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The final chapters of a boxer’s career are seldom autobiographical. From Trevor Berbick to Kevin McBride, boxing has long been littered with unwelcome ghostwriters, authors of woe, intent on adding a miserable conclusion to an otherwise uplifting story. Jim McDonnell, “Jimmy Mac” to those who know him personally, was once a ghostwriter. A competent talent who flirted with world level before becoming a first-class trainer boasting numerous accolades, McDonnell, perhaps unfairly, is remembered primarily for being the man who penned the final moments of Barry McGuigan’s memorable story. It is a conclusion he has fond memories of producing.

“I didn’t think I was ever going to get that fight,” screeches McDonnell, a shrill excitement in his voice that is often evident in ex-fighters delighted at the prospect of sharing war stories one more time. “I was with Mickey Duff if you can remember and Barry was with Barney Eastwood, so it should’ve been an easy fight to make. It wasn’t until I was with Barry Hearn that the fight happened. Barry phoned me at about one in the morning and he said, ‘Jim, we’ve got the McGuigan fight. Press conference is tomorrow so put on your best suit.’ There was no way I was getting back to sleep, so I just threw on my running gear and got out in the streets for an hour or two because I was so excited.”

On the verge of nailing a monumental victory, McDonnell’s journey to this crucial point in his life had been one built on seemingly endless toil. He is a product of 1960s London, a city congested with a wide variety of characters ranging from gentleman gangsters to scooter-riding Mods. The “Swinging Sixties,” essentially a youth culture centered on art, fashion, and music, didn’t appeal to a sports-obsessed McDonnell, who made football and boxing his priorities while his fellow youth pursued alternative fixes.

“My mum and dad went their separate ways when I was a young lad, so I made the move from East London to North London. Football was on Saturdays and Sundays, and because I’d been boxing all week I’d always be turning up with bruises, cuts, and black eyes. I could’ve done something with football, but it was boxing that I was better at, and that’s why I made the decision to stick with it. My fitness was always one step ahead of everyone else’s because I took my running and sprints so seriously. Having good coaches at my club, St. Pancras in North London, taught me everything I needed to know about boxing and, when you add in my fitness, then I started doing well in it.

“Boxing was a valuable currency in London when I was competing. You went in the ABA finals then the local paper was doing a big spread on you, Boxing News would give it about four or five pages, and you’d have the BBC screening the whole event live and you might even get a repeat screening too. I lost ABA finals, but I also won one, and you can tell the difference in both as it was a big stage to perform on and almost everyone could tell you who the ABA champions were back then as the exposure it provided was huge. The Olympics was always the big one, but you could get yourself a few quid from a promoter if you had an ABA title.”

McDonnell grabbed his ABA gong in 1982 and added a silver medal from that year’s Commonwealth Games before lending his ears to the wide variety of promoters who controlled British boxing at the birth of the turbulent 1980s. In a country plagued with mass unemployment, McDonnell, despite the loud backdrop, applied himself vigorously to boxing, climbed the rankings, and was European featherweight champion by the end of 1985.

With terrestrial television strongly backing something of a domestic boxing saga starring names like Frank Bruno, Nigel Benn, Herol Graham, and an emerging Chris Eubank, McDonnell was an excellent supporting act whose envious levels of fitness, combined with a knowledge of boxing basics, made him a handful for boxing’s shrewdest operators. Possessing a ledger providing evidence that he wasn’t quite good enough for the Brian Mitchells and Azumah Nelsons of the world, McDonnell was more than a match for this version of McGuigan, and when he came face to face with the Irish icon at their prefight media gathering in May 1989, Jim was certain he was going to make a lasting impression.

“I never got a look in with the press for that fight until one fella at the back shouted out, ‘Jim, what makes you think you’re on Barry’s level?’ Barry Hearn tried to answer for me, but I grabbed my microphone and asked the journalist why he was up at the back and not on the front with the guys from the dailies and the magazines. I told him that being on the same table as Barry meant I was on his level, yet he was up there in the sky whilst all the big journalists were at the front. That got me a good laugh and it kind of helped me relax a little as it took some sting from the press conference.”

McDonell and McGuigan met at the G-Mex Centre, in Manchester, on May 5, 1989. Setting his usual Tasmanian-devil pace from the opening bell, McDonnell overwhelmed McGuigan almost immediately. Both men had endured grueling careers, and when the time came to reach down and claim any sort of respite being offered, it was McDonnell who could go further. The Londoner relentlessly targeted a cut on McGuigan’s eye, and with the laceration worsening with each thudding punch landed, referee Mickey Vann called a halt on a McDonnell combination, and a brief examination of the Irishman’s eye proved enough to end the fight.

After ousting McGuigan from boxing permanently, McDonnell was now desperate to emulate his most recent victim as he strived to become world champion, though he was confronted by Ghana’s cherished son, Nelson. On Bonfire Night, 1989, at a congested Royal Albert Hall, McDonnell sat at the top of the bill on a show that featured the rise of future heavyweight titlists Herbie Hide and Lennox Lewis. In Nelson, McDonnell faced a modern great, possibly at his peak, and the gulf in class was evident despite a courageous effort from the London man, who was sensibly saved in the final stanza.

“I needed the Nelson fight when I had the McGuigan one,” remembers McDonnell, a hint of pride in his voice while analyzing his tough battles with featherweight royalty. “Far too much of me went into that McGuigan fight that I think it was nearly impossible to get to that level again so soon after. I was always one of the fittest, but against Nelson, I began to tire really early and that never really happened to me. Maybe I was getting old, but I do think the desire and energy I put into the McGuigan fight knocked a lot from me and it was the Nelson fight when I realized it.”

Two more fights, eight years apart, and both losses, hurled McDonnell’s fighting career towards the exit door. He had endured plenty in his eventful thirty-fight tenure, but a world title, something he always wanted, stayed just out of reach despite the prize teasing McDonnell on a few occasions. Undeniably a student of his craft and a constant nuisance to all his coaches, Jim made the switch from fighter to trainer look effortless as he guided Brixton heavyweight Danny Williams all the way to a world title shot.

“You hear fighters sometimes say fighting is the easy part, but I always loved training. The runs up to Hampstead Heath with George Francis where he’d make you jump in the freezing pond at the end and then onto the gym later where it’d be packed and noisy, and the sparring went on for hours. The gym was something of a peaceful place for me, and I felt alive whenever I was in there. There were times I couldn’t wait for my career to be over because I always knew I was going to be a trainer from when I was a young lad.”

On Williams, McDonnell added: “He could do it all could Danny, but only when he felt like it. There were days in the gym when he’d be sparring or doing pads, and fighters like Takaloo would just be standing there in amazement at what they were watching. Danny was really quick, he could bang and he set traps really well. It was no surprise to me that he beat [Mike] Tyson, because I knew what Danny was capable of. For weeks I’d have sparring partners going all out for the first two rounds trying to kill him as I knew that’s what Mike would try. Clifford Etienne was told he’d get £1,000 from my own money if he could drop Danny in the first couple of rounds. I had to make sure he was ready for the onslaught.”

In survival mode from the opening bell like a game-show contestant racing against the clock, Williams resisted Tyson’s well-planned attacks and his strategy was aided when the New Yorker’s knee seemingly blew out at the end of round one. As Tyson’s injury became more destabilizing, Williams’s confidence was inflating with every passing session and a fourth-round flurry was enough to cause a seismic upset. Tyson’s well-thought-out blueprint to earn another world title shot was in tatters, and it was Williams who obtained a Christmas date with WBC ruler Vitali Klitschko.

After slaying one generational ruler, Williams was unable to destroy another as the Ukrainian monster produced one of heavyweight boxing’s most brutal performances, punishing Williams in a showing that mirrored an angry bully slapping around a timid victim. The brave Brit was consistently floored and, halfway through the eighth round, Jay Nady halted a massacre that could’ve been stopped many rounds sooner. Williams’s days as a world-class contender were over just as swiftly as they had begun, and McDonnell still harbors regrets when looking back at the events of December 2004.

“It was too much too soon for Danny. From Tyson to Klitschko was too big an ask in consecutive fights and I wish there was the opportunity to fight a bigger man in the mold of Klitschko before heading into the fight. Someone also thought it would be a good idea for Sterling McPherson to help out in the corner, and that also ended up being something of a mess because Danny was just getting advice from all areas and I should’ve put a stop to that immediately. I grew as a trainer overnight in that fight because I told myself that things would be different moving forward and that I’d always listen to myself rather than others. Danny didn’t have a chance looking back, but I was convinced by others that he belonged in there. He needed more experience at that level and then maybe things might’ve worked out differently.”

Man enough to admit his shortcomings in a business where weaknesses are exploited ruthlessly, McDonnell was a much shrewder operator when James DeGale demanded his services in 2008, just months after winning an Olympic gold medal. Oozing self-belief, enough to make supporters dislike him in his early career, DeGale’s demeanor couldn’t be more of a contrast from that of McDonnell. Despite this difference, McDonnell and DeGale, almost like father and son, conquered the boxing world when “Chunky” became a titleholder in 2015 by outpointing Michigan’s Andre Dirrell in a lukewarm classic. With DeGale now retired, McDonnell looks to the former super-middleweight champion as the man who gave him his biggest highlights in boxing.

“James winning that belt was everything I’ve always wanted, and I couldn’t have been happier for him. I’d take that moment over and over again for the rest of my life. Even if someone offered me wins over Azumah Nelson and [his other world-leading opponent] Brian Mitchell, I never would’ve taken them if it meant that James didn’t get his world title. I was with him for the first fight, and I was with him in his last. There’s not many trainers who have what me and James had, and I’m forever grateful to him for letting me be there for what was a brilliant time.”

McDonnell added, “Losses to [George] Groves and [Caleb] Truax never once changed James’s opinion of me. I saw things wrote about how he needed a new trainer and that’s one thing I hate about boxing. It’s far too easy to blame the trainer, and James never once blamed me. He had amazing drive and always wanted to be the best and test himself in the biggest fights. When he first turned over with me, I remember we were due to meet and run some hills at five-thirty in the morning. The snow was really bad this day, and the whole gym was meant to be there. When I got there, it was only James that had shown up. An Olympic gold medalist and a few quid in the bank, and he’s first there in awful conditions. That was James all over. A proper fighter, who had the exact same attitude that I had all those years ago. Good on him for getting to the top because it was something that I was never able to do.”

The post Jim McDonnell, The Man Who Retired McGuigan appeared first on Hannibal Boxing.

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During a recent UK tour to promote his new memoir, “Gentleman” Gerry Cooney, a former two-time world-title challenger, spoke to Hannibal Boxing about the current heavyweight division, which has not been this exciting or stacked since the late nineties. In addition to being an author, Cooney is also the co-host (along with Randy Gordon), of the popular Sirius XM radio show At the Fights.

The fight fan in Cooney is relishing the prospect of some of the potential matchups.

“You got [Tyson] Fury with [Bob] Arum on ESPN+, you got [Deontay] Wilder with Showtime and you got [Anthony] Joshua with DAZN, and now you got [Andy] Ruiz [Jr], you got Joe Joyce, you got a couple of tough African guys coming up [too]. The picture is coming into focus, the talented heavyweight division is coming back for the first time in a long time, and that’s going to be exciting. Now we got to see these guys fight and that’s a very exciting proposition.”

To begin his trip to the UK, Cooney visited WBC number-one contender Dillian Whyte, deep in camp at Loughborough University. Cooney drew similarities between Whyte and a younger version of himself from his fighting days.

“I got with Dillian Whyte, I love the kid, and we had great conversations about his left hook and tightening up, you know, slipping off to the side. I loved that guy! I identify with him so much. He was the guy that Eddie Hearn put in to test out all of these guys, and now it’s his time to get a shot, and they’re ducking him. When I was fighting, Don King owned everybody, and they wouldn’t give me anybody because I wouldn’t sign with him, so I kinda felt left out. It’s frustrating, and what it did to me was wore me out, I think. It’s on, it’s off, it’s on, it’s off. So I identify with him [Whyte], but he’s got the great training camp, he’s got great people around him, and quite frankly he’s been the busiest of all the guys. Obviously, someone’s directing somebody; I hate to say that.”

White finds himself facing off against undefeated Colombian Oscar Rivas, who boasts a record of 26-0, with 18 knockouts. The bout will take place at the O2 Arena in London on July 16.

