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Avila Perspective, Chap. 242: The Journey of Joshua Franco

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World champion Joshua Franco announced his retirement after eight years of trading blows with some of the best smaller weight fighters in the world.

It was a surprise, but few questioned his decision.

“I’ve been going through a lot of mental problems that I was doing my best to control,” said Franco. “I never talked about it publicly.”

He is 27 years old.

Ever since Franco arrived on the professional scene back in 2015, the prizefighter known as “The Professor” displayed an uncanny knack for beating the opposition. Whether they were stronger or faster or bigger they could never match that big brain of his.

Franco knew what prizefighting is all about.

When Franco arrived in Southern California after signing with Robert Garcia eight years ago, he and several others arrived from Texas like fresh boots ready to go to war. Franco, Hector Tanajara and later Vergil Ortiz arrived to form a Texas club in Riverside, California. That’s where Robert Garcia Boxing Academy is located.

Sparring was fierce as the new recruits would exchange blows and learn from Robert Garcia and his son and others including Mikey Garcia, one of the best fighters in any era. Their sessions included outsiders like Ronny Rios and many others.

When I would ask the young fighters who is the best, they would point to Franco. When I would ask Robert Garcia, he would point to Franco.

Golden Boy Promotions signed Franco and the first time Franco fought in the prize ring was at the beautiful Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles. He won by split decision. It was obvious that one judge mixed up the name. He gave the other fighter every round.

Franco fought at Belasco eight times in three years. The small venue that holds maybe 1,000 people was perfect for fight fans to see the young talented boxer from San Antonio. Though he was never a big puncher, he stayed in the pocket and used his skills to outwork whoever was in front of him.

His main asset was always that brain. He seemed to be dissecting his foe bit by bit. Once he found a weakness it was over. And foes with big power discovered that even when a powerful blow connected, the San Antonio fighter rarely blinked.

Prizefighting is all about entertaining. Fans want knockouts, blood and guts and excitement. They also want to see fighters with talent go up the rungs facing better and better talent. Franco knew this.

When asked if he would face a hotshot fighter from Colombia he said yes.

Colombia’s Negrete

Oscar “El Jaguar” Negrete had speed, skills and a lot of charisma. Fans liked the Colombian fighter’s style and willingness to trade with anyone. When an opening to fight Rey Vargas for a world title came up, he jumped at it. Though he lost by decision he went the distance.

Golden Boy matched Negrete with Franco at the OC Hangar on October 2018, and fans that had watched both fighters at Belasco Theater and Fantasy Springs Casino, rubbed their hands with glee in anticipation. They were not disappointed.

Pitting Franco and Negrete together was like tossing a cigarette lighter into a tumbler filled with nitroglycerine.

The OC Hangar has always been a spot where promoter Roy Englebrecht has staged spectacular monthly fights. On this occasion, Franco and Negrete set the bar to its highest level with rousing levels of punches.

For 10 rounds the two bantamweights exchanged lightning blows that connected with booms and each time one landed, the other fighter would respond immediately. They tried punches to the body and blows to the head. Both looking for weaknesses in the other’s game.

Just when you thought one fighter had an advantage and was about to close the show, the other would rally with even more vigor and the crowd would go crazy.

When Franco accepted the fight, he was not considered the favorite, especially with Negrete already competing for a world title. But that night Franco let the world know he was ready for world class competition.

After 10 rounds the fight was ruled a split draw. Fans did not complain and the media nodded their heads in agreement. It was just too close to declare a winner.

It was so close they agreed to do it again six months later at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio. Both felt they won the first confrontation and were vocal about settling it in the ring. On April 2019, they went at it again but this time for the NABF title.

Just like the first fight both erupted on each other like two pit bulls clashing for one bowl of food. It was explosive and there were no surprises. One change in tactics seemed to be Franco targeting the body more. It seemed to slow down Negrete but not by much.

After 10 rounds Franco was declared the winner by split decision.

Once again it was close and once again Golden Boy Promotions decided to match them up, but this time in Texas. As in their first two clashes, the third encounter was razor close and this time another split draw.

After 30 rounds of tit-for-tat explosive action, it was decided to move on.

Pandemic

When the coronavirus struck the USA it was a death blow to all spectator sports. The world stayed inside their homes and restaurants and other forms of entertainment were shut down. Some for good.

Combat sports found a way to circumvent the spreading Covid-19 virus by testing and not allowing the regular public to attend the fights. Through television and other streaming entities, the world of boxing returned in late spring.

Though Franco was contracted to Golden Boy Promotions, he was allowed to fight on a Top Rank card staged in Las Vegas on June 23, 2020. His opponent was Australia’s Andrew Moloney the WBA super flyweight titlist.

