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Boxing Notes and Nuggets from Thomas Hauser: ‘The Blue Corner’

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Boxing, like all sports, is more fun to watch when the viewer has a rooting interest. That interest can spring from a variety of factors. Some people like or dislike a particular fighter on a personal level. Others – let’s be honest – root for or against a fighter based on ethnicity.

If I don’t know either of the fighters in a fight, I root for the underdog.

That can be dispiriting. Too many fight cards today consist largely of A-side vs. B-side fights. As a general rule, the A-side fighter comes out of the red corner and the B-side fighter is seated in the blue corner. Upsets are few and far between.

Tom Loeffler’s March 15 fight card at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater is a case in point. There are underdogs and then there are hopeless underdogs. I went to the fights hoping something that wasn’t supposed to happen would happen. But a look at the opponents’ records told me that was unlikely.

BoxRec.com is a wonderful tool for scoping out how competitive a fight is likely to be. Here’s what I learned from BoxRec.com before the fights and how things unfolded in the ring.

Fight #1: Giovanni Scuderi (9-0, 4 KOs) vs. Brandon Carmack – Scuderi’s last opponent had 57 losses. And that opponent might have beaten Carmack. I’m sure Brandon could decimate most people in a bar fight. But he lumbered around the ring like a heavybag with feet. Scuderi telegraphs every righthand he throws. But he has a basic jab. The match had the appearance of a picador sticking lances into a slow sluggish bull. W4 for Scuderi.

Fight #2: Nisa Rodriguez (0-0) vs. Jozette Cotton – Rodriguez is a 33-year-old New York City police officer with an extensive amateur background who was making her pro debut. Cotton was winless in four pro fights. Rodriguez fought tentatively. Cotton had a roll of flab around her waist (which spoke to her conditioning) and fought like she didn’t know how to box. W4 for Rodriguez.

Fight #3 Joseph Ward (10-1, 6 KOs) vs. Derrick Webster – Webster is 41 years old and has now won one of six fights since 2018. KO 2 for Ward.

Fight #4: Reshat Mati (14-0, 8 KOs) vs. Irving Macias – Macias has lost three of his last four fights, and the guy he beat during that stretch has 19 losses (including his last seven fights in a row). W8 for Mati.

Fight #5: Cletus Seldin (27-1, 23 KOs) vs. Jose Angulo – Angulo has lost six of his last eight fights, including four KOs by. W8 for Seldin, Here, I should note that, after the fight, Seldin took the ring announcer’s microphone, dropped to one knee, opened a small box containing a diamond engagement ring, and asked one Jessica Ostrowski to marry him. The future Mrs. Seldin (who was clad in black leather) said yes, and the happy couple paraded around the ring together.

Fight #6: Feargal McCrory (15-0, 7 KOs) vs. Carlos Carlson –  Carlson has had ten fights since 2016 and lost seven of them. The three guys he beat during that stretch have 92 losses between them. And he hadn’t fought in more than two years. Referee David Fields did the fans a favor by stopping the bout prematurely in round three. If Carlson had fought as vigorously during the fight as he complained about the stoppage afterward, it would have been a better fight.

Fight #7: The main event matched Callum Walsh (9-0, 7 KOs) against Dauren Yeleussinov. Walsh is a 23-year-old junior-middleweight who UFC CEO Dana White is trying to build as a boxing version of Conor McGregor. Yeleussinov has lost three of his last four fights (including a first-round KO by). And the opponent Dauren beat during that stretch has 22 losses (including a current losing streak of 19 a row). Yeleussinov was tailor-made for Walsh – slow on his feet with slow hands and not much of a punch. Callum got off first all night. KO 9.

In six of the seven fights, the underdog lost every round.

I’m tired of fighters who talk tough and posture at press conferences but won’t fight an opponent who’s remotely competitive. And yes; I know that prospects can’t go in tough every time out. But a prospect’s opponent should pose some kind of challenge.

And let’s be honest; most of the fighters on the March 15 card were there because they were local ticket-sellers, not prospects. Only Walsh has world-class potential. He’s 23 years old with skills and is getting better. Right now, he’s a very good club fighter. Let’s see if he becomes something more.

