Boxing History will be made in Las Cruces on April 27

The Finger Post Boxing (February 9, 2019)

 

It’s a story as old and as common as boxing itself.  The heavyweight champion on the comeback trail stopping off in some smaller venue far from the lights of Vegas as he tries to build up some momentum for one more world title fight or at the very least one more big payday.  Sometimes he’s in the top ten and his promoter just pays a local promoter to put him on a small show as a tune-up.  Sometimes he is forced to fight for pocket change just to keep active and hopefully build some momentum.  Michael Dokes, a former WBA world champion, once fought a guy named John Morton and was only paid $500 for that fight.  But it led to a world title fight against Riddick Bowe so it was a good investment in the long run.

Over the course of boxing history these former heavyweight champions ended up in every imaginable venue all across the country.  Larry Holmes was a regular in Bay St. Louis Mississippi in the 1990s but also fought in Hawaii during his comeback.  Riddick Bowe started his comeback in Shawnee, Oklahoma in 2004.  Evander Holyfield stopped by El Paso in 2007 and George Foreman once made a pit stop in Edmonton Alberta in 1990 to fight a guy named Ken Lakusta.  And these are the more well known champions…it is even more prolific and common with the lesser known ex-champs.

Yeah, a former heavyweight champion fighting in your hometown is a story as old as boxing: it’s like seeing the 90s one hit wonder perform at your county fair.

But it’s never happened in New Mexico.

That’s right, there has never been a former heavyweight champion on the comeback trail who stopped off in New Mexico as part of his comeback tour.

Never.

In fact, our history with heavyweight champions is limited at best.  We had two future heavyweight champions come to New Mexico on the way up.  On August 7, 1982 a young undefeated heavyweight prospect named Tony Tubbs won a ten round decision over fellow undefeated prospect Clarence Hill in Albuquerque.  Tubbs would go on to win a decision over Greg Page two year later to win the WBA title, holding onto it for seven months before dropping a decision to Tim Witherspoon in January of 1985.  On April 1, 1995 future WBO heavyweight champion Corrie Sanders would crush former cruiserweight contender James Pritchard in the opening round at the Lujan Building in Albuquerque in a fight that was little more than a tune up.

Of course on July 4, 1912 we actually hosted a world title fight in Las Vegas, New Mexico which is a lot more than Bay St. Louis or Shawnee, Oklahoma can say. Jack Johnson defeated “Fireman” Jim Flynn in a fight that would give Johnson fans some ammunition in the “who was the greater champion” argument with Jack Dempsey fans.  Flynn would be best remembered for destroying Jack Dempsey in the opening round five years after his fight with Johnson.

But despite hosting one world title fight in 1912 and witnessing two future champions on the way up, we never saw a former heavyweight champion in New Mexico…the closest we came was then Frans Botha stopped Steve Pannell in the opening round in Albuquerque on January 8, 2000.  Botha initially won the IBF heavyweight title by way of split decision over German Axel Shultz on December 9, 1995.  But that fight was later declared a no-contest and the title declared vacant after Both tested positive for steroids.  So, yeah that doesn’t count.

But on April 27, 2019, the drought comes to an end.  Former heavyweight champion Oliver “The Atomic Bull” McCall (58-14, 37 KOs) will be fighting on a School of Hard Knocks Boxing Promotions show scheduled to be held in Las Cruces at a venue to be announced at a later date.

Oliver McCall in 1994. Holly Stein /Allsport. Courtesy of Getty Images (photo hosted on Boxrec.com)

This is really a rare opportunity for boxing fan in New Mexico and West Texas and I say this with all seriousness: we will get the chance to see the fighter with greatest chin in boxing history. That is correct, the best chin in boxing history will be in Las Cruces and he will be in the ring, even if it is at the tail end of his career. McCall turned pro in 1985 (yes, you read that correctly) and in a 72-fight career that saw him fight some of the greatest fighters of his generation he never hit the deck or even really was hurt. In the 1980s and 1990s he earned a reputation as Mike Tyson’s most trusted sparring partner because of his ability to stand in there with Iron Mike and never get dropped. I’ve heard tales of those legendary sparring sessions and the one thing everyone agreed upon was that McCall was so highly regarded by Tyson because of his ability to stand his ground and take the best Tyson had to offer without getting hurt.

