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For Whom the Bell Tolled: 2023 Boxing Obituaries PART TWO (July-Dec.)

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Here is the concluding segment of our annual two-part, end-of-year necrology where we pay homage to boxing notables who left us this year.

July

July 1 – ANTWUN ECHOLS – An alternate on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, he was a three-time world title challenger, losing to Bernard Hopkins twice and to Anthony Mundine. His career went south after he was shot in the leg during an altercation outside a Davenport, Iowa grocery store in the summer of 2007 and he lost 15 of his last 16 fights. In Davenport at age 62 of an apparent heart attack.

July 8 – PATRICK AOUISSI – A 1992 Olympian, he went on to win the European cruiserweight title. His record as a pro, 24-6, included a loss to Argentine cruiserweight Marcelo Dominguez in his lone crack at a world title. At age 57 from a stroke suffered at a hospital in Vienne, France, where he was a cancer patient.

July 13 – KARL ZURHEIDE – A light heavyweight, active from 1964 to 1979, the Wisconsin journeyman finished 39-29-5, but was better than his record. Eight of his defeats came at the hands of future world title-holders. In retirement, he worked as a parole officer and promoted a handful of club fights. At age 78 at a hospital in Milwaukee after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

July 20 – JUAN ‘KID’ MEZA – The first fighter from Mexicali to win a world title, Meza, born Jesus Fernandez, captured the WBC 122-pound title in 1984 with a sensational first-round knockout of Jaime Garza. He lost the belt to Lupe Pintor in his second defense and retired after three more fights with a record of 44-8. At age 67 in Mexicali where he lived alone.

July 20 – AL ROMANO – A fixture on the New England club fight scene in the 1960s and 1970s, Romano won 66 of 99 fights and was recognized at various times as the New England and North American welterweight champion. In retirement he had a long career as a North Adams, MA, police officer. At age 71 in a nursing home in Williamtown, MA, where he was suffering dementia.

July 28 – DAVEY HILTON SR. – The patriarch of Canada’s most successful and most dysfunctional boxing family – two of his sons, Matthew and Davey Jr, won world titles – Davey Sr was a pretty fair fighter in his own right, finishing his career in 1976 with a record of 67-16 per boxrec. At age 83 at his home in Montreal.

July 30 – JOSE LUIS PIMENTEL – The twin brother of bantamweight knockout artist and LA fan favorite Jesus “Little Poison” Pimentel, Jose, a U.S. Army veteran, had three fights with Sho Saijo, losing the rubber match (L TKO 2) when Saijo was the defending WBA world featherweight champion. At age 83 in Chino Hilla, CA, after a long battle with dementia.

August

Aug. 8 – ROY HARRIS – Abetted by a fanciful back story, Harris wangled a match with defending heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. He had no business in the same ring with Patterson, or with Sonny Liston, or destroyed him in one round, but the “Backwoods Battler” from Cut and Shoot, Texas, was outstanding at the regional level. In retirement, he practiced law and was elected County Clerk, a post he held for 28 years. At age 90 in Conroe, Texas.

Aug. 22 – RENE WELLER – A 1976 Olympian for West Germany, Weller carved out a magnificent record (55-1-2) as a pro without defeating a world class opponent. A major celebrity in Germany during his run as the European lightweight champion, his 1999 conviction for selling cocaine was an international news story. In retirement, he cultivated a new fan base as a contestant on reality TV shows. At age 69 in Pforzheim, his birthplace, after a nine-year battle with dementia.

September

Sept. 6 – MIKE STAFFORD – A fixture on the Cincinnati amateur boxing scene for three decades, Stafford, a greatly admired trainer, developed future title-holders Rau’shee Warren and Adrien Broner from scratch, helped coach the 2004 and 2008 U.S. Olympic squads, and was twice named the National Coach of the Year. In Cincinnati, his birthplace, after a brief and unspecified illness.