No fans were in attendance when Franco dropped down to the 115-pound weight limit to face the rugged Aussie at the MGM Bubble. The fight was shown on ESPN and they saw what only fans on the West Coast had seen. Franco knows how to fight.

It was a strange situation watching a championship fight with no fans to cheer. Every blow and grunt was picked up by the microphones. Franco was able to display his boxing mastery in the ring that day. He had an answer for every puzzle and more.

In the 11th round Franco connected and Moloney went down. That proved the difference in the fight as Franco won by close scores of 114-113 twice and 115-112. He captured the WBC super flyweight world title.

They would fight two more times and Franco proved two more times that professional boxing has another level that separates champions from other champions. That mental edge of knowing how to win a fight when knockouts are not available.

After a clash of heads ended their second fight in a no-decision, Franco won the third fight by unanimous decision and moved on. Sadly, the pandemic did not allow fans to enjoy the classic confrontations but last year most of the world opened up.

Unification

Last December, WBA titlist Franco eagerly agreed to face WBO super flyweight titlist Kazuto Ioka in a unification match in Japan.

Franco was eager to fight in front of Japan’s eager boxing fans and face four-division champion Ioka.

The Texan was eager for the challenge and proved it with 12 rounds of back-and-forth ferocity that saw two judges score it dead even and one favor Franco. The match was declared a majority draw and both kept their titles.

Both champions agreed to a rematch and last weekend on June 24, the two met in Japan once again. But this time, Franco could not make the 115-pound weight limit. The fight did proceed but the Texan was unable to keep his title regardless of the outcome.

Franco did not win and was not the same as in their first encounter. Ioka won by unanimous decision and added the WBA title to his collection. The Texan announced his retirement.

“Last night in Tokyo, Japan was officially my last fight. It was a tough week for me and I didn’t get the result I wanted but I leave this sport knowing I gave it everything I had,” said Franco via social media.

Though still in his 20s, he leaves a solid legacy and his brother Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez remains in the game.

Thanks for the exciting ride, Professor.

Manchester Fights

Undisputed super middleweight world champion Franchon Crews-Dezurn (8-1, 2 KOs) meets England’s Savannah Marshall (12-1, 10 KOs) on Saturday July 1, at the AO Arena in Manchester, England. ESPN+ will televise the BOXXER Promotions card.

Crews and Marshall are two of the strongest women in the sport. They met before as amateurs and both need a win to fight Claressa Shields the only person to beat either fighter.

Also, Natasha Jonas (13-2-1, 8 KOs) drops down in weight to meet Kandi Wyatt (11-4, 3 KOs) in a welterweight bout for the vacant IBF welterweight title.

Heavyweight Battle in Toledo

Heavyweight contender Jared “Big Baby” Anderson (14-0, 14 KOs) faces former world titlist Charles Martin (29-3-1, 26 KOs) in the main event on Saturday July 1, at Toledo, Ohio. ESPN will televise the Top Rank card.

Anderson has never heard the final bell. All 14 opponents have been knocked out by the heavyweight contender.

Fights to Watch

Sat. ESPN+ 11 a.m. Franchon Crews-Dezurn (8-1) vs Savannah Marshall (12-1).

Sat, ESPN 7 p.m. Jared Anderson (14-0) vs Charles Martin (29-3-1).

Franco/Negrete photo credit: Al Applerose

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Abraham Nova and his Mascot are Back in Action on Friday Night

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With his black beard dyed gold, junior lightweight Abraham Nova is one of boxing’s most recognizable practitioners. Sometimes there’s two of him which makes him stand out even more. His twin is an inflatable mascot painted to look just like him. On fight nights they are inseparable. The mascot shadows Nova on his ringwalk, bouncing up and down and dancing to animate the crowd.

Some gimmicks are just plain hokey. Some are annoying. But there’s something whimsical about Nova’s invention that brings a smile to boxing fans of all ages. “Abraham Nova having his own mascot is one of the coolest things in boxing,” says fight writer Ryan Songalia.

“I played all sports in high school, football, baseball, track, and got the idea of it from other sports,” says Nova of his twin who he unveiled in January of 2020 at the Turning Stone Casino and Resort in Verona, New York, where he upped his record to 18-0 with a fourth-round stoppage of Mexican journeyman Pedro Navarrete.

He’s 5-2 since then, the smudges coming against future world featherweight champion Robeisy Ramirez (KO by 5) and defending super featherweight world champion O’Shaquie Foster where he came out on the short end of a split decision. This coming Friday, in his first assignment since failing to de-throne Foster, he opposes 21-0 Andres Cortes at the Fontainebleu in Las Vegas on a Top Rank card airing on ESPN+.