“I like Dillian Whyte; I think Dillian Whyte is going to be too tough for him [Rivas]. He’s grown a lot out of all the heavyweights. When I fought [Larry] Holmes back in my day, I didn’t get the experience until I fought Holmes. Larry Holmes gave me all the experience I needed, but until then, I didn’t have any experience, I was just knocking everybody out. Dillian Whyte has boxed with all these guys, [Joseph] Parker, Joshua—all these fights while everybody else was waiting around, and he’s got the most ability. I was in his . . . training camp, and it’s phenomenal what they’re putting him through. The conditioning boxing program is what really takes you over the top. It gives you the conditioning for ten, eleven, and twelve [rounds] that most of these guys don’t have.

“The Rivas fight is something to do about nothing. Dillian Whyte will be tested for a couple of rounds; he will come on strong and, if not knock him out, he’ll win the decision. I would’ve loved to see Dillian Whyte get a shot with Andy Ruiz, who’s a beast of a guy himself. He’s been wanting to fight Wilder, too! Although I think Fury will get Wilder first. I think, finally, since everybody saw what happened to Joshua, I think that everybody’s kind of gotta pull the trigger and put in Fury and Wilder to make that big payday.”

Former heavyweight kingpin (and Dillian Whyte conqueror) Anthony Joshua suffered a fall from grace with a crash when he lost to Ruiz on June 1 at Madison Square Garden, shocking Cooney along with the world.

“It was [a shock] all around the world! Listen, everybody feels good that Ruiz—this guy who doesn’t look like a heavyweight champion— he’s a heavy-set guy, it’s just that’s who he is—but he got up. I said on-air that I picked Joshua to stop him later on in the fight, but I said that Ruiz is a tough guy, and he’s going to test Joshua, and we will find out a lot of things about Joshua, and we did.

“Joshua is going to have to learn how to fight again. He’s going to have to get away from those sharks and tie up in there and hold on, use that jab more effectively, get his head out of the way. Those things are what the pros learn. Now he’s got tested, he said it himself: you can’t always win, you will lose at some point. Now what does he do with that, does he get somebody else as a trainer to teach you how to really fight in the pros or does he be the nice guy and keep the same set of trainers? I don’t think that’s in his best interests. I think he has the ability, and he’s got to get the ring back and it’s not going to be easy getting it [back] off Ruiz because when you win the heavyweight championship of the world, you become a better fighter just by winning the title. You become more confident, you want to hold on to that belt, so it makes it harder for the other guys.”

Anthony Joshua and Eddie Hearn have exercised a rematch clause to face Ruiz again, and Cooney believes that this is the best step for Joshua to take right now.

“I think it is [the right move], I think if he waits, waits, and waits, it just leaves for more speculation about him getting dropped in the gyms and getting knocked out by that small kid [rumored to be Joey Dawejko]. He has to get somebody in his camp now to teach him how to stay away from those punches, to fight effectively, to use his abilities and negate Ruiz’s abilities. When Ruiz comes in throwing ten, fifteen punches, he needs to hold on and stop him from punching. You have to use your good jab where you get your head out of the way so you’re not catching right hands and left hooks while they come in.”

As someone who has fought at the highest level in the sport (and suffered losses at the highest level), Cooney feels he could steer Joshua in the direction of victory once more.

“I’d love to get with Joshua, I’d love to give him some information that he’s not getting right now. This is the heavyweight championship of the world, the most prestigious award in boxing and these guys are just not having the best guys in their corner, in my opinion, to help them. You have to fight on your terms; don’t stay at a distance where Ruiz is most powerful. You need to take his power away from him by tying him up or getting inside him using your jab; and staying outside and get your head out of the way. You can’t jab with your head straight up in front of the guy. You got to move off to the right and use the jab, weave to the side and bang the body to slow the other guy down, take some of those skills away. When you are finished punching, you hold him, don’t let him fire back at you. It’s simple math. Boxing is simple. There are answers for all those questions, but you got to get somebody in the corner who can give them to you, to make you aware of that.”

Andy Ruiz Jr. was not meant to have the opportunity to end Joshua’s reign; however, an act of stupidity from Jarrell Miller gave Ruiz a chance to score the upset. Cooney feels there should be stricter punishments for drug cheats.

“Listen, Jarrell Miller made such an ass of himself and American boxing. He had an opportunity to make seven million dollars to fight Joshua, and he did a stupid thing and tried to hide it, but he tested positive three times until he finally surrendered and said he did it. What an ass to do such a thing to your family, to yourself and to boxing! That was very disappointing; he’s a great promoter, he’s got a great mouthpiece, but you don’t take drugs to be better.

“I think there should be a two-year suspension so these guys will listen. Canelo Alvarez, they gave him six months. It takes six months to train for a fight! What kind of spanking is that—except on the wrist?”

One man who has done slightly better than Joshua in America is Tyson Fury. Cooney places “The Gypsy King” at the top of the tree.

“I think the toughest guy out there is Fury. Fury is the guy we saw fight Schwarz, whatever his name was, but you see him getting a lot better . . . Schwarz wasn’t of the caliber he needs, but he just looked better. His fight with Wilder and getting off the canvas, I spoke to Jack Reiss [the referee in the Fury–Wilder fight] and he said he got to five and Fury was sleeping. He opened his eyes and jumped off the mat, and if you remember that twelfth round, Wilder jumped up on the ropes like he got a knockout and, when he turned around, Fury was up again. When Fury came back after the knockdown, he rocked Wilder twice! So he’s grown a lot, and he’s got a lot better in that fight and, hopefully, Wilder did too, but Wilder needs to learn how to fight now, too.

“I think Fury gives everybody fits because he’s so awkward and long. I was shocked at what he did to [Wladimir] Klitschko because he took all of Klitschko’s power away by feinting him all night, keeping him off balance, that’s a great gift he has.”

However, with all of that said, Cooney still does not think Tyson Fury has completely won over the American audience. Not yet, at least.

“People are still not sure. He’s a great promoter, he’s got a great voice, but you can’t put on 150 pounds and get on cocaine and booze and come back. I got to respect him for coming back and saying. ‘I want Wilder,’ when nobody wanted to fight Wilder.

“He also got dropped in the Garden by Stevie Cunningham, who was a cruiserweight, who is not known to be a puncher. Remember that? Listen, I’m proud to know him, I’m proud of what he’s doing in the fight game and in himself, and I hope he keeps it going. This is professional boxing, world class, at its best. You got to perform.”

Fury recently announced that he has signed a contract for a rematch against Deontay Wilder that will take place on February 22, 2020. This is yet to be confirmed officially by Queensberry Promotions or Top Rank, but both Fury and Wilder will have an interim fight before facing each other again. Cooney has some advice for “The Bronze Bomber.”

“All he really has in his arsenal is that right hand. You got to have a body shot, you need to make adjustments, you can’t keep throwing the right hand at the head of Fury; you got to aim for the chest, you got to have somebody in the corner telling you [that information]. [It’s as if] he didn’t have anybody in the corner because he never had to before, but at this level of the game, you got to fight now. Now I’m giving you some of my best shit!

“Here’s the deal: when I was a fighter, it wasn’t ‘Maybe I can get inside and work the body, I think I can do it.’ You have to do it. You can’t think of maybe, or ‘I’ll try.’ No, your job is to get inside and make the other guy uncomfortable; you can’t stay inside his comfort zone, you got to make him uncomfortable. They don’t do that today; we need that. Listen, if I’m fighting a Fury, I got to get to his body—twos and threes at a time, get back out, get back inside again, then his hands will come down and, when they do, you hit him on the chin with the hook or the right hand.

“Emanuel Steward once told Lennox Lewis, ‘When you throw the right and don’t throw it straight, throw it six inches to the right,’ and Lennox Lewis went out the next round and threw the right hand six inches to the right and knocked the guy out because he made the adjustments, but you need to have a good corner teaching you that.”

We are yet to see whom Fury will face next, but we do know that Wilder will be in another rematch in September against once-feared Cuban, Luis Ortiz.

“It’s a tough fight for Wilder because Ortiz was winning all the way and he finally got tired. Wilder has got better stamina and caught him and knocked him out. Ortiz also hurt him; he walked away from that fight with confidence, too.”

Cooney also gave honorable mentions to Daniel Dubois and Oleksandr Usyk. “I love Dubois; he’s a beast! He’s a killer puncher and he’s pretty talented, too. It’s B-rated fighters fighting to move up the ladder to A-rated. I think it’s exciting. I don’t know if [Usyk] will be able to hold out against the guys who can punch. He’s a tough kid, he has a lot of endurance, a lot of guts and it’s going to be interesting to see who he’s going to fight. Takam is somewhat of a B-rated fighter.”

One of the other names Cooney mentioned was Joe Joyce. Cooney spoke of Joyce, who faces Bryant Jennings this Saturday, as being too much like an amateur, and does not rate his upcoming opponent.

“I don’t think Bryant Jennings is all that anymore. I think Joe Joyce is a good, tough kid; the only thing is, he stands right in front of you. Some of these guys like Wilder can punch. . . . They hit you three or four times—you can take their shots for a while, but you’re going to go down. He’s got to learn to fight, too; he stands right up in front of the guys, a very amateur fighter. You gotta move your head, you gotta move your body, you gotta set the guy up, and you can’t punch with just your arms, you got to use your body when you’re punching. You punch twice as hard when you do that. So far, he’s gotten away with standing straight up and punching, but you can’t [do] that forever.

“You’ve got to develop a toolbox in the fight game; you gotta have other options; you got to make adjustments; and you have to become aware of those adjustments and how to do it. If you don’t have the corner to help you with that, you got to get rid of the corner. This is the big deal right now, this is A-rate fighting, these guys don’t bring that, and the big problem is that most of the great trainers have passed away. The guys that came in are the younger, watered-down version of it, in my opinion. We got to find some good teachers out there. You got to have a rapport with your trainer like no other; you got that one minute to come back and sit to listen to your corner because he’s seen what you can’t see.”

“I love the game,” Cooney concluded. “I’m on Sirius XM channel 156 every Monday, every Friday 6–8pm. I have a book coming out called Gentleman Gerry: A Contender in the Ring, and it goes over my whole life span growing up, how I became a fighter, the ups and downs, and the trials and tribulations.”

The post Back for the First Time in a Long Time: Gerry Cooney on the Heavyweight Scene appeared first on Hannibal Boxing.

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“Poor Tommy Jackson, I wish there was some other way for him to make a living.” —Jimmy Cannon

Only a cameo role in The Sweet Science, magnum opus of A.J. Liebling, now preserved in a plush Library of America hardback, keeps former 1950s heavyweight conundrum Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson from being forgotten. Even so, the fact that Jackson remains in the public record because of Liebling remains something of a mixed blessing. Although Liebling was once committed to “lowlife” (which was what New Yorker editor Harold Ross called the curbside dispatches he published by Joseph Mitchell, Meyer Berger, and Liebling), he was still an Ivy League product, a high-society epicure, and the husband of Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist Jean Stafford, ex-wife of poet laureate Robert Lowell. His arch portrait of Jackson in The Sweet Science, as Joyce Carol Oates has pointed out, borders on pitiless. Just as Liebling could rarely bring himself to acknowledge organized crime, flesh-peddling managers, fixed fights, or even disintegrating ex-pugs walking on their heels, he was unable to see Jackson as a troubled figure whose distress regularly manifested itself in the ring and out.

For Liebling, “Hurricane” was just a prop for one of his clever conceits. “On the night of the fight, I was more excited than I had been before any match for years, and for purely subjective reasons,” Liebling wrote about the evening Jackson faced Nino Valdes in Madison Square Garden. “If the animal won, it meant that the Sweet Science was mere guesswork, requiring not even a specialized intelligence.”

In a few years, even state athletic commissions—notoriously remiss, often unscrupulous, always obtuse—saw what Liebling could not: that Tommy Jackson was more than just a quirky fighter; he was a danger to himself.

Tommy Jackson was born in Sparta, Georgia, in 1931 but grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens, where he was raised by a single mother. As a child, he was bullied by neighborhood riffraff and likely suffered from a learning disability. For most, if not all, of his adult life, Jackson remained illiterate, a bleak detail newspapers rarely failed to mention. Inspired by a film-showing of Joe Louis–Jersey Joe Walcott II, Jackson impulsively devoted himself to boxing. He wound up training under Ham Willoughby at the 103rd precinct PAL in Jamaica, Queens. After a short amateur career, Jackson turned pro on July 14, 1952. “I come up the hard way,” Jackson told the New York Daily News when he first crashed the limelight, “and I’m gonna stay up. My mother, she never had anybody help her. Eight children she raised, four boys and four girls and they all get married but me. I’m gonna help her.”