Sept. 19 – EDDIE GAZO – The second fighter from Nicaragua to win a world title following the great Alexis Arguello, Gazo won the WBA 154-pound belt at Managua in 1977 with a 15-round decision over Argentine veteran Angel Castellini and made three successful defenses in the Orient before losing the belt to Masashi Kudo in Japan. Late in his career, he was KOed in brief encounters with Thomas Hearns, John Mugabi, and Julian Jackson. At age 73 in Leon, Nicaragua.

Sept. 25 – LUIGI MINCHILLO – A member of Italy’s 1976 Olympic team, he went on to become a European 154-pound champion and two-time world title challenger. He lost only five of 60 pro fights, but three of those losses were to future Hall of Famers Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, and Mike McCallum and he went the distance with Hearns and Duran. At age 68 at a hospital in Pesaro, Italy, where he had a heart attack.

Sept. 27 – BOB SHERIDAN – Enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2016, “Colonel Bob” (an honorary title) called more fights in more places around the world than any sportscaster in history. As the anchor of the international feed for Don King Promotions, he was ironically more well-known overseas than in his native U.S. At age 79 in Henderson, Nevada, where he had been battling assorted health issues for more than a decade.

October

Oct. 7 – ERIC GRIFFIN – No great shakes as a pro, Griffin left the sport with a 16-4 record after a failed bid to win the WBO 105-pound title, but the Broussard, Louisiana native – robbed of a medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics – was flat-out one of the best U.S. amateurs of all time, a four-time national amateur champion and twice a finalist for the prestigious Sullivan Award. At age 55 at a hospital in Lafayette, LA, from complications of diabetes.

Oct. 13 – HUGH RUSSELL – A bronze medalist for Ireland at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, “Little Red” had only 19 pro fights, winning 17, but won British titles at 118 and 112 pounds and acquired a coveted Lonsdale Belt. After boxing, he spent four decades as a photographer with the Irish News. At age 63 in Belfast, NI, after a short illness.

November

Nov. 5 – MIKE PICCIOTTI – A welterweight, Picciotti cultivated a strong following in the rings of Philadelphia and Atlantic City where he fashioned a 31-4-3 record during an 11-year career that began in 1976. In retirement, he battled numerous health problems while working as a union carpenter to support his growing family. At age 66 in Glenolden, PA.

Nov. 8 – TYRONE TRICE – A three-time world title challenger, Trice was involved in some of the best fights of his era. His 14-round war with welterweight kingpin Simon Brown in 1988, televised live on CBS from France, was a humdinger and his 1990 match with Kevin Pompey set a CompuBox record (since broken) for punches thrown. He finished 43-10 (34 KOs). In Milwaukee, his hometown, at age 60 from an undisclosed illness.

Nov. 24 – SAMUEL TEAH – Born in Liberia, Teah juggled his boxing career with assorted jobs, most recently as a bus driver for the city of Philadelphia. He was 36 years old when he was fatally shot under mysterious circumstances during a mid-afternoon altercation on a sidewalk in Wilmington, Delaware. His 19-5-1 record included a win over O’Shaquie Foster who currently holds the WBC super featherweight title.

December

Dec. 20 – OVE OVESEN – The author of the definitive book on the history of boxing in Denmark, Ovesen was also a prominent judge. He worked 72 world title fights including such biggies as McGuigan-Pedroza, Hagler-Duran, and Pryor-Arguello I. At age 86 in Holstebro, Denmark, from complications of Alzheimer’s.

Dec. 28 (approx.) – CEM KILIC – Born in Germany of Turkish descent, Kilic moved to Los Angeles at age 19 to further his boxing career. A super middleweight, he compiled a 17-1 record and was active as recently as this past August. In Sherman Oaks, CA, at age 29 after  a lengthy battle with mental health and substance abuse issues.

To read Part One of this feature CLICK HERE

 

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ 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, a so-called 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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Looking Back at Willie Pep Through the Keyhole of a Stormy Night in the Orange Bowl

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