“I was the one who asked for this fight,” says Nova. “Top Rank offered me a match on their June 8th Puerto Rican Parade Weekend show at Madison Square Garden against an opponent who was 17-2, but I turned it down and asked for a better opponent and they accommodated me.” Las Vegas native Andres Cortes, who has been profiled in these pages, is ranked #2 at 130 pounds by the WBO.

In common with boxing’s historical pattern, Abraham Nova had a hardscrabble upbringing.

Born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic, the second-youngest of 10 children, he came to the U.S. at the age of 1 where the entire family was initially shoe-horned into a two-bedroom apartment in Albany, New York.

His father, Aquiles, had a friend here who was the pastor of a church and in need of an assistant pastor to help with his growing congregation. Aquiles eventually founded his own church in Albany, The Pentecostal Church of Unity & Prayer where services are held in both Spanish and English.

As a toddler, Nova lived briefly in Guatemala and Mexico where his parents were called to “spread the word” and to assist in redevelopment projects. The family traveled 5,500 miles in a rickety old school bus from Albany to Guatemala during the end days of the Guatemalan Civil War.

Each of Nova’s four brothers boxed, but he was the only one to turn pro. As an amateur, he won the 2015 Olympic Trials Qualifying Tournament in Memphis, defeating Frank Martin and Richardson Hitchins in back-to-back fights, but failed to make the U.S. team for the Rio Games when he lost a split decision to Gary Antuanne Russell at the Olympic Trials in Reno. Those bouts were contested at 141 pounds.

A 30-year-old bachelor, Nova had his final amateur fights in Lowell, Massachusetts, a pillar of amateur boxing in New England, and has remained in the Boston area without losing his Albany identity. He is trained by ex-U.S. Marine Mark DeLuca, a boxer of some renown who sports a 30-4 record and may not be done with fighting quite yet at age 36.

Nova’s opponent, Andres Cortes, has won five of his last seven inside the distance beginning with a smashing first-round knockout of 34-2 Genesis Servania. On paper, it’s a 50-50 match-up. (The pricemakers are flummoxed; as of this writing, they have yet to establish a betting line.)

Abraham Nova’s mascot may never become as well-known as some of the costumed human mascots in college sports (e.g., West Virginia’s Mountaineer or Michigan State’s Sparty), let alone as beloved as the University of Georgia’s flesh-and-blood bulldog mascot Uga, but give the boxer credit for originality and for bringing a little levity to a sport too often besotted with incivility.

Note: Abraham Nova vs. Andres Cortes is the co-feature. In the main go, new Top Rank signee Rafael Espinoza makes the first defense of his WBO world featherweight title against Mexican countryman Sergio Chirino. Espinoza forged the 2023 TSS Upset of the Year when he got off the deck to defeat Robeisy Ramirez on Dec. 9 in Pembroke Pines, Florida, winning legions of fans with his unrelenting buzzsaw attack. Action from the Fontaineblue begins at 4:00 pm PST on ESPN+.

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A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

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A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

BY TSS Special Correspondent David Harazduk — A hundred years ago, ducking a worthy challenger wouldn’t simply stoke the ire of the fans, it came with the prospect of jail time.

On Thursday, November 3, 1927, 16,000 fans packed Wrigley Field in Los Angeles hoping to witness their local favorite challenge for the welterweight world championship. Nicknamed the “Nebraska Wildcat,” Ace Hudkins had relocated to the Pacific Coast where his devil-may-care style in the ring made him instantly popular among Angelino fight fans. He was set to battle Joe Dundee, the champion, an Italian immigrant who had settled in Baltimore at a young age. But there was one problem.

The champion refused to fight.

Members of the California boxing commission, along with promoter Dick Donald, raced to the Biltmore Hotel to plead with Dundee (pictured) and his manager Max Waxman to come to Wrigley Field and fight. Waxman steadfastly refused. Donald, a quick-witted cigar-chomping Irishman known as the “Boy Promoter,” had promised Max’s man the ungodly sum of $60,000, and Dundee wouldn’t enter the ring for a penny less.

Under the rules of the California commission, a fighter could only receive a guarantee of $500. The rest of the purse came from a percentage of the gate: 37.5% for the champion and 12.5% for the challenger. Waxman insisted that Donald had offered $60,000, but the commission couldn’t enforce this side deal.

Tickets in the bleachers were sold at $2.20 a pop while those closer to the ring went for $11. The most the gate could possibly produce would be $90,000. Add in Wrigley Field’s 15% usage fee and payments to the preliminary fighters, officials, and even to rent the chairs situated around the ring, and Dundee’s dreams of $60,000- $75,000 if he lost the title- never had a prayer of being realized. After all, 37.5% of $90,000, plus $500, is only $34,250.

