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TSS Salutes Lance Pugmire, the 2023 Nat Fleischer Award Winner

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TSS Salutes Lance Pugmire, the 2023 Nat Fleischer Award Winner

As journalists go, Nat Fleischer was a hack. One would not know this considering all the great wordsmiths that have been clothed with his name. Winners of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism, bestowed by the Boxing Writers Association of America, include Pulitzer Prize winners Red Smith, Jim Murray, and Dave Anderson, plus Hugh McIlvanney, “The British Liebling,” to name just four.

To this august roster one can now add the name of Lance Pugmire. A dispatch from the desk of BWAA prexy Joe Santoliquito informs us that Pugmire has been named the 50th recipient of the Fleischer award.

For the uninitiated, Nat Fleischer, the self-described Official Historian of the Ring, co-founded The Ring magazine in 1922 and served as the magazine’s editor and publisher for fifty years. Fleischer was also the chairman of the organizing committee that staged the first BWAA banquet under its original name, the Boxing Writers Association of Greater New York. The inaugural gala was held on April 25, 1926, in the grand ballroom of New York’s grand Hotel Astor with entertainment provided by Broadway star Sophie Tucker, among others.

Under Nat Fleischer’s stewardship, The Ring clobbered the competition. Stories about old fighters and old fights were a staple of the magazine, especially in its early days. The writers that assembled these pieces, some of whom used Fleischer’s byline, were apparently governed by this exhortation: “never let the facts get in the way of a good yarn.”

A graduate of Cal State Fullerton, class of 1990, Lance Pugmire spent 19 years and 11 months at the Los Angeles Times, beginning on the Metro desk before gravitating to the sports department where he covered the Los Angeles Angels with their budding superstar Mike Trout and the Anaheim Ducks before becoming the paper’s chief boxing and MMA correspondent. He is the fifth LA Times writer to win the Fleischer Award following on the heels of Jim Murray (1989), Richard Hoffer (2001), Steve Springer (2002) and Bill Dwyre (2016).

Pugmire has bounced around quite a bit since leaving the Times in June of 2019. For 28 months he was part of the outstanding team of sportswriters at The Athletic. While there he authored two long-form stories — the first on promoter Kathy Duva and the second on Deontay Wilder – that finished first in the flagship category of the Bernie awards, a group of six awards created by the BWAA to recognize outstanding writing. He then spent 14 months at USA Today where for a time he was the paper’s point man for boxing, sports betting, and fantasy sports (whew).

Several months ago, it appeared that the sports writing fraternity had lost yet another stalwart. Pugmire tweeted that he had begun a new chapter in his life as a member of the sales force at Seven Gables, a real estate firm in Huntington Beach. But, as college football guru Lee Corso would have said, “not so fast, my friend.” News that Pugmire was a free agent, so to speak, spread fast and last month he was right back where he belonged in press row covering the Davis-Garcia fight in Las Vegas.

“Humbled beyond words by this honor,” tweeted Pugmire upon learning that he had been given the Fleischer Award. “Thank you to the greats that allowed me to tell their stories.”

Pugmire will be honored alongside ESPN’s Mark Kriegel, his Fleischer Award predecessor, at the 97th/98th BWAA awards dinner on Thursday, June 8, at the Edison Rooftop ballroom in Times Square, two days before the fight at Madison Square Garden between Josh Taylor and Teofimo Lopez. The dinner is a doubleheader in a fashion, a year having been lost to the Covid pandemic.

We here at TSS congratulate Lance Pugmire on receiving this richly deserved honor.

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Results from the MGM Grand where Gervonta Davis Returned with a Bang

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After an absence of 421 days, Gervonta “Tank” Davis returned to the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In the opposite corner was Detroit-born Frank “The Ghost” Martin who has been training in Dallas under Derrick James. In previous fights, Gervonta, who holds the WBA world lightweight title, has shown a tendency to start slow before closing the show with a highlight-reel knockout. Tonight was no exception.

Martin, 18-0 heading in, fought off his back foot from the get-go, but had good moments and was arguably ahead after five frames. But as the fight moved into the middle rounds, Martin became more stationary and one could sense that the ever-stalking Davis was wearing him down. In Round 8, Davis trapped Martin against a corner post, discombobulated him with a left uppercut and then turned out his lights with a chopping left hand. There was no chance that Martin could rise before referee Harvey Dock completed the “10” count.

Davis (30-0, 28 KOs) celebrated by standing on the top strand of rope and doing a black flip. He has many lucrative options going forward and will be favored to defeat whoever his next opponent will be.

The Davis-Martin fight was the capstone of a four-fight pay-per-view, the second collaboration between Premier Boxing Champions and Amazon Prime Video.

Benavidez-Gvozdyk

In his first fight as a light heavyweight, David Benavidez scored a 12-round unanimous decision over former lineal light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

Benavidez, who improved to 20-0 (24), worked the body well and kept up the pressure in the early-going, building a substantial lead. His work output declined over the last third of the fight, but his punches still carried more steam than those of Gvozdyk, 37, who suffered his second loss in 22 pro fights, the other inflicted by the indomitable Artur Beterbiev, prompting the SoCal-based Ukrainian to take a long hiatus from the ring. The judges had it 119-109, 117-111, and 116-112.