In 1954, Jackson lived up to his nickname in New York, upending Rex Layne, Clarence Henry, and Dan Bucceroni in successive fights at the Eastern Parkway Arena in Brooklyn. With his oddball style, windmill philosophy, and inhuman capacity to absorb punishment, Jackson was an instant crowd favorite who alternately amused and outraged a hard-bitten city with his antics, including stunts that some newshawks mistakenly considered showboating. Between rounds, Jackson would occasionally forgo the customary stool and, instead, perform aerobics/calisthenics/isometrics in the corner, underscoring both his indefatigability and his hyperactive nature. His frenzied approach in the ring—even during rest periods—gave the impression of a man who might one day erupt, like the Great Whatsis in Kiss Me Deadly. (If Jackson had been born fifty years later, he would have been a prime candidate for Adderall.) In addition, Jackson specialized in bizarre non sequiturs and free-association quips, which gave him a certain amount of charisma during the bland Eisenhower era, when fighters were distinguished primarily by the color of their trunks on black and white telecasts. Sometimes Jackson was even outspokenly glum about his career. “My managers all did wrong and they know it,” he said, after losing his only title shot, in 1957. “They pushed me along pretty fast. My time was up, that’s all.”

A whirlwind approach kept the TV audience spellbound, but it hardly covered up his inadequacies. While Jackson was fast and aggressive, he was also a technical catastrophe. No amount of tutoring from Whitey Bimstein or Freddy Brown could keep Jackson from looping his punches, stumbling over himself, or leading with his chin. Nor could his storied trainers teach him to punch with power or precision. And defense? Jackson had an unusual outlook on taking punishment. “I like to get hit,” he said. “It makes me feel good and feel strong.” Indeed, when Jackson fought, there was an undercurrent of masochism that was difficult to ignore.

But, for a brief moment, Jackson seized the spotlight with a ragged, two-handed assault that virtually eliminated downtime in the ring. Billy Brown, matchmaker for the International Boxing Club, marveled at this lanky dynamo who did nothing but attack, attack, attack. “I never saw a heavyweight so active,” Brown said, “never saw such a wild man who never stopped punching.”

If Jack Dempsey was one of the greatest heavyweights in history, he was also one of the worst judges of talent imaginable. He mooned over Jackson (though the second half of this blurb may have revealed a truth that Dempsey was too diplomatic to admit). “With experience, he’ll be a great fighter,” Dempsey said. “But he’s tough enough now as it is, with his peculiar style.”

“Peculiar.” During his brief stint as a miscast headliner, Jackson would exhaust the dog-eared thesauruses of the collective ringside press. There was daffy and primitive; man-child and screwball; dipsy-doodle and freakish. Then, of course, there was his alternate nickname: “The Animal,” which may have been a double entendre, of sorts, referring not only to his feral ring style but to what was referred to in print, more than once, as his “simple-mindedness.”

Yet the back pages of the Big Apple tabloids belonged to Jackson. The Ring named him “Fighter of the Month” for March 1954 and even featured him on the cover of its November 1955 issue. There is Tommy Jackson, “On Way To Title,” part of The Bible of Boxing patchwork aesthetic of the ’50s and ’60s, which often resembled arts and crafts projects for the blind or the criminally insane. Jackson, of course, was not “On Way To Title,” but to that bleak destination reserved for so many fighters, it almost seemed preordained. No matter what Billy Brown or Jack Dempsey thought, no matter what Nat Loubet wrote in The Ring, it was clairvoyantly clear-cut that Tommy Jackson was one of the accursed.

It was light-heavyweight spoiler Jimmy Slade, a man sometimes visibly disinterested in his chosen vocation, who first derailed Jackson, scoring a clear decision over “Hurricane” at the Eastern Parkway Arena only a month after Jackson had stopped Bucceroni in his star-making performance. (Two weeks before his bout with Slade, Jackson had been arrested for third-degree assault when he walloped a neighbor over a dispute involving a woman. As distracted as he was by nature, Jackson now had to deal with impending legal proceedings. On April 19, Jackson avoided indictment when his victim refused to press charges.)

Then came Nino Valdes, who never received a title shot in his career but was good enough to trample Jackson in less than two rounds at Madison Square Garden. In a grim foreshadowing of the future, the New York State Athletic Commission ordered Jackson to undergo an electroencephalography test after the fight.

Jackson followed his loss to Valdes with a modest winning streak that included a split nod over Slade in a rematch and a pair of decisions over a sadly deteriorated Ezzard Charles. Another points loss against Slade barely stalled his clumsy momentum, and Jackson somehow wound up near the top of the heavyweight heap during the uninspiring mid-1950s, when the division featured names such as Don Cockell, Earl Walls, Bob Baker, Rex Layne, John Holman, Harold Carter, and Wayne Bethea. (This despite the fact that Jackson had been briefly suspended for refusing to go to the hospital after his defeat to Slade.)

Then, on April 27, 1956, Rocky Marciano retired, leaving the heavyweight championship vacant. With Archie Moore the acknowledged number-one contender, Jackson was matched against Floyd Patterson in an elimination bout. The winner would face Moore for the right to succeed Marciano as heavyweight champion of the world. Considering how careful Cus D’Amato was about managing Patterson, this matchup was a clue as to just how talented Tommy Jackson really was. Patterson was only twenty-one years old and not much more than a light-heavyweight, but D’Amato knew that, for all his furious milling, Jackson suffered from a power shortage and was unlikely to hurt his future champion with his artless grinding.

More than eleven thousand spectators gathered at Madison Square Garden on June 8, 1956, to watch Patterson and Jackson, two locals, square off. It was a bruising fight that surprisingly went the distance, partly because Jackson was a human shock absorber, and partly because Patterson entered the bout with a broken finger. His right hand was virtually useless at some points during the fight, and that allowed Jackson to mount a helter-skelter rally late. In the end, the twelve-round split decision Patterson earned seemed askew, and the press lambasted referee Harry Kessler, who had a scoring vote, for tallying in favor of Jackson.

For Jackson, his downturn in the ring was followed by trouble outside of it. On January 7, 1957, Jackson, driving his green Cadillac, struck and killed a pedestrian in Far Rockaway. Although he was cleared of wrongdoing in the death, Jackson was charged with possession of a forged driver’s license. He beat that rap, with a cruel if beneficial judgment from City Magistrate James E. Lopiccolo: “I suppose a fellow like him would be stupid enough to accept a license like that, so I’ll excuse him this time.”

Within a few months, however, Jackson went from a courthouse in Queens to the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. Somehow, a pair of inconsequential wins cemented Jackson as the top contender, and he was set to challenge the newly-crowned Patterson for the heavyweight championship of the world. A talkative Jackson promised to stop Patterson and threatened him with his newly developed “Yagash” punch.

Patterson and Jackson met on July 29, 1957, at the Polo Grounds, where more than eighteen thousand braved the heat and the threat of rain to watch Patterson defend his title for the first time. From the opening bell, Jackson was violently outclassed. He was dropped in the first and second rounds and took a sustained beating for the remainder of the fight. Halfway through the bout, Jackson was bleeding from the nose and noticeably swelling. Referee Ruby Goldstein peered at Jackson closely after the eighth round. In the ninth, Patterson floored Jackson again and only a minute had elapsed in the tenth when Goldstein intervened as Jackson absorbed another combination. It was the rare mercy stoppage during an era when sympathy was in short supply and fighters expected the professional courtesy of a definitive loss. (Just consider the fact that, in less than two years, Goldstein would allow Patterson to hit the canvas seven times in one round against Ingemar Johannsson before finally, belatedly stepping in.) Even the crowd jeered at what it considered a hasty ending. But Goldstein was grimly vindicated when Jackson was hospitalized from injuries he suffered during the fight. “Where could Jackson have gone except to the hospital?” Goldstein asked. “I think 99 of every 100 people agreed with me.”

If the mysterious “Yagash” punch ever landed, no one came forward as a witness to it. In the limited future, Jackson would have precious few chances to connect with his fanciful blow. Four months later, an ordinarily cautious Eddie Machen battered Jackson from the proverbial pillar-to-post en route to a tenth-round TKO most notable for its one-sidedness. After suffering a knockdown in the first round, Jackson went on to shake, shiver, and shudder for the remainder of a fight that was nothing more than an open torture session.

So lopsided was the beating that Robert Christenberry, head of the New York State Athletic Commission, publicly implored “Hurricane” to retire. Not to be outdone, the California Athletic Commission suspended Jackson on the heels of his battering to Machen. “He will undoubtedly cause injury to himself of a serious nature were he to continue boxing as he did the other night,” said Dr. Dan O. Kilroy, chairman of the CAC. In New York, Christenberry announced that he would honor the West Coast ban, effectively putting an end to the career of Tommy Jackson, who could no longer fight in the moneymaking capitals of boxing. The National Boxing Association—along with all its member states—eventually followed suit as well.

Having seen his living stripped from him virtually overnight, Jackson fulminated to the press. Even Whisper magazine, a pulphouse specialty, got an earful from Jackson. “I’m a professional fighter,” Jackson said about his exile. “I never worked at any other trade in my life. I’m 26 years old, as strong as a bull, and if you take a good look at me, you won’t see a scar or cauliflower ear or anything else that fighters is supposed to have.”

That may have been true, but Jackson also had taken enough punishment in his last two outings to cause even laissez-faire regulators to flinch. Combined with his erratic behavior, which could no longer be chalked up to eccentricity, these recent pastings pointed to a diminished future.

Already Jackson had an inkling of the coming hardship. “I’ve been a pretty foolish guy in the past, made a lot of mistakes and got mixed up with the wrong kind of people,” he said. “I found out the boys and girls who made a big fuss over me when I was up there couldn’t see me for dust when things went a little bad. From now on, I trust only in God. God and my mother.”

A few headline slots in Madison Square Garden and a single shot at the title did not make for a lucrative career. Especially for a man who seemed, at times, at the mercy of the world. Jackson moved on to backwaters and continued fighting. He brought his mystifying style to Sherbrooke, Quebec; Montgomery, Alabama; Boise, Idaho; and Steubenville, Ohio. In his last fight, he was stopped by Hans Kalbfell in Germany. Canada and England both barred Jackson from fighting. Once the number-one-ranked heavyweight in the world, Jackson retired with a record of 34-9-1.

In 1961, Jackson resurfaced momentarily after he struck a woman in the street with his Cadillac. A year later, he was arrested for assault, when he battered a partygoer whom he believed was paying too much attention to his date. His career was something he recalled with bitterness. “I sit in the house and I think about the past,” he said, “all the managers I had, five or six of them, how they took me along so fast, how I never had enough sense to back off, and I would get teed off. Then I go to sleep.”

Finally, “The Hurricane” vanished. For a little while, he worked as a shoe-shiner before driving a gypsy cab in Queens. He had been recovering from a stroke when he was hit by a car, a frail man, now married to a schoolteacher, and living in South Jamaica. His death, on February 20, 1982, brought him back into the limelight once again. They all recalled “The Hurricane,” whose brief run as a contender bewildered some and enthralled others, whose distinction as a challenger to the heavyweight title made him a historical footnote, whose open confusion appalled empathetic newspapermen such as Jimmy Cannon and Milton Gross. Then they forgot about him all over again, suggesting a quote from Jackson himself about the promise of the future. “There’s no such thing as a has-been. The only has-been is somebody that’s not in the world anymore. If you’re still alive, you can’t be a has-been, only a gonna-be.”

Jackson was fifty years old when he died.

The post See Me For Dust: The Brief Stardom of Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson appeared first on Hannibal Boxing.

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Interview with John Conteh by Paul Zanon. See more Hannibal Boxing interviews >>

***

Following a stellar amateur career, John Conteh left a trail of destruction behind him in the professional prize ring. He went on to rub shoulders with A-list celebrities, drink beyond the point of excess, fight on Muhammad Ali undercards, and, thirty-seven years after hanging up the gloves, receive an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) from the Queen.

The son of a West African father and an Irish mother, Conteh explained how his father introduced him to the noble art. “My dad came over in 1942 from Sierra Leone and was a tough, strict merchant seaman who was about six feet tall. At around eleven years old, he started teaching me.”

One of ten children, the young Conteh wasn’t the only member of the family to lace the gloves. Far from it. “I had seven brothers and two sisters. They all done a bit, but I was the one who committed myself to it. I felt my brother Tony was a better boxer than me and would have at least been welterweight champion of Britain, but he didn’t stick with it.”

Boxing at the local amateur boxing club in Kirkby, a small town nestled into the northwest of England, Conteh clocked up an impressive forty-six wins in fifty fights. However, the Merseyside man was critical of his early bouts. “When I was seventeen, in 1968, I failed miserably in the Junior ABA [Amateur Boxing Association] championships in Basildon. I boxed a lad from Wolverhampton called Bobby Blower who had beaten Alan Minter in the morning; and then he stopped me in two rounds in the afternoon. Bobby went on to win the championships. I came back to Kirby and thought, ‘You’ve got to think seriously about this. Could you have done better?’

