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Regis Prograis Brings World Championship Boxing back to New Orleans

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Fifty-nine years have elapsed since a native son of New Orleans returned to the city of his birth in the role of a defending world champion. Tomorrow night at the Smoothie Center, home to the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, Regis Prograis hopes to have his hand raised, mirroring that of Willie Pastrano who turned away Argentina’s Gregorio Peralta on April 10, 1964, at the old New Orleans Municipal Auditorium in the first defense of his world light heavyweight title.

Prograis will be defending his WBC 140-pound diadem and, if the oddsmakers are prescient, he will almost certainly send the home folks home happy. The 34-year-old southpaw is in the vicinity of 15/1 favorite over Puerto Rico’s Danielito Zorrilla who got this assignment when Australia’s Liam Paro was forced to withdraw after both of his Achilles tendons tightened-up while he was training in Las Vegas.

As is well-known, Prograis was part of the great diaspora from New Orleans wrought by Hurricane Katrina. The devastating 2005 storm destroyed his family’s home and he wound up in Houston where he found his way to Bobby Benton’s boxing gym. Reputedly 87-8 as amateur, he turned pro in Houston in 2012 after failing to make the U.S. Olympic team.

Prograis’s emotional tie to New Orleans grew stronger in his new environment. The tattoos he had inked on his chest pay homage to NOLA. His colorful nickname Rougarou, a mythical creature in Cajun swamp folklore, akin to a werewolf, pays tribute to his Louisiana heritage. Coming up the ladder, it was always his dream to headline a major fight card in the city where he spent the first 16 years of his life.

He got his wish in 2018 when he headlined two shows at the Lakefront Arena on the campus of the University of New Orleans where he brutalized Argentina’s Juan Jose Velasco (TKO 8) and won a lopsided 12-round decision over the slick Mancunian, Terry Flanagan. However, Prograis hadn’t yet won a world title. That came in his next fight when he unseated WBA 140-pound belt-holder Kiryl Relikh, stopping the Belarusian in the sixth round in Lafayette, Louisiana, a city roughly equidistant between New Orleans and Houston.

Prograis lost the belt in a bruising tiff with Josh Taylor in London, the 2019 TSS Fight of the Year. That remains the only blemish on his ledger. He has won four inside the distance since that setback, most recently an 11th-round stoppage of Jose Zepeda who was 35-2 heading in and had never been stopped. Rougarou, now 28-1 (24 KOs) never looked better, winning every round from the third round on against a tough opponent before the match was halted.

His bout with Zorrilla (17-1, 13 KOs) is his first for promoter Eddie Hearn. It will be streamed live to more than 200 countries around the world on DAZN with the ring walks expected to go about 11:25 pm EST.

Down the road, Prograis has expressed an interest in unifying the titles. That would seem to rule out a bout with Teofimo Lopez who Prograis has called out in the past. In a text to WBO president Paco Valcarcel, Teofimo gave notice that he was relinquishing the WBO strap that he won last weekend when he upset Josh Taylor. The other 140-pound title-holders are Subriel Matias (IBF) and Rolly Romero (WBA). Lurking in the weeds is England’s Jack Catterall who inked a multi-fight pact with Eddie Hearn in April.

The Smoothie Center shares a parking lot with the adjacent Superdome. With a listed capacity of 17,805, it is twice as large as Lakefront Arena. It will be interesting to see if Prograis can fill up the joint. Neither of his fights at Lakefront were sellouts. Willie Pastrano’s match with Gregorio Peralta – a Friday Night affair on ABC with the New Orleans area blacked-out – was a bust at the gate, attracting only 4,176.

Considered little more than a journeyman before hooking up with Angelo Dundee, Pastrano prepared for his homecoming fight sparring with his Miami Beach stablemate Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay. He was ahead on two of the scorecards when the bout was halted after five frames because of a bad gash over Peralta’s left eye. The Argentine had won 24 straight heading in including a 10-round decision over Pastrano in a previous engagement.

