THERE seems to have been more happening outside the ring than inside over the recent weeks and some of it very sad. Since I live near Dundee the tragic death of Mike Towell has been felt strongly. A terrible tragedy for his family and as he lived locally it was also a big blow to the boxing fraternity in Tayside. Also this week an update said that Spanish boxer Saul Tejada was reported to be still in a coma after being stopped in nine rounds in a Spanish title fight on 7 October and Monday past marked a year since Prichard Colon fell into a coma after his fight with Terrell Williams. Yes boxing is a very dangerous sport and Towell’s tragic death brought out a spate of demands that boxing should be banned that seemed more muted than on previous occasions hopefully because of the steps the sport has taken over the years to improve safety standards. However those demands to ban boxing as dangerous fail to give the sport any credit for the part it plays in society.
Recently I was off the net for a week as I flew over to Lafayette, Louisiana to visit with a long-time close friend Beau Williford. Beau, a former pro heavyweight who worked with many fighters such as Dennis Andries, Glenn McCrory, Deirdre Gogarty, Chad Broussard, Jason Papillion and Kenny Vice etc. has a gym in Lafayette. The gym plays an important part in the local youth support effort. It caters to people of all ages and genders and teaches them how to box. Fighters from Beau’s gym have won a hatful of titles at local, Regional and National levels. But that was not what impressed me most. Beau insists that any school age kids who want to train there must maintain a minimum of B or C in their schoolwork grades and at least a B in behaviour, so it is not just about finding some boxing talent but also about the whole person. Teaching them about working hard to achieve your goals, discipline, finding an out let for aggression, social responsibility and so much more. He has a team supporting him who share his goals in former pro boxer Anthony Russell from Canada and Female Hall of Fame boxer Gogarty. Whilst I was there a father and mother brought their son to enrol in the gym. The father had trained there a while ago and wanted his son to also benefit from the experience just as he had and Beau gets plenty of returnees and referrals which is the best sign that what he does works. Deirdre Gogarty has to be one of the nicest people I have met. Apart from winning a world title she has acted as an inspiration to other female boxers such as Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor, and her fight with Christy Martin on the undercard to Mike Tyson vs. Frank Bruno outdid that fight for excitement and was credited with giving female boxing a huge boost. Deirdre may have retired but the love of boxing is still there and it is a family affair as she brings along her lovely, lively young son Celtan who has a playpen in the gym and plays happily with his toys as mum hits the heavy bag. Now there’s a thought – a crèche in every gym.
Before I went to Lafayette I called in at the Dundee Amateur Boxing club and there again were youngsters of all ages and gender working hard under the supervision of trainer Greg Menzies being set goals and learning that hard work and discipline is the way to achieve them. These are just two examples but from Mexico to Manchester from Ghana to Glasgow from Manila to Soweto all over the world there are thousands of gyms playing their part in using boxing to benefit the youth of their country and we can feel proud for the contribution it makes to bettering and building so many young lives.
The second subject drawing attention is drugs. Whilst I believe in harsh penalties to discourage drug cheats I think the BBB of C did the right thing in only suspending Tyson Fury’s licence. Ever since he beat Wlad Klitschko he has had, often deservedly, only bad press except from those who knew the person behind the outrageous comments that seriously offended many groups and the clownish façade. Beating Klitschko did not suddenly turn Fury into Jean-Paul Sartre and nothing that had gone before had prepared him for the media feeding frenzy that surrounded him. I can remember the days when Terry Lawless did not just school his fighters in boxing but also in facing the press and there did not seem to be anyone in Fury’s team willing to take that role or perhaps Fury refused to allow anyone to do that. The BBB of C have given him some breathing space but he still has an alleged positive test and other problems to deal with so let’s hope he makes good use of the time and comes up clean and gets back to the form that saw him beat Klitschko.