“Then that was it. Total commitment. I won the senior ABAs at middleweight in 1970, then the [middleweight] gold medal at the Commonwealth Games [same year, held in Edinburgh, Scotland], then in 1971 I won the ABAs again, but this time at light heavyweight.”

There was, however, one prestigious piece of silverware missing in Conteh’s cabinet. “I thought about it [competing in the 1972 Olympics in Munich], but I was getting offered so much money to turn professional. So I headed down to London and went from there.”

In the absence of super-middleweight and cruiserweight categories, Conteh explained how his journey in the pro ranks kicked off. “Light-heavy was my natural fighting weight. I would have certainly moved up to cruiserweight if it existed back then, but light-heavy was where I was at. Although I think my first twenty fights were actually billed as heavyweight contests.

“I boxed twice on Muhammad Ali cards as heavyweight. I was up against an American guy called Terry Daniels when [Ali] fought Joe Bugner [February 14, 1973, at the Convention Center, Las Vegas], and John H. Stracey was on the bill as well. The other time was the year before [against Chicago’s Johnny Mac] when Ali fought Al ‘Blue’ Lewis [July 19, 1972 at Croke Park, Dublin]. I would always say, as a gag, when I was speaking to Muhammad Ali in Vegas, ‘Muhammad, can you give me some advice please?’ and he’d said, ‘Yeah, get out of my division!’ I dropped down to light heavyweight in 1973 [after the Daniels bout], and my first fight at that weight was for the European title.”

Conteh turned professional at twenty and, after only seventeen months, boasted a record of 17-1. His fight against the defending European light-heavyweight champion from Germany, Rudiger Schmidtke, on 13 March 1973 was a stiff test. Schmidtke had stopped Chris Finnegan for the title in the twelfth round, four months prior, and had even managed to squeeze in a further three successful fights before locking horns with Conteh.

Having beaten Finnegan in his own backyard at the Empire Pool, Wembley, UK, the Frankfurt fighter was adamant he could repeat the performance against Conteh. “Going into this one, I was just as confident as all the other fights before it,” Conteh recalled. “I trusted George Francis, who was my manager when I turned pro, and if he asked you to jump into a freezing pond, you’d do it. Which we did! We used to break the ice, jump in and out, just as an exercise, which was great because it trained you to win and have that champion’s mentality.

“Going into this fight, I drew confidence from George, and all the team had confidence in me. God helps those who help themselves, and that’s what I did. All my anxiety and fears disappeared. Fighting was my natural response.”

While Conteh won European honors stopping Schmidtke in the twelfth round, Chris Finnegan, who fought on the undercard the same evening, beat Roy John to become the British and Commonwealth champion. With three belts between them, a domestic dust-up was inevitable.

Finnegan had been in with better opposition at this point, having unsuccessfully challenged Hall-of-Famer Bob Foster eight months earlier (the Buckinghamshire born fighter had famously won the gold medal at middleweight in the 1968 Mexico Games). As Conteh reminisced about the fight on May 22, 1973, his hands instinctively came up, fists clenched, elbows tucked in, chin down, his teeth gritting as if biting on his mouthpiece.

“It was the same for the Schmidtke fight. I let my natural responses take over. It wasn’t about what they’d achieved as great fighters and what they were going to do; it was all about my reaction to them. ‘What do you have to respond to that?’ is what I’d always think. That was always my thought on the training ground, which is why I was always pushing myself. Endurance was my fuel, and I always wanted to make sure it was full up to the top of the tank. Train, fill it up to the top, train, fill it up to the top, so it wouldn’t let me down.”

Conteh went on to win a gritty fifteen-round decision against the tough Londoner, adding the British and Commonwealth straps to his European title.

With his model looks it was no surprise Conteh regularly appeared on magazine covers. But how did he make the front cover of the Wings album, Band on the Run in 1973, alongside Christopher Lee, Michael Parkinson, Kenny Lynch, and James Coburn? “Paul [McCartney] used to come round with his wife, Linda, to the fights and support me because I was a Liverpool lad, too. Next thing I’m getting an invite to go on the front cover of Band on the Run, which was fantastic. Amazing even. I read something where he [McCartney] said, ‘He’s a Liverpool lad, he’s doing well. Let’s get him on the album.’ Simple as that.”

Conteh went on to have a string of successful defenses of his titles, moving up to 25-1 and earning the opportunity to fight for the vacant WBC world title, against rough Argentine Jorge Victor Ahumada on October 1, 1974. “After the British, Commonwealth, and European, the next one had to be the world title. That was the one me and George were aiming for.”

Conteh recalled candidly the night he became champion of the world. “He was a really hard, rugged lad. I knew I wasn’t going to turn him over because stronger, bigger punchers than me hadn’t turned him over, so I knew it was going to go fifteen rounds. That’s what I was prepared for.” As predicted, the contest went the distance at the Empire Pool, Wembley, and Conteh won a lopsided decision.

If winning the world title in 1974 wasn’t enough, Conteh also picked up the accolade of Superstars champion, as he pitted himself against elite sportsmen across several physical tests. Conteh recalled his time on the extremely popular TV show. “That was fun! I was up against the likes of Kevin Keegan, Colin Bell and Stan Bowles [all famous British soccer players]. What a great guy Stan was. The army guys from Aldershot showed us how to use the guns, breath, gun up, gun down, and all that. I hope he doesn’t mind me saying, but Stan missed the target and shot the table. Twice, I think!”

Conteh’s first two defenses of his title were against American Lonnie Bennett (23-2) and Mexican Yaqui Lopez. Kirkby’s golden boy stopped Bennett in five rounds and took a comfortable points decision over fifteen rounds with Lopez. “They were tough fights. The Lopez one was in Copenhagen, Denmark and was a hard, hard fight.”

Five months after Lopez, on March 5, 1977, he defended his strap against former world-title challenger Len Hutchins. It was to be a memorable homecoming. “John Moores had the Littlewoods Pools Stadium, as it was back then, done up for us. It was great defending the world title in Liverpool. It’s what every fighter dreams of. As far as the fight goes, there was a head clash in the first round. Hutchins got cut and then I stopped him in the third.”

Unfortunately, that would be Conteh’s last fight as world champion. Later that year he was stripped of the title for not going through with a mandatory defense. “The money they’d offered me for the fight wasn’t there, so I thought, right, I’m not doing it. I regret it, of course. There’s nothing wrong with having regret, though, as long as you learn from it. It’s in the past, and the past is gone. At the time, you make decisions based on the context, and that’s it. No point in beating myself up.”

On June 17, 1978, Conteh attempted to win back his WBC title against Croatian Mate Parlov in Belgrade, losing a debatable split decision. “He was a great champion. A former [light-heavyweight] Olympic gold medalist in 1972, European and now defending world champion. I thought I did really well against him and had done enough to win the fight, but I knew it wouldn’t be easy fighting in his backyard. I shared the ring with a great fighter, did the best I could, and perhaps if the fight was over here [in the UK], I might have got the decision.”

By August 18, 1979, the WBC title had exchanged hands a few times, and Conteh challenged Philly’s Matthew Saad Muhammad to try to regain the world title. “Again, I trained as hard as I could for the first fight, and it went the full fifteen rounds. He had a cut eye and used illegal substances on it—two parts of sand and one of cement. I used to be a hod carrier, so I know how to make the mix!”

Conteh earned himself the rematch seven months later back in Atlantic City but was stopped in the fourth round. He hit the headlines the day after, but for the wrong reasons after wrecking his hotel room. “I was fighting emotions at that point. To retain and regain ground I’d lost. Trying to get back to where I was when I was twenty and giving it everything I had, but I didn’t have it anymore. My external life, with the drink, was catching up on me. I was an alcoholic. It was either one was too many, or a hundred wasn’t enough. Everything had taken its toll, mentally and physically.” While sipping on his double espresso and not looking far off the light-heavyweight limit, Conteh was proud to say, ‘I’ve been sober for over thirty years.’”

After a fifth-round stoppage of James Dixon two months later, on May 31, 1980, Conteh hung up the gloves with a record of 34-4-1. A very special award would come many years later, in 2017. “I received a phone call and a letter preparing me and also telling me not to tell the press. I was over the moon when I found out [about the MBE for services to boxing]. I was proud for my family, and it was great to meet the Queen also. In fact, we didn’t know about until half an hour before on the day that it would be her doing the presentation. We went into this room at Windsor Castle, waiting to go in but didn’t know who was going to present it. There was this young lad near me, one of the other recipients who said, ‘Isn’t it great that the queen is going to present this to us?’ That’s when we found out. It was an incredible day. Terrific.”

So, how satisfied is Conteh with what he’s achieved in boxing? “I didn’t win the WBA world title, but I won the rest. We talked about the Olympics earlier. Yes, that’s maybe a regret. Perhaps I should have fought in Munich and then turned pro, but I’ve learnt to deal with the discontent and am very happy with what I’ve achieved through boxing.”

The post Royal Seal: The Career of John Conteh appeared first on Hannibal Boxing.

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One hundred years on, no one can say for sure what happened to the gloves. In December 1934, a decade and a half after they had done their wicked work, the gloves were buried beneath a restaurant cornerstone in Manhattan, with the man who had once worn them and New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia looking on. Were these the real gloves, though? As late as 1964, Pete Herman, a former bantamweight champion, claimed to own the gloves—yet when he died in 1973, newspaper notices made no mention of this remarkable artifact. Did Herman have the real gloves? If they were ever located—or excavated—the gloves, priceless relics from the most savage boxing match ever held in the United States, would fetch a fortune. And their proud owners would surely look for clues to verify, or refute, claims that the gloves bore traces of Plaster of Paris or other hardening substances, which, the story went, had covered the hands that wore them, making them practically deadly weapons. That the existing evidence made such claims dubious mattered little. A legend grew up and lived on.

And yet, the mythology surrounding the “loaded” gloves obscures their real significance. What we don’t know about them is less important than what we do know: that they were worn on July 4, 1919, when the heavyweight championship of the world changed hands in a sun-blasted wooden arena in Toledo, Ohio—and the modern era of American sports was born.

Sports have long been an enveloping passion, a kind of religion, in the United States, and that’s especially true today, when technologies exist to give fans the proverbial 24-7 coverage of their favorite teams. Major pro sports leagues sell broadcast rights for billions of dollars, while on cable, a measureless universe of channels brings contests of every kind onto home-television screens, laptops, and cell phones. The top-paid athletes make tens of millions of dollars each year. The highest-paid athlete of all time, Floyd Mayweather, twice earned more than $200 million for a single fight. Fans older than, say, fifty can remember a time when sports didn’t occupy our consciousness quite so pervasively—but even in their youth, America was sports mad.

It all started in the 1920s, when sports reached primacy in our national life as part of a burgeoning leisure and entertainment culture. It was in this fabled age of flappers and bootleg gin that Americans started spending significant dollars on sports, and when team owners, promoters, and press agents began to realize just how much money could be made. The 1920s were a festival of modernity: they brought us nightlife, home appliances, sexual liberation, talking movies, gangsters, skyscrapers—and sports. “The Golden Age of Sports,” as it came to be called, had the gift of timing: World War I had just ended, and the United States was eager to forget about it. The economy boomed for much of the decade, giving Americans more disposable income than they had ever had. The population was young—median age twenty-five, compared with thirty-seven in 2008—and increasingly located in cities, where the games were played. Technology was knitting the country together, not only through the development of news syndicates and wire services but also through the advent of radio. When the Golden Age was over at the end of the 1920s, the key components that we associate with modern sports—saturation press coverage, obsessed fans, big crowds, and big money—were all in place.

The Golden Age was also memorable because many of its major sports—baseball, boxing, college football, golf, tennis—produced a superstar who would become a presence in popular culture. Only one of those stars remains generally known to Americans today: Babe Ruth, the Bambino, the Sultan of Swat, baseball’s first and greatest home run king. Ruth survives in American memory, enshrined not just in the Baseball Hall of Fame but in folklore. If there is one athlete who made modern sports, most agree, it was Ruth.

They’re forgetting someone, though: the man who wore the gloves in Toledo—those mysterious gloves. He inspired the same fanatical devotion as Ruth. He performed in arenas larger than Yankee Stadium, where Ruth played. And he burst onto the scene before Ruth or any of the other Golden Age figures had achieved true prominence. The truth is, Babe Ruth didn’t launch the modern era of sports. Jack Dempsey did.

***

Jack Dempsey: the name is now dimly remembered. During the 1920s, though, he was Ruth’s equal in fame, with an outsize presence in newspapers, newsreels, Hollywood films, and radio broadcasts. He was known internationally. The multitudes that came to his fights created some of the greatest spectacles of the decade.