In his next start in what proved to be his next-to-last pro fight, Pastrano turned in a career-best performance with an 11th-round stoppage of Terry Downes in Manchester, England. That earned the New Orleans native the Fighter of the Year Award from the Boxing Writers Association of America.

In some ways, Regis Prograis has already surpassed what Willie Pastrano accomplished. In other ways, he has a tough act to follow.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 288: Jake Paul and Amanda

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No Texas this time.

Jake Paul and Amanda Serrano take their show to Florida with a new interesting cast of fighters after heavyweight legend Mike Tyson was forced to withdraw.

Paul (9-1, 6 KOs) faces bare knuckle champion Mike “King of Violence” Perry (6-0, 3 KOs) in a cruiserweight match on Saturday July 20, at Amalie Arena in Tampa. The Most Valuable Promotions event will be shown on PPV.COM and also on DAZN pay-per-view.

“I love to take risks. He’s a dangerous man,” Paul said. “Really this came about because he has a crazy fan base.”

Also, in a dangerous match, Serrano (46-2-1, 30 KOs) faces potent knockout puncher Stevie Morgan (14-1, 13 KOs) in the super lightweight class.

Both Paul and Serrano are taking risks.

It’s another interesting match devised by Paul who has a knack for piquing the interest of fight fans one way or another. This time he chose bare knuckle titlist Perry who also has loads of experience in MMA including more than a dozen UFC fights.

Perry is the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship titlist and no stranger to boxing, jujitsu or MMA. He’s known for knockout power in both hands, little defense, but a very strong chin.

“I’m doing it for me, for the fans, for BKFC, for MMA but mainly for me. I believe in myself,” said Perry at the press conference. “I’m a brawling boxing mug.”

Paul chose Perry mainly because he feels MMA or bare knuckle fighters cannot defeat him.

“You’re going to see what I do to their best fighter. This guy has no skills,” said Paul about BKFC or UFC fighters.  “You saw what I did to Nate Diaz.”

In the female fight, Serrano chose Morgan who has a large fan base in Tampa. The hometown fighter believes this is a perfect match for them both.

“I’m not being disrespectful. I’m just stating facts. Amanda has a fighting style that best suits me,” said Morgan who is slightly taller.

Serrano was dead-eyed serious about the fight and Morgan’s comments.

“I don’t pay attention to that. That doesn’t pay my bills. You’ll see Saturday night,” said Serrano. “I don’t look past any opponent.”

Several other interesting bouts are on tap including another boxer versus MMA as Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. faces Uriah Hall in a cruiserweight bout. Undefeated lightweights Ashton Sylve and Lucas Bahdi are set for 10 rounds. And female super middleweight contender Shadasia Green meets Natasha Spence in an eight-round fight.

According to Most Valuable Promotions the previously scheduled fights between Paul and Tyson and Serrano versus Katie Taylor will take place in November.

Prelims begin at 4 p.m.

Golden Boy at Fantasy Springs

Hard-hitting welterweights Alexis Rocha (24-2, 16 KOs) and Santiago Dominguez (27-0, 20 KOs) head the main event at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif. on Friday, July 19. DAZN will stream the Golden Boy Promotions card.

Santa Ana’s Rocha has faced the better-quality opposition, but Mexico’s Dominguez remains undefeated despite almost stumbling in his first fight in California last March.

Will Rocha’s experience be too much for Dominguez who won a split decision in his last fight?

Also on the card will be a number of undefeated prospects including Bryan Lua, Jorge Chavez and Grant Flores.

Nakatani

Three-division world champion Junto Nakatani (27-0, 20 KOs) defends the WBC bantamweight title against Vincent Astrolabio (19-4, 24 KOs) on Saturday, July 20, at Tokyo, Japan. ESPN+ will stream the Teiken Promotions card.

Nakatani, 26, is considered by many to be the next best Japanese fighter to Naoya Inoue. Many also consider Nakatani among the best dozen pound for pound fighters in the world.

The southpaw slugger is familiar to Southern California boxing. He trains with noted trainer Rudy Hernandez who has developed him into one of the best and most feared fighters below featherweight.

