age 91 in Brussels, Belgium, where he worked in his father-in-law’s textile business.

March 2 – MIKE MARLEY. At various times a production assistant for Howard Cosell, a PR man for Don King, and the acerbic boxing writer of the New York Post, the multi-faceted Marley, a colorful character, first got involved in boxing at age 13 when he started a fan club for Cassius Clay. At age 71 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, from complications of Parkinson’s.

March 3 – HERU TITO. Born Heru Putwanto, he succumbed to a head injury suffered in a match four days earlier in Jakarta, Indonesia. A former regional title-holder at 130 pounds, Tito left the ring on a stretcher and never regained consciousness. He was 33 years old.

March 7 – BERKRERK CHARTVANCHAI. A national Muay Thai champion before transitioning to boxing, he became the third fighter from Thailand to win the world flyweight title when he outpointed Bernabe Villacampo in 1970. His reign didn’t last long and he left the sport with a 29-8-3 record, retiring to the life of a postal worker. At age 77 at his home in a suburb of Bangkok.

March 7 – RON STANDER. A brawler from Council Bluffs, Iowa, the “Bluffs Butcher” had two claims to fame. In 1970, he knocked out Earnie Shavers. Three years later, in what has been called the greatest sporting event ever in Omaha, he went four lopsided rounds with heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in a match that was stopped on cuts. In Ralston, Nebraska, at age 77 from complications of diabetes.

April

April 4 – JOHN McNALLY. “Gentleman John” was the first Irish boxer to win an Olympic medal, winning silver at the 1952 Helsinki Games after losing a controversial decision to his Finnish opponent in the finals. He had a brieg pro career, finishing 14-9-2 and then became a professional banjo player as a founding member of a popular Irish folk band. At age 89 in his native Belfast, NI.

April 5 – BORIS POWELL. A national Golden Gloves champion in 1989, Powell, a crafty southpaw, was 30-2 as a pro with one of the losses coming at the hands of future world heavyweight title-holder John Ruiz. At age 57 in his native St. Louis after a 19-month battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

April 16 – AKIO KAMEDA. A rangy southpaw, Kameda had two cracks at the 140-pound world title in the 1980s. He was stopped in six by Aaron Pryor and stopped in seven by Terry Marsh in what was the final fight for both. He finished 27-4 (21). In retirement he worked as a karate instructor and an herbalist. At age 65 in Tokyo of rectal cancer.

May

May 7 – JUERGEN BLIN. Born on a German island in the Baltic Sea, Blin was a butcher by trade before taking up boxing. Knocked out in round seven by Muhammad Ali in 1971, he went on to win the European Heavyweight Title, avenging in earlier defeat to Spain’s Jose Manuel Urtain. He finished 30-12-6. At age 79 in Reinbeck, Germany, from renal disease.

May 14 – MUSA ASKAN YAMAK. A light heavyweight, Yamak suffered a fatal heart attack in a bout at a community center in Garting, Germany. He collapsed after two rounds of action and could not be revived. A 38-year-old native of Turkey, he was 8-0 with 8 KOs heading in.

May 21 — LES BONANO. A former New Orleans police officer, Bonano was the linchpin of boxing in the New Orleans area for more than four decades. In 1974, he started an intramural boxing program at the Orleans Parish Prison and branched out from there, becoming a man who wore many hats — trainer, gym operator, manager, promoter, etc. At age 79 at his home in Slidell, Louisiana.

May 22 – OLEG PRUDKY. A two-time Ukrainian amateur champion whose best win was a 5-round decision over current IBF super featherweight champion Joe Cordina, Prudky was a war casualty, dying at age 30 while defending his hometown of Cherkasy against Russian invaders. He left behind a wife and two young children.

May 31 – JOHNNY MOLNAR. The Middletown, New Jersey welterweight finished 20-2-2 (10) in an eight-year career that began in 1997 and he had the distinction of appearing in the first “ShoBox” fight, overcoming Victor Rosado at Bally’s Park Place in Atlantic City. He was 47 when he died in an industrial accident at his workplace, a sewerage plant in Middletown.

June

June 7 – SIMISO BUTHELEZI. In the final round of a 10-round fight in Durban, the South African lightweight became disoriented, flailing away with his opponent out of range. The fight was immediately stopped and he was removed to a hospital where he died two days later from a brain bleed. A recent college graduate, Buthelezi, 24, was 4-0 heading in and participating in his first 10-round fight.

June 13 – CARLOS ORTIZ. The first Puerto Rican elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Ortiz won world titles at 140 and 135, in that order. A two-time world lightweight champion, he was 11-2 in lineal title fights and 61-7-1 overall in an 18-year career that began in 1955. At age 85 in the Bronx where he resided for more than 70 years.

June 20 – EDDIE HOPSON. A national Golden Gloves champion at 125 pounds, the St. Louis southpaw — known for his exceptionally fast hands – won the IBF world super featherweight title in 1995, but lost it in his first defense on a TKO to Tracy Harris Patterson. He finished 30-2 (14). At age 50 in St. Louis from complications of pancreatitis.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ Jake Paul 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, an 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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