It was Dempsey’s performance in Toledo that forged his image with the American public. It was not just that he won the heavyweight title that day from the champion, Jess Willard, after three rounds of relentless pounding in temperatures that, according to one ringside thermometer, reached 114 degrees. It was how he did it, destroying the 245-pound Willard, who towered over him at six feet six and outweighed him by fifty-eight pounds, in a way no heavyweight champion had ever been destroyed: Dempsey knocked Willard down seven times in the first round, rendering his face into a misshapen tenderloin and raising red welts all over his body. Details of the assault that Willard absorbed soon morphed into lurid lore, with boxing histories long after describing how Big Jess had lost as many as six teeth, that his jaw had been broken in thirteen places (if that’s even possible). Reading about these terrible injuries made it easy to believe in Dempsey’s loaded gloves—what else could account for what had happened? A century later, the likeliest explanations seem less dramatic: that Dempsey wore extra-hard hand wraps, not yet illegal, though controversial; and that Willard did not suffer quite the monster-movie level of damage often described. In any case, though, the beating that he endured was surely bad enough, as one can see for himself by viewing the fight on YouTube. Be grateful that the film is in black and white. The New York Times correspondent called the fight “a kind of pugilistic murder.” It would never be permitted today.

Before Dempsey came along, attendance for boxing matches had been modest: even the so-called Fight of the Century, Jack Johnson versus James J. Jeffries in 1910, drew only about sixteen thousand people. But after Dempsey’s slaughter of Willard, boxing’s leading promoter, Tex Rickard, saw rich new possibilities. As champion, Dempsey would defend his title in front of crowds numbering eighty thousand, ninety thousand, and one-hundred-twenty thousand people. Before Dempsey came along, New York had mostly banned boxing; within a year of his winning the title, the Empire State legalized the sport, and New York City soon became its mecca. Dempsey would make almost more money in one fight, in 1926, than Ruth would earn in his entire baseball career. In 1924 alone, when Dempsey did not even box in an official match, he made $500,000 in income from movies, theater, and personal appearances.

Though he was the son of parents who had traveled West in a covered wagon, Dempsey was a herald of the future. Look at early films of boxers on YouTube, and you’ll often see them standing straight up, in variations of nineteenth-century postures. Then switch to Dempsey, and you see the ghost of the modern style. Crouching, bobbing and weaving, his onslaughts like lightning strikes, he pioneered the attacking approach that would be the blueprint for Mike Tyson’s seventy years later.

In 1921, Dempsey battled a French war hero, Georges Carpentier, in a huge wooden arena in Jersey City, New Jersey. An unprecedented crowd of between eighty and ninety thousand turned out. The event became an international sensation—it, too, was called “The Battle of the Century”—and prompted extravagant preparations on both sides of the Atlantic. In Paris, military planes prepared to fly over the city and flash their lights to signal the outcome—red for Carpentier, white for Dempsey. The French government ordered diplomatic cables suspended until the fight was over. In the United States, the Recording Company of America (RCA) made its on-air debut, broadcasting the bout to perhaps three hundred thousand listeners—radio’s first mass broadcast. Barely fifty miles away from ringside, in Raritan, New Jersey, President Warren G. Harding signed articles formalizing the peace terms ending the First World War—a momentous occasion, you’d think, though you wouldn’t know it from the smattering of observers who bothered to witness it. Even the president seemed to sense that the action was elsewhere: no sooner had Harding signed the papers than he asked for an update on the bout. The next morning, the New York Times, which often editorialized against boxing, devoted most of its first thirteen pages to the fight, which Dempsey won by knockout in the fourth round.

Rickard’s promotions of Dempsey fights involved two key elements: a compelling storyline, one in which, varyingly, Dempsey played hero or villain; and the event itself, in which, unvaryingly, Dempsey delivered the goods in one fashion or another, sending people home with vivid memories and the vague sense that nothing like what they had just seen had ever happened before.

That was certainly the case in New York’s Polo Grounds, in September 1923, when Dempsey, defending his title against an Argentinian, Luis (Angel) Firpo—the “Wild Bull of the Pampas,” he was called—put his challenger down seven times in the first round. It looked like a Toledo replay, though Firpo seemed angrier than hurt, and he kept getting up. After the seventh knockdown, he backed Dempsey into the ropes, where he landed a looping right to the champion’s head. Then, as if someone had pressed a switch, the gap between the ropes widened, and Dempsey fell through the opening, landing on a raft of typewriters in the press row. “Let me at ‘em!” some claimed to have heard him say, as he struggled to get back in the ring. Helpful hands pushed him up, and he returned just ahead of the count of “ten” that would have made him an ex-champion. He knocked Firpo out in the next round, the second—but by then, the Polo Grounds had dissolved into bedlam, with benches overturned and scuffles breaking out in the infield, where the ring was pitched. (One scrap involved Ruth, who, irked at being pushed from behind, cocked his fist to slug the offender—and recognized middleweight champion Mickey Walker.) It was the greatest fight “since the Silurian Age,” a Chicago Tribune reporter wrote. George Bellows immortalized it on canvas.

Dempsey earned so much money outside the ring that he didn’t bother fighting for three years. Finally, in 1926, he was lured back by the promise of his greatest payday—$717,000—to defend the title against Gene Tunney, a former Marine from New York’s Greenwich Village whose deliberate style was the opposite of Dempsey’s start-a-riot methodology. In Philadelphia’s Sesquicentennial Stadium, named after the 150th anniversary of American Independence being celebrated that year, 120,000 spectators, a new record, came out to see Dempsey vs. Tunney. Few left their seats, even when the heavens opened and drenched them for most of the bout’s ten rounds. They saw the upset of upsets: Dempsey losing his title by decision to Tunney, a skilled and resolute boxer who smothered his rushes and stymied him every step of the way.

Until 1926, Dempsey had had as many detractors as admirers. His loss to Tunney, and his gracious handling of it—he congratulated the victor and made no excuses—rallied millions to his side, replacing resentment with adulation, ambivalence with affection. He set out to regain his title, this time as a popular favorite. Here was another pioneering development—the transition from unloved world-beater to venerable underdog, a path that other American athletes would travel.

Dempsey’s journey culminated with the rematch against Tunney, in Chicago, on September 22, 1927. Special-order trains streamed into the city for the fight, in what one observer called “the greatest troop movement since the war.” The official paid attendance in Soldier Field was 105,000, but contemporary estimates put the number closer to 145,000. Whatever the figure, those attending saw a fight still argued about on internet discussion boards: the fabled “Battle of the Long Count,” in which Dempsey, trailing badly, knocked Tunney down in the seventh round but failed to go to a neutral corner, delaying the start of the count. Given extra seconds to recover, Tunney rose at the official tally of “nine” and went on to win.

The Long Count was Dempsey’s last fight. Two years later, the stock market crashed, and the “era of wonderful nonsense,” the 1920s, gave way to the stark 1930s. The Great Depression and then World War II ensured that sports wouldn’t reach this fever pitch in America again for a generation. Then, starting in the postwar years, professional sports began their climb to dominance, a development driven by forces including the birth of television, the rise of the National Football League and later the National Basketball Association, the growth of sports merchandising, and—with the emergence of ESPN, the internet, and social media, along with the proliferation of fantasy sports leagues—the evolution of a kind of ubiquitous sports consciousness.

The 1920s laid the groundwork, and the opening salvo was the fight in Toledo, an event that branded Dempsey as a new kind of American athlete.

***

Taking place less than a week after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Dempsey vs. Willard was the first big sports event in the United States since the end of the war. It shined a national spotlight on the northwest Ohio city of 250,000, famous for its glass making but also home, then, to the world’s largest automobile-manufacturing plant. In the steamy morning hours of Friday, July 4, 1919, with the region in the throes of an intense heat wave, spectators made their way toward a giant octagonal arena in Toledo’s Bay View Park, on the shores of Maumee Bay, an inlet of Lake Erie.

The enthusiasm that the upcoming fight generated, often reflected on newspaper front pages, suggested a new peak in Americans’ sporting zeal. Over the past year, those front pages had been dominated by two topics: the war in Europe and the Spanish flu, which, in the fall of 1918, became the deadliest pandemic in history. The Great Influenza killed more human beings in six months than the medieval Black Death did in a century. The plague waned in late 1918, though Americans were still coming to terms with its grim costs. Even with the flu’s passing, weighty matters dominated American headlines: the push for women’s suffrage; the looming of Prohibition; labor strife and racial tensions in cities; socialist and anarchist ferment, terrorist bombings, and the beginnings of the Red Scare. For the rest of the twentieth century, only 1968 would match 1919 for domestic turmoil. Millions craved the diversion that the Toledo fight offered, though few could have imagined that Dempsey and Willard would enact a pugilistic version of the Great War’s carnage.

Americans loved sports already in 1919, but by present-day standards, the national sporting landscape was barren. Football was a college game; the National Football League didn’t even exist. Neither did the National Basketball Association or the National Hockey League. Boxing itself was a marginalized sport, still illegal in most states and a frequent target of social reformers and religious groups, who wanted it stamped out. The undisputed national pastime was baseball, nearing the end of its “deadball” period, when home runs were infrequent. Though he had begun showing his hitting prowess, Babe Ruth was still known as a talented left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox; he was not yet a Yankee, not yet a home-run-hitting sensation. Other figures who would come to symbolize sports in the 1920s—Red Grange in college football, Bill Tilden in tennis, Bobby Jones in golf—had not yet come on the scene. Sports stars were few; sports stardom, as a phenomenon of mass media coverage and public interest, barely existed in recognizable form.

Then the bell rang in Toledo, and Jack Dempsey changed all that.

The post When Jack Slew the Giant—and Modern Sports Were Born appeared first on Hannibal Boxing.

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The lightweight division has nothing left for Raymundo Beltran. Did the thirty-eight-year-old realize as much on Thursday, in the grueling hours before the scale’s cold verdict? Or was it earlier? When he felt the impossibility of those last two pounds, abandoned the illusion of losing them, and, in the process, his long-frustrated quest to relieve a champion of his title?

There was still the fight, though, and if Beltran could have fared better against his opponent than he did at the weigh-in, a significant payday or two might have followed. But that future was thrown into doubt after Richard Commey dropped Beltran four times en route to an eighth-round stoppage at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California, on Friday night.

If you read in those results the last gasps of Beltran’s twenty-year career, the moment likely has you imprisoned. Beltran, 36-9-1 (22), looked treadless against Commey, sure, but also competent enough to convince himself of the invigorating powers of an added five pounds. Top Rank will find some purpose for Beltran so long as the money justifies the punishment in the eyes of a fighter who once made his bones as a sparring partner.

What of Commey? Did his win confirm his championship bona fides? No. For all his success, the Ghanaian fighter fought if not on the brink of disaster, then merely a step or two behind that ledge. He has little on Beltran beyond youth and an unfamiliarity with defeat that steels him against doubt. Commey, 29-2 (26), has lost, but never deservingly in his eyes, and so he hurls his punches convinced of the truthfulness of the knockout and the efficacy of his means.

He landed plenty against Beltran—who spent much of the fight recovering from one hard punch or another—but the charming rashness of Commey’s attack nearly cost him. Eager to land his right hand, Commey doesn’t commit the traditional error of cocking it in anticipation; instead, he keeps his right glove in front of his chin or just below it, conceivably to shorten the distance for the punch to travel. Commey’s chin, then, is exposed, and more than once Beltran staved off his own end by cracking a desperate hook into the overzealous Commey’s jaw. Commey compounds this defensive flaw with a poor sense of distance and a tendency to bring his hands back low during dangerously long combinations. Had Beltran been able to endure further punishment, he might very well have upset Commey, who seemed never to escape his best moments in full command of his legs. Like Beltran, Commey is a good television fighter, but not one likely to hold his title for very long.

In fact, Commey will lose his title the next time he defends it. This is no bold prediction or searing take. Quite the contrary—it is stating the obvious.

Before injuring his hand in February, there was talk of Commey trying to unify titles against Vasiliy Lomachenko. Lomachenko is many things, among them a fighter who has met his physical ceiling in his third division. And yet the only intrigue found in a Commey fight would likely have come via a broken hand, torn rotator cuff, or brow cleaved gory by a headbutt—an element of injury necessary to level the playing field. Lomachenko may indeed be more susceptible to such accidents fighting bigger men, but only his devotees could be intrigued by the possibility of injury creating drama. Better that Lomachenko will instead look to add the WBC belt facing Luke Campbell in the latter’s native UK.