Fights to Watch

Fri. DAZN 6 p.m. Alexis Rocha (24-2) vs Santiago Dominguez (27-0)

Sat. ESPN+ 2 a.m. Junto Nakatani (27-0) vs Vincent Astrolabio (19-4).

Sat. PPV.COM and DAZN ppv 6 p.m. Jake Paul (9-1) vs Mike Perry (6-0); Amanda Serrano (46-2-1) vs Stevie Morgan (14-1).

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The Mirage Goes Dark and Another Storied Venue for Boxing Bites the Dust

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Life comes at you fast. It seems like only yesterday that I stood in a crowd of rubberneckers gawking at the artificial volcano that fronted the spanking new Mirage Hotel and Casino. After sundown, it erupted every 15 minutes, sending fireballs into the sky accompanied by a soundtrack of actual eruptions as the air was perfumed with the scent of a pina colada. In those days, late November of 1989 and beyond, the artificial volcano was Southern Nevada’s #1 tourist attraction, supplanting Hoover Dam. (The “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign at the south end of the Strip hadn’t yet become a magnet for hordes of camera-toting tourists.)

I didn’t come to the 3,044-room Polynesian-themed resort to see the volcano. I came there to see the centerpiece of the grand opening festivities, a prizefight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, the third meeting between the two gladiators. The Mirage had actually opened for business two weeks earlier, but it was a soft opening, as they say in the trade. The boxing event on Thursday, Dec. 7, 1989, was the cherry on the cake, a spectacle in every sense of the word. Celebrities were chaperoned to their ringside seats on a red carpet, mirroring the Oscars, and a mesmerizing fireworks display, better than New Years Eve, lit up the sky in the interlude between the last preliminary bout and the main event.

Leonard-Duran III was the first of 13 boxing shows at the Mirage, the last of which was staged in 1995. Thirteen isn’t many, but they included some of the biggest fights of the era, five of which – the first five – were staged under the stars in makeshift arenas built specifically for boxing. And now, with the closure of the Mirage today (July 17), another place that housed historic prizefights has dissipated into the dustbin of history.

The accoutrements were more memorable than the fight. Roberto Duran had turned back the clock in his most recent bout, unseating middleweight title-holder Iran Barkley at the Atlantic City Convention Center, but against Sugar Ray he looked older than his 38 years. Leonard was content to out-box Duran and won nearly every round. The final chapter of the Four Kings round-robin (Leonard, Duran, Marvin Hagler, and Tommy Hearns) was a dud.

Two months after the Leonard-Duran rubber match, fringe contender James “Buster” Douglas shocked the world with a 10th-round stoppage of Mike Tyson.

Tyson-Douglas was in faraway Tokyo, but the Mirage became a sidebar to the story of the fight when mischievous Jimmy Vaccaro, who ran the Mirage Race and Sports Book, just for the fun of it posted odds on the match. That gave the Mirage a monopoly as it would be the only property in the bookmaking universe to take bets on the outcome of the fight.

The betting line bounced around a little bit and at one point the odds favoring Mike Tyson stood at 42/1. This price would come to be etched in stone. “42 to 1” became the title of an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary.

It wasn’t lost on Mirage founder and chairman Steve Wynn that Buster Douglas would be the perfect poster boy for a gambling establishment. After all, Buster was the Joe Blow that knocked out Superman and won the big jackpot. Wynn’s attorneys succeeded in extricating Douglas from the clutches of Don King and he was matched against Evander Holyfield, a former cruiserweight champion who was 24-0 with the last six wins coming as a heavyweight.

Worldwide, Douglas vs. Holyfield was a much bigger attraction than Leonard-Duran III. The Mirage reportedly credentialed 1,200 members of the media, many from overseas.

In the days leading up to the fight, there were rumors that Buster Douglas had been lax in his training. Those rumors were confirmed when Douglas weighed-in at 246 pounds, 14 ½ pounds more than he had carried for Mike Tyson.