On the subject of banned stimulants we have seen the WBC working with VADA to institute a Clean Boxing programme. It saw a large number of WBC rated fighters sign up and commit to accept random testing. It will be difficult to administer but at least they are making an effort to tackle the problem but unless the other sanctioning bodies do the same-and they won’t-and all of the individual Board and Commissions get behind the effort-and many won’t-it will have only a very minimal impact. Performance enhancing drugs is still a major problem and there are so many samples of the splintered approach the sanctioning and national bodies take to drugs. We have Felix Sturm testing positive for the second time with the WBA unable to strip him of his title due to a legal challenge (Sturm has now relinquished the title as elbow surgery will keep him inactive for a time and the BDB say they have never been formally advised of the positive test anyway), we have Sam Soliman waiting for more than three years to prove that the BDB were wrong to rob him of the WBA title for a “positive” test. A court judgement has gone in his favour opening the way for Solomon to press for substantial damages but the BDB have said that they will appeal the decision. We have the WBC deciding to ignore positive tests for Mariusz Wach and Olanrewaju Durodola because of doubts over testing in Russia, the IBF ignoring a positive test by Lamont Peterson. The WBO suddenly putting Erkan Teper into their ratings and letting him fight for their European title despite him having twice tested positive for banned substances and being under investigation by prosecutors in Germany. This has more to do with the WBO bitterly resenting the refusal of the EBU to affiliate to it than any belief in Teper’s innocence, and we have the BDB conspiring to conceal Teper’s first positive test. We have TV appointing Antonio Tarver as an analyst for their boxing coverage even after he tested positive for a banned substance. Presumably they saw a drugs cheat as a good ambassador for boxing. That is just a short selection to illustrate how difficult it is to fight the use of performance enhancing drugs. The only deterrent’s that worked on any crime is the certainty of getting caught and the severity of the punishment. Neither of those is in place in sufficient strength in boxing. Once someone signs up to a Clean Boxing programme they should agree that if they give a positive test from an approved, accredited testing laboratory using verified procedures there will be no appeal against it and an automatic five year ban. This won’t make me many friends but I find it curious that the action is solely against the boxer. Surely his management and trainer also have responsibility to ensure he is clean and a positive test for one of their boxers should result in a fine for them. Unfair? Too drastic? Well something needs to be done and not just by the boxer but everyone in the sport.
Going back to Fury when he beat Klitschko he kicked the door wide open in the heavyweight division but now after relinquishing his WBA and WBO titles it looks as though he has lifted the lid on a Pandora’s Box. My old “friends” the WBA now have no champion. They talked about wanting to get to a stage of one world champion across the sanctioning bodies but when they were offered a unification match between Anthony Joshua and Klitschko they showed their true colours and turned it down. OK Joshua is not in their ratings but that has never stopped them in the past. There was talk of former secondary champion Lucas Browne fighting Klitschko in Germany on December 10 for their title but Klitschko is injured and won’t fight this year and Luis Ortiz (another drugs cheat) is still the WBA interim champion although he pulled out of an eliminator with Alex Ustinov. There is Fres Oquendo who has not fought for over two years but has a court order from a US court securing a WBA title shot for him. A mess! The WBC has mandated a fight between Alex Povetkin (another positive test) and Bermane Stiverne so they will have two champions. The IBF only have one champion in Anthony Joshua and with his mandatory challenger Joseph Parker going against Andy Ruiz for the vacant WBO title as I write Joshua is still searching for a challenger for a December 10 defence. As Parker is out of the picture then below him in the IBF ratings (after Parker) you have Kubrat Pulev, David Haye, Johan Duhaupas, Andy Ruiz (going for the WBO title) and Carlos Takam and No 12 David Price throwing out a challenge. Pulev would seem the obvious choice and with Parker going for the WBO title Pulev will replace him as IBF No 1 so Joshua would get a mandatory defence out of the way leaving him free to fight anyone he likes after that. All that says is that the heavyweights will be in a mess for months.
On the subject of mandatory challengers after Gennady Golovkin’s win over Kell Brook I mentioned that Golovkin’s mandatory challenger Jorge Heiland, the WBC No 1, would be a hard sell. However I was informed by someone who checked directly with the WBC that Heiland is not the mandatory challenger even though he is No 1 and that the WBC was reviewing the situation. Where does that leave Mairis Breidis, Eleider Alvarez, Callum Smith, Andre Berto etc. who are all No 1 with the WBC and are probably assuming being No 1 means they are the mandatory challenger-or are they?
It is curious to find Bob Arum talking about Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman as possible future opponents for Manny Pacquiao. Arum has been beating the drum for the Pacquiao vs. Vargas fight but these pronouncements seem to indicate that he sees Vargas as no threat to Pacquiao whilst at the same time to be talking the Vargas fight up. It will be interesting to see how Pacquiao is against Vargas.
In the second round of Tony Bellew’s fight against BJ Flores whilst the referee was still counting and had his back to Bellew’s corner one of Bellew’s seconds climbed into the ring and started walking towards the neutral corner where Bellew was standing. When he realised the count was still ongoing he immediately climbed out again but I have to wonder what would have happened if the referee had seen him enter the ring. Strictly speaking it is my understanding that if a second enters the ring whilst the fight is still ongoing that should lead to the instant disqualification of his fighter. The count did continue beyond the three minute mark but it seems to me that the round is not over until a count that started before the bell finishes. Just curious.