*        *        *

One moment from promoter Larry Goldberg’s March 7 club-fight card at Sony Hall in New York stands out in my mind.

In the second fight of the evening, Jason Castanon and Luis Rivera-Reyes squared off against one another in a scheduled four-round junior-welterweight bout. Each man was making his pro debut. Castanon’s opponent had pulled out the previous week, leaving matchmaker Eric Bottjer scrambling for a new opponent. Rivera-Reyes had been scheduled to fight on the undercard of a show in Puerto Rico but his opponent had also fallen out, so he was available.

Bottjer thought that Castanon vs. Rivera-Reyes would be a competitive fight. Each man was old for a boxer making his pro debut. Castano is 30; Rivera-Reyes is 35. But they had comparable amateur backgrounds.

Rivera-Reyes held his own in round one. But Castanon was the stronger, better-schooled fighter. In round two, Luis started getting beaten up. The punishment mounted in round three. Rivera-Reyes was still trying to win but it was a futile effort. With seconds left in the third stanza, a righthand staggered Luis and a second righthand put him down hard. He rose through an incredible act of will because that’s what real fighters do. But he was badly hurt and on wobbly legs. Referee Eddie Claudio asked if he wanted to continue.

Rivera-Reyes shook his head. No.

Afterward, an uncharitable observer said that Luis “quit.”

I think that Luis acted with honor. Sitting several feet from the ring, I had a perfect view of the pain and despair etched on his face as he confronted the reality that he was a beaten man. He didn’t jump to his feet at the count of ten-and-a-half, pretending that he was ready to keep fighting. He didn’t ignore the referee’s question and feign outrage when the fight was stopped. He acknowledged that he had given his all and was beaten. Fighters aren’t video-game figures. They get hurt. And sometimes they just can’t take anymore.

The moment reminded me of the 1983 rematch between Alexis Arguello and Aaron Pryor. Pryor had won their classic first encounter with a brutal knockout that left Arguello unconscious on the ring canvas. In round ten of Pryor-Arguello II, Alexis found himself on the canvas again. He was a warrior, one of the greatest fighters of all time. He could have gotten up. But he didn’t. He had done the best he could and realized that it was over. He sat with tears streaming down his face and later acknowledged. “It’s hard to accept, but it’s good to accept. I did it with grace and just accepted that the guy beat me. Even though I did my best, in the tenth round I accepted it right there. I said, ‘This is too much. I won’t take it. I‘ll just sit and watch Richard Steele count to ten.'”The look in Luis Rivera-Reyes’s eyes when he shook his head will stay with me for a long time. He had been beaten into submission in his first pro fight. And I wondered, how long will he hold onto the dream.

*          *          *

A nod to “March Madness” which begins this week . . .

College basketball has a problem – court storming.

It’s now in vogue for fans of the home team to surge onto the court after a big win. Tearing down the goal posts in football endangers fans who are tearing down the goal posts. Court storming endangers the players.

On January 21, Caitlin Clark (Iowa’s superstar guard) was knocked to the floor when Ohio State fans stormed the court after a big win.

On February 24, Kyle Fitzpatrick (Duke’s All-American center) injured his knee when Wake Forest fans stormed the court after a dramatic upset.

To date, the NCAA has done nothing about the problem. Several conferences have taken action on their own, the most notable example being the SEC which instituted an escalating fine that begins at $100,000 for the first incident. By contrast, the ACC has no penalty for court-storming; the Big Ten has no penalty until the third incident; and the Big East penalizes offending schools the paltry sum of $5,000.

It shouldn’t be hard to end court storming.

The NCAA should institute a rule – and fans should be advised late in each contest – that court storming will result in forfeiture of the game.

***

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – MY MOTHER and me – is a personal memoir that will be published by Admission Press on April 2 and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.https://www.amazon.com/My-Mother-Me-Thomas-Hauser/dp/1955836191/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5C0TEN4M9ZAH&keywords=thomas+hauser&qid=1707662513&sprefix=thomas+hauser%2Caps%2C80&sr=8-1

          In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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