Meanwhile, Eddie Mahoney, a preliminary fighter, entered the ring at 8:30pm. Mahoney was scheduled to fight Joe Dundee’s brother Vince, a future middleweight world champion. When Vince didn’t follow Mahoney into the ring, Mahoney soon left, much to the bewilderment of the crowd.

Donald scrambled to find a plan B. He searched for welterweight contender Sergeant Sammy Baker to replace Dundee and fight Hudkins. When Baker couldn’t be located, Donald asked a preliminary fighter, Olympic gold medalist Jackie Fields, to take on Hudkins instead. Hudkins and Fields had been sparring partners when the featherweight champion of the 1924 Games in Paris was a nascent pro back in 1925. Fields’s manager, Gig Rooney, felt Hudkins was too big for the Olympic champ at this stage of his career and preferred to remain on the undercard against San Francisco’s Joey Silver.

With no plan B, Donald and the commissioners went back to Waxman in a last desperate plea to coax Dundee to defend his title. One commissioner, Charles Traung, offered Waxman an additional $10,000 check for Dundee to fight. Waxman stubbornly held out for more.

At 9:20pm, back at Wrigley, Donald signaled Jackie Fields and Joey Silver to enter the ring. Though Fields was wobbled twice, he opened up a cut over Silver’s left eye and split the San Franciscan’s lip on route to a convincing points victory in a ten-rounder. A few minutes after 10pm, Mahoney and Vince Dundee finally entered the ring for their clash. Dundee starched Mahoney inside of two rounds. When Waxman, who also managed Vince, heard of the second-round stoppage, he said “Vince knocked that guy out, eh? I told him to carry him along.” Waxman had hoped to stall for time.

Soon after the end of the Dundee-Mahoney fight, Ace Hudkins waltzed to the ring. He spent fifteen minutes seated in his corner, covered in a bathrobe and towels to keep him warm. Dundee never showed.

At 11:25pm, ring announcer Frank Kerwin slid into the ring and bellowed, “Owing to the fact that Joe Dundee did not receive his guarantee, he refused to go on with his match against Ace Hudkins.” The crowd was advised to “hold their seat checks and watch the newspapers for other announcements.”

The fans didn’t take too kindly to the announcement and hurled those rented chairs in disgust. Fights broke out all over the stadium, spilling into the ring. All available police officers in the area rushed to Wrigley Field, wielding their nightsticks in a bid to subdue the violent mob. Dozens of fans were injured in the fracas. To add insult to injury, those who had paid $2.20 for their seats in the bleachers were out of luck; they had never received a ticket in the first place.

The next day, Waxman and Joe Dundee checked out of the Biltmore Hotel at noon and made their way to the train station. Later that night, they were pulled off an eastbound train at Pasadena and arrested for false advertising.  Waxman posted a $1,000 bond for each of them.

A warrant was issued for Donald on the same false advertising grounds. He phoned into the police station promising to turn himself in once his feelings of humiliation subsided. The police agreed to wait.

Ultimately, all accused would be acquitted. Waxman would return the $22,249.43 that had been placed in his account and an $11,000 check.

Fans didn’t receive refunds as it was deemed unfair to give them only to those who had bought $11 tickets since the gallery patrons had no ticket stub and thus, couldn’t get a refund anyhow. After the preliminary fighters, Wrigley Field, officials, ushers, and the chair rental company were compensated, the rest of the money was placed into a community fund.

Because he had entered the ring for his title challenge, Ace Hudkins declared himself the new champion, but no commission accepted his claim. Dick Donald’s promotional career, once so promising, abruptly ended. In 1935, he took one last gasp in boxing, serving as matchmaker at the famed Olympic Auditorium for a brief spell.

Joe Dundee would never fight in California again. His championship reign ended dishonorably a year and half later when several commissions agreed to strip him of the title for refusing to fight any top contenders. When Jackie Fields won the vacant title, he and Dundee were matched for the undisputed crown on July 25, 1929. With Dundee a two-to-one underdog, Waxman and Dundee bet $50,000 on Joe to win, with fouls canceling the bet. Fields shellacked Dundee, knocking him down twice. In the second round, after the second knockdown, Dundee knew he was licked. He got up and hit Fields low as hard as he could. Dundee was instantly disqualified, losing any claim to the title as disgracefully as his hold-out against Hudkins.

If only some of the alphabet champions of today had to post bail under the threat of jail for ducking contenders, maybe boxing would be in a better state.

EDITOR’S: Author David Harazduk has run The Jewish Boxing Blog since 2010. You can find him at  Twitter/X @JewishBoxing and Instagram @JewishBoxing

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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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