Let that sink in for a minute. Oliver McCall sparred hundreds of rounds with a young Mike Tyson and never was hurt.

Now don’t get me wrong, the 53-year old McCall is well past his prime and I can’t see any scenario where he makes another run for a world title.

But although he may not be a world class fighter but he is still a competent fighter despite his advance age. He has only one fight in the last four years (a decision over a journeyman named Larry Knight) and really has never been in serious discussion for a world title fight after his historic meltdown against Lennox Lewis in 1997, when he stopped punching or even protecting himself as he openly cried in the ring.

But even with that bizarre performance in 1997 boxing fans were left in awe…

How many fighters could just drop their hands and let Lennox Lewis unload on them and not end up on the canvas?

McCall’s run as a contender ended in 2004 when he lost a decision to DaVarryl Williamson but he nonetheless remained one of the toughest gatekeepers in the heavyweight division in the 2000s. From 2010 to 2014 he amassed 17-6 record (with one no decision) which included decision wins over an undefeated prospect named Marcin Rekowski (12-0) in 2014, a win over a borderline contender named Damien Wills (30-2-1) in 2011, a win over Fres “next in line for a WBA heavyweight title fight” Oquendo in 2010, former contender Lance “Mount” Whittaker in 2009, former world ranked contender Frank Lawrence in 2009, former EBU Heavyweight champion and WBC International Champion Sinan Samil Sam (27-3) in 2007, and a win over Shannon Briggs conqueror Darroll Wilson in 2006 for the WBC FECARBOX heavyweight title. Even though all of these wins are quite a few years old, they were part of an interesting trend in the early part of the 21st century: boxing insiders waiting to see if Oliver McCall would finally show his age and if his legendary chin would finally show signs of cracking…and then left waiting.

And of course, there is also the fact that Oliver McCall was the former WBC heavyweight champion, having handed Hall of Famer Lennox Lewis his first loss in 1994 in London. Yes, that was almost 25-years ago…but he still remains one of only two men to defeat Lennox Lewis.

 

Even if we don’t see a prime Oliver McCall, this is still a fight worth checking out.

Will Oliver McCall finally show his age on April 27th? Will New Mexico fans be the first to see that iron chin finally crack? Hard to say, McCall has proved everyone who assumed he was washed up wrong in the past. But how long can he keep pushing this envelope? Although the opponent has not yet been formally announced, the names I heard being considered by promoter Isidro Castillo are of some very solid opponents. I can see any of these fighters giving McCall, and boxing fans, a tremendous fight on April 27th. Mark your calendars boxing fans…April 27th in Las Cruces will be a show you don’t want to miss.

The Finger Post Boxing: New Mexico’s Aaron Perez, Rico Urquizo win in Amarillo (January 26, 2019)

The Finger Post Boxing (January 27, 2019)

 

New Mexico fighters had a mixed night last night in front of a near capacity crowd in Amarillo, going 2-3 overall in an action packed card featuring a handful of talented Texans.  Over 3,000 fight fans crammed into the Azteca Music Hall in Amarillo, proving that promoters Isidro Castillo and Eric Gutierrez have indeed struck oil in Amarillo with this latest card.