Better, too, that there is already discussion for Commey to defend his title against uber-prospect, Teofimo Lopez, who, if he is deserving of our collective excitement, should wipe out Masayoshi Nakatani later this month. Considered the heir apparent not only to the lightweight division (for however long he can squeeze into it) and beyond, but also to Top Rank’s flagship position, the Brooklynite has captured audiences with his theatrics and knack for sudden destruction. He may not enjoy whatever leather Commey can hit him with, but there should be little of it to suffer in the four or five rounds it would take him to sunder so inviting a target.

Which means that very soon Top Rank will be able to deliver us an undisputed lightweight champion. There are ways to scuff the shine of that distinction to be sure, and no chance the winner retains all of that hardware for very long, considering the promotional and network goodwill required for so heavily-belted a fighter to fulfill his mandatory defenses. Making the fight would mean convincing Lomachencko to face the still unproven though undeniably dangerous Lopez; and perhaps Lopez—who thus far has been properly irreverent in speaking of “Hi-Tech”—will recalibrate his ambition when finally offered the challenge he has courted. Oh, and only the new and naive would expect Top Rank to delivery promptly a fight it can tease for a year or so, especially considering what little incentive there is for the company to get their present or future knocked off by the other—an outcome the loser might interpret as proof of favoritism.

So no one should be surprised if Lopez enters the junior-welterweight ranks as merely the IBF lightweight champion. In boxing, the reasons to not make fights are as myriad as they are unsatisfying, and they always outnumber their contrary. But Lomachenko–Lopez would tell us who the best lightweight in the world is and, in sport, such reasons should reign supreme.

The post Nearing the Ledge: Richard Commey Stops Ray Beltran—Is Teofimo Lopez Next? appeared first on Hannibal Boxing.

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“Nobody ever beat me when I was a world champion. I moved up [in weight division] each time undefeated. I lost fights, but never for any of my titles. I’ve had five hand operations, pins put in my hands, wedges of bones cut out of my hand so I could make a full fist, because pretty much for every fight I had broken hands.”

Hall-of-Famer Jeff Fenech campaigned in five weight divisions, was a successful three-weight world champion, and beat some of the most recognized names in boxing. He accomplished all of this in thirty-three professional fights. Sydney’s most celebrated sportsman tells us how and why he first decided to become a boxer, which wasn’t his sport of choice. “I played [Aussie rules] football all of my life and wanted to be a rugby league player. Then, when I was about seventeen and a half, I went to a youth club, not to learn to box but to see some guys we wanted to fight with. We searched this youth club, and they weren’t there and the last room we looked in had a sign which said ‘Boxing’ on it. Then I looked through the little window on the door. There was a friend of mine I went to school with who used to box, and we went in and saw him train. I then heard the trainer say they wanted someone to box him. Even though he was a few kilos heavier, I volunteered to fight him.”

“Next day, I went there and I boxed and it wasn’t the best experience. I got winded and beaten up a bit. But the trainer at the end of the session said, ‘Have you boxed before?’ I said ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Are you sure? You did really good. You should come back.’ At the start, I thought he was just bullshitting me to get me back there. In my mind, I didn’t want to go back because it’s not the best feeling when you’re not used to being hit in the stomach and being punched in the face. Anyway, I ended up convincing myself to go back and then a few months later, I was state champion, then six months later, national champion. I think we all have a hidden talent and I kind of found it, totally accidentally.”

Fenech’s amateur pedigree is often overshadowed by his successes in the professional arena. “People don’t know a lot about my career. Even though I only had twenty-six amateur fights, I won the Oceanic flyweight title in 1983, then shortly after went to the World Championships in Rome and got the bronze. Then in 1984 I went to the same Los Angeles Olympics as Evander Holyfield and all those guys.”

Fenech turned professional on October 12, 1984, and, barely four months later, “The Marrickville Mauler” became New South Wales State bantamweight champion. On April 26, 1995, with a record of six wins, all by knockout, he challenged defending IBF world bantamweight champion Satoshi Shingaki for his crown. Fenech recalled the moment. “I actually got the call couple a couple of months earlier, but he [Shingaki] got injured and pulled out. Then when it was all good to go, everyone was saying, ‘He’s never fought fifteen rounds. He won’t beat Shingaki,’ and all that. I trained harder than anybody ever. I could run ten kilometers in thirty and a half minutes. I did twelve and fifteen rounds of sparring a hundred times in the gym prior to the fight. I had three sparring partners in the ring at the same time. One minute each, so they could stay in the ring, and I’d get pushed to the limit.

“Jeff Harding [former WBC light-heavyweight world champion] was one of them. Another was a guy called Alan McNamara [another light-heavyweight] who was world-rated and was my main sparring partner. I always sparred big guys, including heavyweight Justin Fortune.”

Fenech stopped Shingaki in the ninth to claim his first world honors. But how did the newly-crowned champion deal with all the fame and adulation at the age of twenty? “From seventeen to twenty years old, I’d been all around the world boxing as an amateur and been at the Olympic games. I was the first Olympian from 1984 to win a world title and did so within 196 days from turning professional. It was crazy.

“I was one of those guys who used to say that fame and fortune would never change me, but it changes everybody. As much as you want to deny it and pretend you’re still the same person, it automatically changes you. I remember one day, I walked into the gym, I was in training for my rematch with Shingaki and my trainer, Johnny Lewis, said, ‘You see the door you walked through to get in here?’ I replied, ‘Yes, Johnny,’ and he said, ‘Well, turn around and get the fuck out of here.’ Those were his exact words. I’ll never forget that. He noticed the change in my attitude, not only boxing but a lot of other things. What he said refocused me. I had tears in my eyes. I apologized and made the changes I needed to, for a little while at least.

“Not long after, one of my very close friends had died. He left me $20,000 [Australian dollars]. Now, remember, I got paid $20,000 to fight for the world title, which isn’t a lot, but back then, for somebody who came from the street and never had a dollar, unless I stole something, that was a lot of cash. I remember saying to a friend of mine after winning the world title, ‘Wow. If I could get another $20,000, I’ll retire. I’ll be rich.’ I had no understanding of money and what I’d achieved. When I first started in boxing, the media used to criticize me for ‘Errming’ before giving an answer and all of a sudden I’m doing TV commercials. It was crazy.”

Over the next year, Fenech fought six times, including a second stoppage win over Shingaki, and a lopsided decision over unbeaten American Jerome Coffee [26-0 at the time] over the full fifteen championship rounds, to retain his IBF crown. His first fight of 1986, on April 11, was against ring legend Daniel Zaragoza. Fenech discussed the unenviable task. “The fight wasn’t sanctioned. What happened was, I was waiting to fight again, and he’d just lost his title [against Miguel ‘Happy’ Lora]. The media was saying that this would be a great fight for me because Zaragoza was finished and his career was over, but it would be a good scalp.

“Although I did come out victorious, over the next ten years he beat another twenty-seven opponents, including Paul Banke, Wayne McCullough, you name it. He was a great, great fighter, and even though I won every round, he was my toughest fight to date at that point, without a doubt.”

Three months after Zaragoza, Fenech, now 13-0 with eleven stoppages, took on unbeaten Steve McCrory (younger brother of former welterweight world champion, Milton). “I had a lot of pressure on me for this one because it was billed as ‘Olympic Revenge.’ Although we didn’t fight each other in the Olympics, he was gold medalist in 1984, and I got robbed [against silver medalist Redzep Redzepovski of Yugoslavia]. About two weeks prior to the fight, I broke my hand. I got it x-rayed, spoke to the promoter, and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll cancel the fight and reschedule it.’ He said he’d announce that the day after I wouldn’t be fighting. So, I went and had some food, as I was starving.

“Then I receive a call in the morning. ‘Listen, Jeff. I’ve done the maths, and if you don’t fight, I’m going to be bankrupt.’ I replied, ‘I went out and put on nine pounds last night.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll put you on a health farm. I spent a week there on the farm, then two days before the fight I moved back into my house, and I was still about six pounds overweight. My promoter said, ‘Just get as close as you can to the weight, and we’ll relinquish the title on the scales. Just try to win the fight.’ I thought, ‘Okay,’ but I woke up that morning and ran 5K because I was still three pounds over. I’d starved myself for a couple of days, hadn’t drunk any water, but even after that run, I’d only lost a pound. I put the heaters on in the house and sat by one of them, but nothing came off. So I ran another 5K. Still a pound and a bit over. So I did another 5K. Then I collapsed. That’s 15K on the day of the fight. Remember, the weigh-in wasn’t twenty-four hours before back then; it was on the same day. We weighed in on the afternoon. My mum’s over at the house crying because I don’t feel good and my face was all drawn in.

“Despite everything, I made weight and I ended up stopping him in the fourteenth round of a tough fight. Under the circumstances, fighting with a broken hand and running 15K the morning of the fight, I did well to get through. Yeah, I lost a bit of energy, but I never lost my willpower to pull through that night.”

After the fight, Fenech had a hand operation, then, nine months later, he beat Tony Miller to pick up the Australian featherweight title. A month later, he took on the unbeaten, defending WBC world super-bantamweight champion, Samart Payakaroon, knocking him out in four rounds to become a two-weight world champion. The affable Aussie recalled the shoot-out with the tough Thai. “I knew he was a very good puncher. He’d knocked out Lupe Pintor and Juan Meza, two of the toughest Mexicans ever. Payakaroon came with a very tough reputation. When he came to Australia, everyone bet massive amounts on him to knock me out, but that was money lost for them. For me, it was one of my five-star performances. I kept the pressure on him and stayed close. I knocked him out so badly he had to spend the night in hospital. Usually, I wasn’t a one punch knockout artist, but that night, I fought one of my great fights.”

Fenech defended the world title twice against top opposition in Greg Richardson and ring legend Carlos Zarate [who at that point had only lost twice in sixty-eight fights]. “In his comeback, Zarate had won eleven fights in a row, ten inside the distance. He’d knocked out the number-one contender in the world, the American, Richard Savage. I knew that I had to be precise, keep my hands up high, not let him hit me, but put the pressure on. I wanted to give him something he’d never experienced before, so I really turned it up as much as I could. Whenever I see him today, God love him, he always says, ‘You could have fought in any era and beaten any champion. Nobody could have touched you.’ Coming from Carlos Zarate, that’s always special to hear.”

Five months later, Fenech took on Puerto Rican Victor Callejas for the vacant WBC world featherweight title, stopping him in the tenth round to become a three-weight world champion in a little under three years and five months of his debut. Fenech recalled: “Victor could punch. He hit me in the first round with a shot that nearly knocked me out. He struck me with an uppercut, and my hands dropped to my side and my equilibrium went for a few seconds. He was probably the dirtiest fighter I’ve ever fought, but the toughest. I respected him totally and thought he was a great fighter. I broke my right hand and I used my left hand for 75 percent of the fight. If I had my right hand, I have no doubt it wouldn’t have gone five rounds.”

Fenech defended his latest world title a further three further times over the next thirteen months, then took off the whole of 1990 due to two hand operations. After a tune-up fight against John Kalbhenn on January 19, 1991, Fenech took on “The Professor” and fellow Hall of Famer, the legendary Azumah Nelson, on June 28, 1991, putting his WBC world featherweight crown on the line.

After twelve hard-fought rounds, Fenech had to accept a contentious draw. “I wasn’t one of these fighters who trash-talked before fights. I let my fists do the talking. I’ve watched the tape ten million times, and it’s never more than three rounds to him in that fight. The only reason I admired him so much is because he came to my backyard for the rematch.”

The rematch occurred nine months later and was named The Ring magazine’s “Upset of the Year.” It was also Fenech’s first loss as a professional. “From my side, we just thought it was routine and that I was going to win. He went home, trained hard, and wanted to beat me badly. Whereas I came home, trained, messed about with women, out signing autographs, doing daily appearances. I was certain I was going to win and just didn’t prepare like he did and, on the night, I got a shock. He trained hard, worked twice as hard as I did, and knocked me out.”

Over a year later, on June 7, 1993, Fenech suffered defeat at the hands of American Calvin Grove, getting stopped in seven rounds. “I had another hand operation,” he recalled, “but it was like I had a realization after the last fight [against Nelson]. There came a time where I’d never been hurt in my life in my fights, but then I got knocked down against Nelson, and even when I was sparring for the Grove fight, I started to feel the punches, which I’d never had before. I sparred big guys and never felt it. But after all the years, that’s what happens. It all adds up.

“Emanuel Steward, the greatest trainer in the world by far, who trained me towards the end of my career, said, ‘Jeff, why would they make you fight Calvin Grove? He’s one of those quick guys who is awkward and speedy, and this is your first fight back in fifteen months. The people who looked after me really didn’t know much about the sport like Manny did. Then when I fought Calvin, I thought, ‘Wow. This guy hurt me like I’d never been hurt before. My mentality was, ‘I’ll get back in the office and everything is going to be okay. Once I get in that ring, everything will be fine.’ But in boxing, nothing disappears. All I can say is that on the night, somebody better beat me, and I give Grove all the credit for it.”