Counting the intermissions between rounds, the fight lasted a shade over nine minutes. In the third frame, Buster missed with an uppercut and Holyfield countered with an overhand right that landed on the temple. Buster fell to the canvas and made no attempt to rise as referee Mills Lane tolled the 10-count. As he lay there, picking at his nose, the scene was reminiscent of the famous photo of Jack Johnson lying on his back with his right arm shading his eyes from the sun at the conclusion of his 1915 fight with Jess Willard, a match that would always beg the question of whether Johnson was faking it.

Steve Wynn, who could be charming but was a perfectionist with a volatile temper, was livid. On the streets of Las Vegas, there was talk that Wynn had Douglas and his crew evicted from their hotel rooms even before the arena was locked down. If it were true that Buster Douglas was given the bum’s rush like some deadbeat inhabitant of a fleabag hotel, he would have been the first millionaire to experience this indignity. His purse was reportedly $24 million with $19.9 million guaranteed (roughly $40 million in today’s dollars).

Wynn partnered with promoter Bob Arum for the Leonard-Duran fight. For Douglas-Holyfield, he decided to go it alone, eliminating the middleman. By his reckoning, he had people on staff who were quite capable of getting all the moving parts to mesh into a coherent whole. But manufacturing a megafight is a complicated undertaking and Wynn would discover that he had over-reached. Plus, he had soured on boxing after two stinkers.

History would show that Steve Wynn would never again commit a large amount of money to host a prizefight. But this didn’t mark the end of boxing at the Mirage as Wynn owed Don King some dates as part of the out-of-court settlement that freed Buster Douglas from King’s grasp and a handful of promoters with lesser clout (e.g., Kathy Duva, Cedric Kushner, Dan Goossen) would anchor an occasional show there in a four-wall arrangement.

Don King’s first two Mirage promotions pit Mike Tyson against Razor Ruddock. Tyson stopped Ruddock in the seventh round on March 18, 1991. The stoppage by referee Richard Steele, which struck many as premature, sparked a wild melee in the ring between the opposing handlers. The sequel in June went the distance. Tyson copped the decision. Take away the three points that Ruddock was docked for low blows and Tyson still would have won.

King also promoted the last of the outdoor shows at the Mirage, a September 14, 1991 card topped by Julio Cesar Chavez’s super lightweight title defense against Lonnie Smith. In hindsight, this event was historically important.

Although Chavez was a massive favorite and the weather was oppressively hot, the Mexican Independence Day weekend fight attracted a larger-than-expected turnout of mostly Mexican tourists with deep pockets. In future years, many big fights in Las Vegas would be noosed to a Mexican holiday weekend. Chavez vs Smith was the ice-breaker.

In addition to Leonard, Duran, Holyfield, Tyson, and Chavez, future Hall of Famers Riddick Bowe, Jeff Fenech, Azumah Nelson, Buddy McGirt, and Michael Carbajal appeared at the Mirage. “Big Daddy” Bowe never headlined a show at the Mirage but had three fights here preceding his memorable trilogy with Evander Holyfield.

Steve Wynn divested his interest in the Mirage in 2000 and the property became part of the MGM consortium. In December of 2021, the property was purchased by the Hard Rock organization whose parent company, as it were, is the Seminole Indian tribe of Florida. The transition from the Mirage to the Hard Rock is expected to take almost three years. When the renovation is finished, the property will have a new hotel tower shaped like a giant guitar. The guitar, the symbol of the Hard Rock brand, couldn’t hold the volcano’s jockstrap, but it is what it is in the city that constantly reinvents itself.

Back when the Mirage opened, the charismatic Steve Wynn was the most admired man in town. An innovator and a true visionary, Wynn melded the sensibilities of Walt Disney and Bugsy Siegel and changed the face of the Las Vegas Strip. Wynn still has a large footprint in Las Vegas reflected in two look-alike five star hotel-casinos, the Wynn and the Encore, but, incredibly, he is now persona non grata in the city that once worshiped him. His fall from grace is not a proper subject for this website. Suffice it to say that Wynn, now 82, was quite the philanderer in his younger days and his recklessness caught up with him.

Yes, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that magical night almost 35 years ago when Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran formally christened the newest and brightest jewel on the Las Vegas landscape. Those were the days, my friend, and for some of us it seemed like only yesterday.