Going back to female boxing I talked about when referring to Deirdre Gogarty it is going receive a big boost with both Claressa Shields and Katie Taylor turning pro. Shields from Flint, Michigan has won five gold medals. Two at the Olympics, two at the world championships and one at the Pan American Games-and is still only 21. The amazing Taylor has amassed 18 gold medals in total competing at the Olympics, World Championships and European Championships. The 30-year-old from Bray, County Wicklow is just too talented as she also played for Ireland at soccer. In fact it has been a good month for outstanding female boxers in the pro ranks. Colombian-born Norwegian Cecilia Braekhus retained her WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF and IBO titles with a stoppage of Anne Sophie Mathis (27-3) on 1 October. She has now defended her WBA title 17 times, her WBC title 18 times, her WBO title 15 times, her IBF title 3 times and her IBO title once. Some record. Puerto Rican Amanda Serrano (30-1-1) won the vacant WBO super bantam title on Tuesday by stopping Alexandra Lazar in 44 seconds. She has now won world titles in four different divisions at super bantam, feather, super feather and lightweight. She trips lightly through the division having won her first title at super feather then came down to feather for a title, on up to light for her third division title and down to super bantam for the fourth.
Apart from Taylor Irish boxing now has two of the best amateurs from the lower divisions turning pro in Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes and you can add Con Sheehan already a pro since last year who has three wins. The 25-year-old 6’5” heavyweight was 203-18 as an amateur and won six Irish titles so reasons for Irish eyes to be smiling.
In addition to the above there were reasons to be happy for Cyclone promotions. Ring 8 New York, a veteran’s boxers association in New York supporting boxers in need of help have come out with their annual awards. Carl Frampton has been designated “International Fighter of the Year” and his promoters Cyclone Promotions the “International Promoter of the Year” and making it a Cyclone treble Barry McGuigan getting an “International Fighter Achievement” award. Of course the remarkable talent shown by Josh Taylor in winning the Commonwealth title is yet another high marker for Cyclone and for Taylor’s trainer Shane McGuigan and now we have the Frampton vs. Leo Santa Cruz return fight to look forward to.
Smiles but gloom also for Ghana. Young prospect Isaac Dogboe lifted the “Most Outstanding African Boxer” award at the WBO convention and back at home plans are going ahead for the building of a new boxing arena in Accra. It has been six years since Ghana produced a world champion which is causing some breast beating there. On the downside on Friday for the third time a show to feature Joseph Agbeko was cancelled at short notice as the Ghana Board refused to sanction the event that Agbeko was co promoting. No concrete reason given although there were rumours it related to some problems with a show previously promoted by Agbeko. At 36 time is running out for the former IBF bantam champion.
Some top class fights coming up in Germany. Marco Huck will clash with Dymtro Kucher in Hanover on November 19. Huck will be putting up his IBO cruiser title and Kucher his European title. Whoever wins it will probably result in the European title becoming vacant as a fighter is not allowed to hold a version of a world title and the EBU title.
On 5 November Jack Culcay defends his secondary WBA super welter title (Erislandy Lara is the real champion) against Demetrius Andrade and Italian Giovani De Carolis will meet Tyrone Zeuge in a return. The Italian retained his secondary WBA super middle title with a draw against Zeuge in July but with Sturm relinquishing the real title it might be that the promoter will push for this to be for the full title. Also on the card unbeaten Stefan Haertel will move up to ten rounds for the first time. On 3 December Vincent Feigenbutz is scheduled to face Albanian Mile Keta at super middle. This should end early as Feigenbutz is 24-2 with 22 wins by KO/TKO and Keta is 21-3 with 17 wins by KO/TKO.
November 10 in Paris will see a couple of competitive European title fights. In an all-French affair Guillaume Frenois (41-1) and Samir Ziani (22-2-1) meet for the vacant super feather title and Frenchman Cedric Vitu (44-2) makes the third defence of his super welter title against Spaniard Isaac Real (15-1-1).
In Cebu City Philippines on 26 November Milan Melindo takes on Thai Fahlan Sakkreerin for the IBF interim light fly title and in Frederiksberghallen, Denmark on 29 October Lolenga Mock again banishes old man time as the 44-year-old from Denmark by way of the DRC takes on Frenchman Nicolas Dion as he goes for his fifth win in a row.