Fenech continued. “I retired after that fight, but then I got that boxing bug. That little thing that calls you back in. It’s hard to stay away. I’d never done anything apart from box as a profession, so I craved it all. The notoriety, the success, the action, and when people pat you on the back. I went for it again.”

After almost two and a half years out, Fenech had a pair of tune-up fights before taking on unbeaten 27-0 defending champion Phillip Holiday for his IBF world lightweight crown. He was stopped in the second round. This was to prove his third and final defeat.

Six years later, in 2002, Fenech got the call all fighters wait for. “It was my first year of eligibility for the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and I got in on my first go, which I was delighted about. People sometimes wait twenty years to get in. Being inducted means more than any of my world titles. When you get recognition from your peers who have made it within the sport, that’s when you know you’ve made it. That’s the ultimate accolade.”

After retirement, Fenech didn’t stray far from boxing, training several fighters, including Danny Green. However, it was his time tutoring Mike Tyson that generated the most media attention. “For years, I’d been doing stuff with Mike. Going on runs, doing pads. I was always the guy in the background. What people don’t realize is, when he fought Clifford Etienne [February 22, 2003], I trained him for the whole fight. I’d trained him for the full eight weeks. Lived with him and did everything together, then about two or three days before the fight he walks in with this big tattoo all over his face. I didn’t think they were going to let him fight with a fresh tattoo, so I jumped on a plane and went home. I was obviously very disappointed with him.”

Fenech was in Iron Mike’s corner for his last contest against Kevin McBride on June 11, 2005. “I pulled Mike out [retired in the sixth round]. First and foremost, he’s my friend. A great friend, in fact. I promised Mike’s family that I wouldn’t let him get hurt. That’s my job. I could see he didn’t have what it takes. I could see it in his eyes that he didn’t want to be in there, so I got in the ring and stopped the fight.”

But where did Fenech see a peak Tyson among the all-time heavyweight greats? “A fit Mike Tyson? Look toward the end of his career. All those guys were hitting him with no problem, whereas in his prime, his speed was just amazing. They would have never hit him. Then throw in that speed with his power, and he was devastating. He could have been the greatest of all time, ever. At his peak, I don’t think there’s anybody that could beat him.”

Twelve years after hanging up the gloves, Fenech was back in the ring to complete the trilogy with Nelson. However, the fight was never planned as many believed. “I don’t even look at that as a fight. I was in Thailand and somebody said to me, ‘Why don’t we put on a rematch between you and Samart Payakaroon?’ I said, ‘Let’s do it!’ I’d organized all this stuff and thought, ‘This is going to be great.’ Then all of a sudden, as we’re close to sorting a deal, he rings up and says, ‘Listen, Samart’s asking for silly money, so we can’t do it.’ So he approached Azumah Nelson and asked if he’d take the fight and he said, ‘Yes.’ Listen, we both trained hard and it was a great fight, but I don’t take credit for beating Azumah Nelson in that fight. I was forty-four and he was forty-nine. We put on a good show, and that was it.” Fenech added. “I don’t talk to him [Nelson] all the time, but I rate him as one of the greatest fighters in the sport. To be able to come back the way he did, represent his country, he’s an amazing human being. It was great sharing a ring with him.”

Fenech signed off with a nostalgic grudge and an endearing homage to his fans. “I have billions of regrets in boxing. Trainers, promoters, they robbed me, lied to me and deceived me. When I look back and evaluate, it’s a sad story. When you work hard, I think you deserve to get paid what you’re worth, and I didn’t. Guys fighting on my undercards were earning bigger money than me. I would have loved to have fought more in the US, but that’s been and gone now.”

“But listen, one thing I will always be grateful for is the boxing fans. If it wasn’t for the public, Australia, the people who paid to watch me fight, I’d be nobody. My time will always be 110 percent to the normal person. I’m no different to other guys. If there’s five people asking for an autograph, I’ll sign five. If there’s a hundred thousand, I’ll make sure I sign each and every last one. Without those people, I’d be a nobody and have nothing. I’ll always be grateful for them. Thank you.”

The post The People’s Champion: Jeff Fenech Salutes His Fans appeared first on Hannibal Boxing.

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The sun, the sea, the sand, his girlfriend by his side—and the feeling of being IBF super-lightweight champion. Forty-eight hours after defeating Ivan Baranchyk to become Scotland’s fourteenth world champion, Josh Taylor jetted off to the Balearic Islands for some rest and recovery.

A favorable climate, a few drinks, and an inviting swimming pool were just some of the rewards that Taylor lapped up, and then, halfway through his holiday, it hit him . . .

A few days earlier, Taylor, in his fifteenth professional fight, had heard those three magical words: ‘And the new . . . !’ His fans in Glasgow were rapturous, his friends and family were ecstatic, but before he had time to absorb everything, he was thrown into a face-off against—such is the format of the World Boxing Super Series—the WBA champion Regis Prograis. Taylor will face Prograis later this year to determine who will be the winner of the WBSS 140-pound tournament and arguably the best fighter in the division. It was a whirlwind of a night for “The Tartan Tornado,” but he had little time to let the events and the realization of a dream-come-true sink in.

“It was just a feeling of pure ecstasy, relief . . . it’s hard to describe and put into words,” he told Hannibal Boxing.

Back to Ibiza. Taylor had just jumped into the pool, and his partner, Danielle, was sunbathing, when he decided to take a much-needed nap.

“I was lying there for half an hour,” Taylor recalled. “I was half dozing off, and I said to her, ‘Danielle I’m world champion by the way.’ It was just starting to sink in: I’m world champion. It feels weird saying that; I’m the world champ. She says, ‘I know, I’m so proud of you,’ and I was, like, ‘Wow, it’s sunk in. I’ve done it.’”

Taylor–Baranchyk was everything that many thought it would be. It was a mix of boxing ability from the challenger and aggression and resoluteness from the champion; and, at times, both men lowered their heads like a pair of battling rams and wailed away at one another. Taylor dropped Baranchyk twice in the sixth round to seal the victory.

“At times it was really easy for me,” Taylor said. “At times I was making him miss, I was moving my feet, jabbing and moving, but I just felt I wasn’t doing enough. I felt like I could have done that all night and made him miss and outboxed him, but I felt I wasn’t doing enough.

“I felt because he was the champion I had to go out and dominate and take the belt off him. At times when I was outboxing him, the crowd were going silent, and that’s when I was thinking ‘Right, am I doing enough here?’ Even though I was still winning the fight and winning most of the rounds, I just thought I was doing enough, so I then decided to have a bit more of a fight, but I was in control of the whole fight, of what I was doing and what was happening. Never once was I in trouble and I could have made it easier, but I decided not to.”

His schooling in the fourteen fights prior had set him up perfectly for his crowning glory. Time spent in America, a domestic title win in his own city, a grudge match, victory against a wily veteran and getting his feet wet against Viktor Postol laid the foundation for something that felt like a matter of time. Taylor’s belief in his own abilities is what we come to expect from a man with the amateur pedigree he has, but the expectation of delivering placed a weight on his shoulders which he says is now gone thanks to the win last month.

“It’s a weight off my own shoulders. I didn’t feel any pressure from anyone else or anything like that, it was just my own shoulders, my own expectations and it was the moment I’d been visualizing for so many years of becoming world champion. Everywhere I went, seeing it written down ‘Josh Taylor, future world champion.’ Everywhere I went, just drumming it into my own subconscious, to believe in it and the chance was finally there, and there was no way I was letting it slip. Massive relief from my own shoulders.”

With some time spent in Ibiza as well as the Isle of Man to watch the spectacular TT motorbike event, thus allowing him to indulge in his other sporting passion, Taylor has made the most of his break but the gym is calling once again and the ‘Rougarou’—Regis Prograis—is waiting for him.

No announcement has been made yet about where and when the final of the super-lightweight tournament will be held. Each finalist has had consecutive fights in their own country. A third for either would hold a significant advantage, so neutral territory may well be the way to go.

Prograis has, to use a phrase, ‘looked the goods’ so far, with many believing he is number one in the 140-pound division. A theory loosely backed up his number-one seeding in the WBSS tournament. His win against Julius Indongo and the even more impressive dismantling of Kiryl Relikh have fans and media tipping him to go well beyond winning the WBSS and moving up to welterweight, where he is seen as a potential live threat to the likes of Terence Crawford and company.

“He’s hyped up, of course he is,” said Taylor. “He believes his own hype as well. He says he’s got a big following even though there was a thousand people or even a few hundred at his last fight. That doesn’t matter, it’s me and him at the end of the day in a ring and we both have to fight. I just believe I’ve got the beating of him. I think he believes in his own hype a bit too much, but we’ll see.

“I just told him he better be ready,” Taylor said of their in-ring face-off in Glasgow. “He better be in good shape, and he better be ready to have a fight because I’m coming to rip this title off him and beat him up. I told him he’s never fought anybody like me, he’s never boxed anyone, really, in his whole career. He’s 24-0, who has he boxed? He boxed Indongo who is forty-five-years-old [Writers note: Taylor was being sarcastic], and he’s boxed Reilikh who had to lose over forty pounds in nine weeks to get to the weight. So, he was gone at the weight. He’s never really boxed anybody who is going to hit him back, and I don’t think he’s going to be prepared for it.”

The post Tornado Warning: Josh Taylor Prepares for Regis Prograis appeared first on Hannibal Boxing.

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Hannibal Boxing by Roberto José Andrade Franco - 3w ago

Since defeating Anthony Joshua, the presumed next face of boxing, Andy Ruiz Jr.’s sudden fame has been startling. It felt like a different era, back when most people knew the name of boxing’s heavyweight champion. On that night, June 1 in Madison Square Garden, Ruiz became the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent. The win brought a drastic change.

Joshua potentially lost tens of millions of dollars in future earnings. Ruiz went from a relative unknown but talented boxer to someone who appeared on late night shows. He met the Mexican president. NPR spoke of his win. His hometown—Imperial, California, near the United States-Mexico border—planned a parade. Ruiz’s life changed. And with that sudden change of fortune, fans—especially Mexican and Mexican Americans—saw something in Ruiz. They saw someone who had achieved an improbable dream. Someone who, like some of them, started with little. In Ruiz, they saw hope.

Ruiz’s win, among the biggest upsets of the past several decades in all of sports, became one of those moments people will remember where they were on the night Ruiz stood over Joshua like a conquering hero. They’ll remember that night when, even if they weren’t watching, they heard the news and felt inspired by it all. A few wrote corridos for Andy Ruiz Jr., those Mexican folk songs that recount a hero’s exploits.

Corridos are, as Guadalupe San Miguel Jr., a University of Houston history professor, wrote, “the product of a subordinate society whose only means of fighting the dominant Anglo powers were symbolic.”

Born during Mexico’s tumultuous times, corridos traditionally functioned as a way to spread news among the uneducated and, at times, illiterate. It is working-class music where the corrido’s protagonist fights against the impossible.

And because of the historical tension between the neighboring countries, some corridos depict Mexicans fighting against someone or something symbolizing the United States. That tension never gets completely resolved. It may lay dormant for years but, almost inevitably, something will aggravate that wound. Thus, some corridos are more than a century old; people still sing them because the lyrics feel relevant.

You can’t escape the political context of corridos, just as you can’t get away from those same politics that make certain boxers more important than others. For every great boxer, the kind that even those who don’t follow the sport recognize, there is something political magnifying their importance. They, those few boxers, connect with a particular group of people the way others could not.

Andy Ruiz Jr., on the night of June 1, became one of those boxers.

***

Before the fight began, Ángel Eduardo Luna placed his phone on a microphone stand beside him. Though he was born in Veracruz, Mexico, Luna now lives in Phoenix, Arizona. He’s lived on the north side of the United States-Mexico border for the past thirteen years, moving there a few years after his father died. Luna is twenty-nine now. Tuesday through Sunday, he works as a cook. On the weekend, Luna chases his dream.

“One day, I’d like to have the opportunity to travel to Mexico,” Luna says in Spanish. “I can’t do that now . . . but I want to sing in Mexico.”

To sing and have his music heard throughout the world, that is Luna’s dream. He wants to sing back home, in Mexico, where, for now, he can’t return. Until that day comes, Luna sings where and when he can. While he showers, while he cooks, while he works, on the weekends at weddings, parties, quinceañeras, and any other place he can, Luna sings.

When Ruiz’s fight began, Luna gave passing glances toward his phone as he performed at a quinceañera. “I was practically singing and through side eye, watching Andy fight,” he says. It wasn’t until he and his band took a break, after forty-five minutes of performing, that Luna paid full attention to the fight.