Puello-Russell

In a major upset, Alberto Puello of the Dominican Republic saddled Gary Antuanne Russell with his first pro loss, winning a split decision. Puello appeared to have the edge in a furious final round, without which the bout would have ended in a draw. Puello, who improved to 23-0 (10), had to overcome a dubious call by referee Allan Huggins who took a point away from the Dominican in Round 7 for too much holding.

Russell, who was making his first start against a southpaw, is now trained by his brother Gary Russell Jr., the former featherweight champion, who replaced their late father. Russell Jr last fought in January of 2022.

Heading in, Gary Antuanne Russell had won all 17 of his pro fights by knockout. One of the judges thought he won handily. But his tally, 118-109 for Russell, was overruled by the115-112 and 114-113 scores awarded the underdog. Puello, who briefly held the WBA diadem at 140 but had it stripped from him when he tested positive for PEDs, won an interim belt in that weight class with his upset tonight.

Adames-Gausha

In the PPV opener, Alberto Puello’s countryman Carlos Adames successfully defended his WBC middleweight title in his first world title fight with a one-sided decision over former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha. Adames, whose late father reportedly sired 35 children, was the aggressor and landed many more punches. He advanced his record to 24-1 (19). It was the fourth loss in 29 pro starts for the 36-year-old Gausha. The judges had it 119-109 and 118-110 twice.

Adames’ triumph made it 2-0 for the Dominicans and their trainer Ismael Salas.

Other Bouts of Note

In a huge upset, Delaware’s Kyrone Davis overcame Arizona’s previously undefeated and highly-touted Elijah Garcia, winning a split decision. A 21-year-old father of two, Garcia, 16-0 heading in, was rated #1 by the WBA and seemingly one step removed from challenging Erislandy Lara for the WBA middleweight title. But Davis, trained by Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, had a solid game plan and although Elijah came on strong in the homestretch, it was too little, too late.

One of the judges favored Garcia 98-92, but his cohorts each gave seven rounds to Davis (19-3-1, 6 KOs) and the decision was fair.

Filipino junior lightweight Mark Magsayo, in his second fight back since losing back-to-back fights with featherweight belt-holders Rey Vargas and Brandon Figueroa, advanced to 26-2 (17) with a 10-round unanimous decision over Mexico City’s Eduardo Ramirez (28-4-3). Magsayo scored a knockdown in the third round with a straight right hand and won by scores of 99-90 and 97-92 twice.

Photos credit: Al Applerose

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Billam-Smith Avenges Lone Defeat; Retains Cruiser Belt in a Messy Fight

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In a mild upset, Bournemouth’s Chris Billam-Smith, an overachiever, successfully defended his WBO cruiserweight title with an inelegant 12-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Richard Riakporhe. In the process, Billam-Smith, who advanced to 20-1 (13), avenged his lone defeat. Riakporhe won a split decision in their previous encounter five years ago in London.

This was a messy fight marred by excessive clinching. Referee Steve Gray, who earned his pay, warned both fighters during the match for a laundry list of infractions and eventually deducted a point from Riakporhe for leading with his head. The point deduction came in the final round and sealed the win for the Bournemouth fighter who prevailed on scores of 116-111 and 115-112 twice. Riakporhe declined to 17-1.

The fight was contested outdoors at the Crystal Palace soccer grounds in South London. The sky was grey and a light rain was falling when the show started, but the rain let up well before nightfall.

Billam-Smith, who is trained by Shane McGuigan, was making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of Lawrence Okolie. The other cruiserweight title-holders are Jai Opetaia (IBF), Gilberto Ramirez (WBA) and Noel Mikaelyan (aka Noel Gevor). Billam-Smith would be a decided underdog to Opetaia. Fights with Ramirez and Mikaelyan would likely be snoozefests.

Semi-Wind-up

Olympic silver medalist Ben Whittaker, a light heavyweight whose arrogant showboating has translated into a large social media following, went 10 rounds for the first time in his career and won a lopsided decision, advancing his record to 8-0 (5). Whittaker’s opponent, Ezra Arenyeka, a 28-year-old Nigerian, brought a 12-0 record that on closer inspection included only three wins over opponents with winning records.

Arenyeka plowed forward much of the fight, but kept a high guard and had trouble letting his hands go. In round seven, he lost a point for hitting Whittaker in the face with an elbow. The scores were 100-89 and 99-90 twice.

Also

In another mild upset, Jack Massey won the vacant European cruiserweight title with a 12-round decision over Isaac Chamberlain. Massey, who improved to 22-2 (12), is a stablemate of reigning IBF female welterweight champion Natasha Jonas who was part of the broadcasting crew. He went 10 rounds in a losing effort with former heavyweight title-holder Joseph Parker in January of last year before returning to his natural weight class. This was a competitive fight with several momentum swings.  Chamberlain, 16-2 heading in, lost by scores of 116-112 and 115-113 twice.