A recognized authority on the history of prizefighting and the history of American sports gambling, TSS editor-in-chief Arne K. Lang is the author of five books including “Prizefighting: An American History,” released by McFarland in 2008 and re-released in a paperback edition in 2020.

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A Conversation with Legendary Phoenix Boxing Writer Norm Frauenheim

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It seems all along that Norm Frauenheim was destined to become a boxing writer.

Two critical elements were at play that led the 75-year-old scribe to that profession.

“I was always interested in boxing, even as a kid,” said Frauenheim who spent 31 years with the Arizona Republic beginning in 1977. “I’m an Army brat. I was born in January 1949 on a base, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, a city I didn’t really see until I hit the NBA road covering the [Phoenix] Suns for more than a decade starting in 1979-80.”

Frauenheim, a longtime correspondent for The Ring magazine who writes for various boxing sites such as boxingscene.com and 15rounds.com, added more background: “One of the many places I lived was Schofield Barracks on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu from 1962 to 1966,” he continued. “I delivered The Stars & Stripes to troops with the 25th Infantry Division, which was headed to Vietnam, along with my dad.

“Anyway, boxing and Schofield have long been linked, mostly because of a novel and film, ‘From Here to Eternity’ (the James Jones novel starring Frank Sinatra on the big screen). The troops were still boxing, outdoors, at the barracks along my newspaper route. I was 13 to 17 years old. I’d stop, watch and get interested. I’ve been interested ever since.”

Frauenheim added: “From there, my father and family shipped to Fort Sheridan, then a base north of Chicago where I spent one year and graduated from high school “Then my dad went back to Vietnam and I went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville (1967 through 1971) and graduated with a major in history. I was also a competitive swimmer, pre-Title IX.

“Competitive swimming is also at the roots of my sportswriting career. I was frustrated that Vanderbilt’s student newspaper didn’t cover us. I offered to do it. The newspaper agreed. I don’t swim as well as I used to. I look at a surfboard and look at the waves I used to take on and wondered what in the hell I was doing. It’s a lot safer to be at ringside.”

After a more than five-decade stint covering boxing, Frauenheim is glad that the manly sport is still around but with more outside competition.

“It’s surely not the [Muhammad] Ali era. It’s not the Golden 80s, either. It’s a fractured business in a world with more and more options for sports fans. MMA is just one example,” he said. “Boxing is not dying. It has been declared dead, ad nauseam. I read the inevitable obits and think of an old line: Boxing has climbed out of more coffins than Count Dracula.

“Still, the sport has been pushed to the fringe of public interest. But it’s been there before. Resiliency is one of its strongest qualities. It’ll be around, always reinventing itself.”

In some respects, boxing, like the other sports, has always been dependent on rivalries like the NBA’s Celtics versus Lakers, which drives the public’s interest and storylines.

“[Larry] Bird-Magic [Johnson] was basketball’s Ali-[Joe] Frazier,” Frauenheim says. “It transformed the league, setting the stage for Michael Jordan. It can happen again, in boxing or any other sport.”

Boxing is still the same but with tweaks here and there.

“When I started, championship bouts were 15 rounds instead of 12,” said Frauenheim who began his journalism career in 1970 at the Tallahassee Democrat and worked at the Jacksonville Journal before being lured in Phoenix. “There were morning weigh-ins instead of the day-before promotional show. There was also a lot more media. A big fight in Vegas meant all of the big media people were there. The last time that happened was Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, a fight that failed to meet expectations and I think eroded much of the big media’s appetite for more,” continued Frauenheim whose byline has appeared in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

Mexican legend Saul Alvarez is still a major draw, but there are others on the horizon who are ready to step in and take over like the undefeated super middleweight David Benavidez.

“The clock is ticking on Canelo’s career, and I think he knows it. At this point, it’s about risk-reward. The 27-year-old Benavidez is too big a risk. Canelo, I think, looks at Benavidez and thinks he’ll beat him. I don’t think he would,” Frauenheim noted. “Benavidez is too big, has a mean streak and possesses a rare extra gear. He gets stronger in the late rounds.