Luna, surrounded by three or four others, watched as Joshua knocked Ruiz down in the third round. Ruiz beat the count, and Joshua soon landed a few more punches that made Ruiz’s head rock back. It felt like Ruiz was a punch away from losing. And then, something remarkable happened. Ruiz floored Joshua. He arose but when he did, Joshua, six feet six and 250 pounds of muscle, had lost that menacing look he once had. Ruiz kept attacking while Joshua, built like a comic book superhero, looked increasingly fragile. “I kept saying, ‘Look! Look! Look! This vato is hitting him with everything.’” Luna recalls. “And we started noticing [Joshua’s] legs weren’t stable.”

Everyone who watched the fight saw the same thing. They saw Ruiz get knocked down. They saw him stand. They saw Ruiz knock Joshua down. They saw that, unlike Ruiz, who fought with a renewed sense of life after being knocked down, Joshua never recovered. The referee finally waved off the fight in the seventh round.

“This fucker never quit even after they knocked him down,” José Jaime García says, also in Spanish, of Ruiz. “He got up and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to fuck him up.’ And he gave him a beating; because that’s what it was, a beating.”

García is a singer and plays the accordion. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, he’s lived in Sacramento, California, since he was two years old. He is thirty now and has grand goals and dreams that revolve around music. “I want to have hits,” he explains. “I want to leave a legacy and a musical history.”

García is fortunate and talented enough to make his living solely from music. On the night Ruiz won, García was at a gig. “We went on break,” he remembers, “and Don Juan, who plays the electric bass, says, ‘We won! We won!’ All la raza was happy.”

Ruiz’s victory symbolized something more than just boxing’s heavyweight championship. It meant something to people who will likely never even meet Ruiz. It meant something because of who Ruiz is and where he comes from, is relatable to Mexicans and Mexican Americans of a certain class.

“That kid started from the bottom, no one gave him anything,” García responds when asked why Ruiz has inspired so many. “He said something beautiful after the fight,” García continues. “He told his mom that they were no longer going to struggle. That hit me deep. Because we all have those dreams when we come here to this country.”

News of Ruiz’s accomplishment spread quickly—through social media, where he was the trending topic, and through word of mouth where, even days later, people spoke of Ruiz’s win. A few made songs to immortalize that night.

“Every time I write a corrido, I don’t waste a single line,” Tito Escamilla, always in Spanish, explains his process when writing. “A lot of others focus on rhyming. But me, in every line, I want to express an emotion.”

Escamilla, like Luna and García, was born in Mexico. He’s from Chihuahua but came to the United States about fifteen years ago. He’s thirty-two years old and lives in Los Angeles where he too chases his dreams of having a musical career on par with past Mexican greats. Escamilla discovered his talent for writing corridos while still a student in the Mexican equivalent of high school. He’d attend horse races and minutes after they ended, he’d have one written for the horses’ owners.

“I don’t like writing fantasies,” Escamilla, who also watched Ruiz’s fight while on break from a gig, says. “Whether it’s a corrido for a narco or an athlete, I speak the truth because that’s the news. I don’t like to alter it. Corridos are the news.”

Within days, several corridos written and dedicated to Ruiz appeared across social media. Luna, García, and Escamilla were just three of the many. They recorded their songs in a professional studio. Others wrote corridos and then recorded themselves singing their tributes to Ruiz even if they weren’t of the highest quality.

Presumably, especially if he keeps winning, more songwriters will dedicate other corridos to Ruiz. Those who write them—Mexicans who come to the United States or Mexican Americans born of parents that came here in search of something better—can only hope their corridos will far outlive them. Decades from now, perhaps, people will continue to sing them. They’ll sing and think back on the night Ruiz, that humble Mexican kid who started from nothing, won.

Ruiz won. Remarkably, he became one of boxing’s heavyweight champions. And when he did, he made people’s dreams—even the most improbable—feel more realistic. It is why Ángel Eduardo Luna, José Jaime García, Tito Escamilla, and others, sing corridos to Andy Ruiz Jr.

The post The Corridos of Andy Ruiz Jr. appeared first on Hannibal Boxing.

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This is the fifth installment in Carlos Acevedo’s Shoot The Moon series covering the career of Larry Holmes.

***

February 3, 1980

Seems no one’s talking ‘bout those crazy days gone past,

Weren’t they amazed when you were really last?

You are the little dreamer.

You were the little dreamer, yeah yeah.

—Van Halen

If nothing else, Lorenzo Zanon at least looked like a tough guy. In fact, with his baleful glare and outlaw sideburns, Zanon resembled a heavy from a Poliziotteschi—The Big Racket or Shoot First, Die Later, maybe. He was also the perfect fall guy for Larry Holmes, whose two previous title defenses had seen him battered from corner to corner by Mike Weaver and nearly obliterated by an Earnie Shavers right cross that might as well have been a baby grand dropped from a third-story window. Both times Holmes had rallied to score a stoppage, but his struggles did little to hush the murmurous peanut gallery still aching from the absence of “The Greatest.”

“You people don’t give me my just due,” Holmes told the Associated Press before his bout with Zanon. “I followed behind a great man—Muhammad Ali.”

In early 1980, the heavyweight ranks were thin, and Holmes saw his shaky championship claims devalued by the ascension of “Big” John Tate, who had won the WBA title (vacated by Ali) in October 1979 with a unanimous decision over Gerrie Coetzee in South Africa. Fitful pseudo-negotiations for an “undisputed” clash played out in sports pages across the country, but Tate was a short-lived beltholder with a grim future awaiting him, and Holmes was never much interested in unifying despite tough talk to the contrary.

Facing Zanon made Holmes realize that the concept of variance went beyond poker tables. For his fifth title defense, Holmes would earn $600,000, a drastic pay cut from the $2.5 million jackpot he hit against Earnie Shavers in New York City. Aside from Tate, Ali (still generating buzz despite his leave-taking), and NFL defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones, name recognition was at a premium among heavyweights, and Holmes had to fight frequently to bolster his millionaire standing. Already Holmes was looking past Zanon: he was scheduled to defend his title against unheralded Leroy Jones on March 31, less than two months away.

Even with a soft touch—or two—on the horizon, Holmes seemed combative about his status. “I wasn’t TV-made,” Holmes told The Morning Call. “I’m self-made. I made $100 in my first fight; $125 in my second. In my first nine fights, I made $900. I feel good about me. I don’t want to change. As long as they compare Larry Holmes to Muhammad Ali, they’re remembering me.”

What “they” would remember about his forgettable fight against Zanon was another question altogether. For years, Zanon had been part of a seriocomic Continental European round-robin that included Lucien Rodriguez and Alfredo Evangelista. A 3-1 record against his Old World peers and possession of the EBU heavyweight title convinced no one that Zanon would be a threat to Holmes. After all, his only visits to America had left him seeing stars—and not the kind headlining at The Hilton or The Landmark. Zanon suffered consecutive kayo losses in 1977 to Ken Norton and an enfeebled Jerry Quarry before fleeing to the relative safety of Torino, Milan, and San Remo. His return to Las Vegas, where his luck had proven sour (his losses to Norton and Quarry took place in Caesars Palace), promised just another painful run of snake eyes. The pips, of course, would be bruise blue instead of black.

Zanon was the son of a steelworker from Lombardy and took up boxing, more or less, by accident. “I wanted to try boxing, judo, or karate but the gym only had boxing,” he said about his limited combat sports choices. He had amassed a record of 25-4 fighting almost exclusively in Italy and had failed to impress American wiseguys with his performances against Norton and Quarry.  Challenging Holmes meant a $125,000 payday for Zanon, a sum he would never command in the Piedmont region, even against his paisano, Alfio Righetti.

“He’s the European champion,” Holmes weakly offered about facing his most obscure challenger yet, “and that in itself makes him a worthy opponent. I’ve fought everyone in the world, so why not him?” Unfortunately, Holmes was technically wrong about the European title: Zanon had been stripped of it a few months earlier for failure to defend his championship.

After participating in his first title defense in which he was not an out-bet (against Shavers), Holmes found himself in another bookmaking dud: his fight against Zanon was off-the-board. And for good reason. Although Zanon was rated fifth by the WBC, he inspired mockery from most of the US media. In an issue of World Boxing, Steve Farhood had referred to Zanon as an “inept garbanzo”; Dick Young, of The New York Daily News, used “pushover” and “Italian Sausage” as his characterizations; before the opening bell, Howard Cosell described how Zanon had lost to Jerry Quarry in 1977: “For nine rounds Zanon outboxed Quarry all over the ring. In the 10th, he went out. He went out from a series of punches that were more invisible than ‘The Anchor Punch’ of Ali in Lewiston, Maine, on May 25, 1965.” When Quarry flattened him, Zanon had his license lifted by the Italian Boxing Federation.

No one expected Zanon to trouble Holmes, and the Wide World of Sports telecast on ABC included the World Wristwrestling Championships, in the hopes that a novelty event could draw viewers uninterested in a heavyweight mismatch. Nor did the Vegas demimonde much care about the fight. As was the case with his defenses against Alfredo Evangelista and Ossie Ocasio, Holmes was unable to produce a sellout or even a significant gate. He did his best to boost weak box office numbers and fill the seats of the Sports Pavilion, however, purchasing $20,000 worth of tickets and donating them to a local grammar school. His adviser, Charles Spaziani, followed suit, with his bulk tickets going to the American Cancer Society. Even so, The Sports Pavilion, with a capacity of 4,500, would not require an SRO run.

At the opening bell, Zanon began his awkward sprint. For three rounds, he was a study in cross purposes: seemingly intent on running and fighting simultaneously. Zanon had nimble feet and a pesky jab. That was all. He was otherwise clumsy, sloppy, and physically weak. His right hands were thrown as if he were trapped in a Zero-G float room. But his perpetual motion was a rare trait among big men and, combined with his flicking jab, Zanon made an uncharacteristically flat-footed Holmes look ineffective early. Then came the fourth, and the beginning of the end. With Zanon circling exclusively to his left, Holmes began to open up with one-twos. A right cross thirty seconds into the round caught Zanon pinpoint on the jaw. Zanon tumbled, nearly head-over-heels, like a man who had emptied an entire bottle of Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante. He beat the count, but another right sent him bouncing off the ropes and onto his face. Once more Zanon, although groggy, arose, and Holmes pursued him around the ring. Holmes threw a left-right that had Zanon in distress, retreating. Here, Referee Ray Solis, imported from Mexico, prolonged the beating by mistakenly applying a stand-eight count (prohibited in Nevada) and depriving Holmes of the finish.

Somehow, Zanon survived the fifth—even landing a sweeping right at one point—but Holmes had accelerated his attack. Holmes and Zanon traded sloppy combinations during the sixth round, and, with less than half a minute to go, “The Easton Assassin” came over the top of a sloppy left with a thudding right. This time, Zanon would listen, woozily, as the referee tolled ten.

How would Holmes, alternating between feasting on second-raters such as Evangelista and Zanon and struggling against veteran contenders such as Weaver and Shavers, earn the respect he demanded? A cynical press corps, already unimpressed by his performances against Weaver and Shavers, harped on his quality of opposition as often as possible. Before the fight, Holmes realized the catch-22 implicit in facing a subpar import such as Zanon. “I’m not here to try to prove anything,” he told AP. “If I don’t take him out early, people will say I’m not worth anything. If I don’t knock him out in the first round, people will say I’m slowing up, don’t have my coordination.”

At the post-fight press conference, he once again lamented his standing as a partial champion who was overshadowed by a man whose nickname was “The Greatest.” Insisting that his ultimate goal was to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Holmes went on to talk about a future bout with Tate. (It would never happen. Throughout a championship reign that lasted more than seven years, Holmes made only one attempt to seek out a co-champion, when he agreed to face WBA titlist Gerrie Coetzee in 1984. That fight never materialized, when a neophyte promoter ran out of cash before he could sign both participants.)

In the meantime, all the talk about “just due” and “respect” received a strange twist after the fight. When Holmes appeared at the press conference, Lorenzo Zanon, who had already been seated, stood and began to applaud as the champion approached.

***

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP)—Muhammad Ali, stung by criticism of his mission to urge a Moscow Olympics boycott, accused President Carter today of “sending me around the world to take the whipping” from black Africans opposed to U.S. dealings with South Africa. Ali told reporters he probably would not have undertaken his presidential assignment if he had known beforehand “the whole history of America and Africa and South Africa.” He also said he had received a message from Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev last week asking him not to undertake the mission.

The post Shoot the Moon: The Title Reign of Larry Holmes Part V, Lorenzo Zanon appeared first on Hannibal Boxing.

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