Dan Azeez, who had Hall of Fame trainer Buddy McGirt in his corner, was expected to have an easy time with Hrvoje Sep, a 38-year-old Ukrainian, but Azeez (20-1-1) had to work hard to salvage a draw with Sep (12-2-1) in an 8-round light heavyweight match.

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Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

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Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

Gervonta “Tank” Davis returns to the ring on Saturday after an absence of nearly 14 months that included a 44-day stint in a Baltimore jail. In the opposite corner is St. Louis southpaw Frank “The Ghost” Martin.

Davis (29-0, 27 KOs) is now the undisputed lightweight champion of the WBA. He had been sharing that distinction with Devin Haney who was de-frocked when he moved up in weight. Martin (18-0, 12 KOs) is also undefeated and their match is the main attraction of a four-fight pay-per-view on Amazon Prime Video and affiliates including PPV.com (list price $74.99) where viewers have the opportunity to interact with the hosts, namely Jim Lampley, Lance Pugmire, Chris Algieri, and Dan Conobbio.

One other world title fight and two contrived interim title fights support the main event. The title fight, which will serve as the PPV opener, pits WBC middleweight title-holder Carlos Adames (23-1, 19 KOs) against former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha (24-3-1, 12 KOs). Adames became a full-fledged title-holder last month when the organization stripped trouble-plagued Jermall Charlo of the belt within hours after his DWI arrest in Texas.

Tired of waiting around for Canelo, David Benavidez elected to move up in weight where he will face former WBC light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

It was inevitable that Benavidez (28-0, 24 KOs) would out-grow the super middleweight division. He carried 180 ¾ pounds for his second pro fight when he was 16 years old. Gvozdyk (20-1, 16 KOs) stepped away from boxing after getting stopped by Artur Beterbiev in a unification fight in October of 2019. He was badly beaten in that fight although he was ahead on two of the scorecards through the nine completed rounds. He missed all of 2020, 2021, and 2022 before returning to the ring in February of last year, shaking off the rust in a 6-round fight, and subsequently won two bouts by knockout. The Ukrainian turned 37 in April.

In the other interim title fight, super lightweight Gary Gary Antuanne Russell (17-0, 17 KOs) meets Alberto Puello (22-0, 10 KOs) in a battle of southpaws. Puello, a 29-year-old Dominican, briefly held the WBA diadem at 140, but had it stripped from him when he tested positive for PEDs.

Gervonta Davis has proved to be one of the biggest draws in boxing. Among American-born fighters, no one is currently at his level as a ticket-seller. However, it will be surprising if his bout with Frank Martin tomorrow night in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand can match the numbers he achieved in his last outing where he was pit against the charismatic Ryan Garcia who he stopped with a body punch in the seventh round. In all four of the fights on tomorrow’s pay-per-view, the favorite is chalked in the 7/1 range. Moreover, a DAZN event in Puerto Rico that overlaps the early portion of the pay-per-view may nibble away at the receipts.

Three high-grade 10-round preliminaries will precede the pay-per-view. These three fights, “teasers” as it were, can be accessed for free regardless of Prime membership. The action in the “free” portion of the card begins at 5:30 pm ET/2:30 pm PT.

DAZN

The DAZN card is a Matchroom promotion in Manati, Puerto Rico. IBF 140-pound world champion Subriel Matias makes the second defense of his title against Brisbane, Australia’s Liam Paro. A late bloomer, Matias (20-1, 20 KOs) has knocked out all of his opponents including the only man to defeat him (Petros Ananyan). Paro (24-0, 15 KOs) looked sharp in his last fight wherein he TKOed Montana Love, but will be up against it in Puerto Rico. Matias, who is making his first start in his hometown since 2019, is already looking ahead to a match with Regis Prograis.

The Matias-Paro ring walk is expected to commence shortly before 11 pm, ET/8 pm PT.

PEACOCK

For diehard fight fans in the U.S., it will be wall-to-wall boxing for about 11 straight hours beginning at 1:30 pm ET/10:30 am PT when NBC’s subscription channel, Peacock, begins its coverage of the WBO cruiserweight title fight in South London between Chris Billam-Smith (19-1, 13 KOs) and Richard Riakporhe. (17-0, 13 KOs).

Billam-Smith, who is trained by Shane McGuigan, will be making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of Lawrence Okolie while seeking to avenge his lone defeat. These two met in a 10-rounder back in July of 2019 with Riakporhe emerging the winner by a split decision.

Billam-Smith’s last two fights have been in his hometown of Bournemouth. Tomorrow, he fights on the grounds of the Crystal Palace Football Club of which Riakporhe is a big supporter. The bookies like the Londoner’s chance to prevail again. The challenger, Riakporhe, is an 11/5 favorite.

Fights to Watch (All Times Pacific)

Peacock: Chris Billam-Smith vs. Richard Riakporhe: 2:00 p.m. (prelims beginning at 10:30 a.m.)

DAZN: Subriel Matias vs. Liam Paro: 7:45 p.m. (prelims beginning at 4:30 p.m.)

AMAZON PRIME VIDEO PPV: Gervonta Davis vs. Frank Martin plus three: 5:00 p.m. (prelims beginning at 2:30 p.m.)

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