“Even if Canelo wins, there’s a pretty good chance that Benavidez hurts him. There’s still a chance Canelo-Benavidez happens. But I think it’ll take some Saudi [Arabian] money.”

Boxers stand alone in the ring, literally and figuratively, but have a small supporting crew.

This makes them unique compared to baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

“Boxers are different from any other athlete I’ve ever covered. It’s why, I guess, boxing has been called a writer’s sport. There are plenty of NFL and NBA players who have grown up on the so-called mean streets,” Frauenheim said. “But they have teammates. They don’t make that long, lonely walk from the dressing room to the ring.”

Stripped naked, boxers are an open book, according to Frauenheim.

“They can be hard to deal with while training and cutting weight. But after a fight, no athlete in my experience is more forthcoming,” he said. “Win or lose, they just walked through harm’s way in front of people. In my experience, that’s when they want to talk.”

Selecting a career highlight or highlights isn’t easy for Frauenheim, but he tried.

“There are so many. I was there for the great Sugar Ray Leonard victory over Thomas Hearns [1981], a welterweight classic,” he recalled. “A personal favorite was Michael Carbajal’s comeback from two knockdowns for a KO of Humberto Gonzalez in 1993, perhaps the best fight in the history of the lightest weight class. I was also there for the crazy, including Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield’s “Bite Fight” and the “Fan Man” landing in the ring like the 82nd Airborne Division midway through a Riddick Bowe-Holyfield fight behind Vegas’ Caesars Palace.”

Three boxers set the tone and backdrop for Frauenheim’s illustrious tenure as a writer.

“Roberto Duran is the greatest lightweight ever. His lifestyle sometimes got the best of him. That was evident in his infamous ‘No Mas’ welterweight loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in New Orleans,” he said of that November 1980 bout. “He told me that he took the rematch, on short notice, because of the money. “Women-women-women, eating-eating-eating, drinking-drinking-drinking,” he told me in an interview of what he had been doing before Leonard’s people approached him for an immediate rematch of his Montreal victory. But take a look at Duran’s victory in Montreal [June 1980]. Watch it again. On that night, there’s never been a better fighter than Duran.”

Frauenheim added another titan to that short list: “Leonard, who is the last real Sugar,” he said, and ended with the only eight-weight division king. “Manny Pacquiao, an amazing story about a starving kid off impoverished Filipino streets. He was a terrific fighter, blessed with speed, power and instinct. Add to that a shy personality unchanged by all the money and celebrity. He is an example of what can still happen in boxing. He’s the face of the game’s resiliency.”

That’s quite a trio, and they’re the best of the best that Frauenheim’s seen and covered from ringside.

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‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez Delights the Home Folks: TKOs Barrera in 10

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Featured Articles7 days ago

Middleweight Title Fight Canceled; Super Welterweight Sizzler Announced by Golden Boy

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Featured Articles1 week ago

Avila Perspective, Chap. 287: Boxing Wars on Tap in Philadelphia and Las Vegas

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Featured Articles1 week ago

Trevor McCumby Fell Off the Map and Now He’s Back with a Big Fight on the Horizon

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Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Fernando Martinez Ratches Up the Heat in the Hot Super Flyweight Division

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Shane Mosley Jr Turns Away Daniel Jacobs in the Co-Feature to Masvidal-Diaz

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Shakur Improves to 22-0 and Christmas Comes Early for Conceicao in Newark

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Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Results and Recaps from Ontario Where William Zepeda KOed Giovanni Cabrera

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Chalk Up Another Quickie for the ‘Romford Bull’: Wipes Out Alen Babic in 36 Seconds

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Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Angelo Leo’s Homecoming Fight in Albuquerque was Fermented on ProBox

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Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez is the Boss at 115, but Don’t Sleep on Ioka vs Martinez

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Jesse Rodriguez KOs Juan Francisco Estrada Before a Roaring Crowd in Phoenix

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Results & Recaps from Miami where Teofimo Lopez Out-Classed Steve Claggett

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