In the most anticipated fight of the night (for New Mexico fans) undefeated junior lightweight Aaron Perez pitched a shutout, dominating the durable Raymond Chacon over four rounds. Perez was simply more active, more accurate, and clearly had a huge advantage in talent over the Los Angeles native. But Chacon, who had only been stopped twice in a 43-fight career, had more than enough veteran tricks up his sleeve to ensure that he avoided the knockout. Chacon at times resorted to pure survival tactics, but also would occasionally excite the crowd with the occasional right hand that kept Perez honest. In round four Perez decided to swing for the fences and push for a knockout against the durable Chacon, but although he bullied Chacon with vicious flurries and did land a hard left hook in the opening minute, he simply wasn’t able to crack the tricky defense of the Californian. Chacon finished the fight on his bicycle, robbing Perez of any chance of scoring the knockout. With the win Perez improves to 6-0, 4 KO’s while Chacon slipped to 7-36-1, 0 KOs. All three judges (Felix Rios, James Moreno, and Kerry Hatley) scored the fight 40-36. The referee was Neal Young.

With the exception of Clovis New Mexico’s Richard “Rico” Urquizo, the other New Mexicans on the card didn’t fare as well. Urquizo dominated fellow New Mexican Michael Sanchez in a four round cruiserweight fight. It was a rematch of a fight from last year and whereas Urquizo struggled early against Sanchez the first time, he dominated the Hobbs boxer last night in Amarillo. Urquizo dropped Sanchez in round one with a picture perfect left hook/right cross combination and finished the job in round two, dropping him a second time with a left hook to the chin halfway through the second round. A devastating overhand right sent Sanchez to the canvas moments later as referee John Schorle waved the fight off at 1:43 of the round. With the win Urquizo improves to 5-6-2, 3 KOs while Sanchez falls to 2-4, 2 KOs.

Albuquerque’s Levi Lucero lost his fourth straight fight by way of first round KO after getting stopped by Amarillo’s Rudy Montenegro at 1:42 of the opening round in a junior welterweight fight. Montenegro improves to 1-0-1, 1 KO while Lucero, who might want to consider hanging it up, falls to 0-4.

In the first fight after intermission Clovis New Mexico’s Michael Petersen was destroyed by debuting Mobley Villegas of Amarillo in a four round junior lightweight fight. Vilegas, who fights under the nickname “Freight Train,” certainly looked the part as he jumped all over Petersen early and dropped him seconds into the fight with a combination upstairs. After Petersen rose he visibly disregarded referee Neal Young’s instructions and could be seen waving “no” when asked to step to the left. Referee Young was left no choice but to wave the fight off at 0:29 of the opening round. Petersen, like Lucero, may need to consider looking for another line of work. With the loss he falls to 0-3 with all three losses coming by way of first round KO.Amarillo’s John King, 224, crushed Midland’s Mark Sanchez, 210, in the opening round, stopping him at 1:40. Sanchez falls to 0-2 while King wins his professional debut.

In the main event local boy Abel Navarette Jr., 131, dominated debuting David Waters, 131.8, of Corpus Cristi, scoring a stoppage in the opening round Waters, a fighter with a solid MMA background, struggled with the talented Amarillo native from the opening bell. Waters tried to jab and force his way inside but Navarette easily picked him apart and dropped him half way through the opening round with a vicious right hand to the body followed by a short hook to the head. Waters gamely tried to fight through the danger after rising, but although he won points for courage he was simply unable to turn the tide. A hard right to the face followed by an uppercut hurt him and sent him backpedaling into the corner where another flurry and body shot sent him back to the canvas a second time. Waters rose again but was quickly felled a third time with a left hook to the temple, prompting referee Jon Schorle to wave the fight off at 2:47 of the opening round. With the win Navarette improve to 4-0, 2 KOs and seems poised to take a major step up in class in his next fight. Undefeated Abel Mendoza (13-0, 9 KOs), who fought on Isidro Castillo’s last card back in December, entered the ring and the two fighters agreed to give Amarillo fight fans a dream matchup for the next Amarillo fight card: Abel versus Abel in Amarillo.

In the co-main event Isaac Luna won a four round unanimous decision over Amarillo’s Ben Vasquez in a welterweight fight. Luna boxed well early on, using his speed advantage to pump the jab while sidestepping Vasquez’s predictable offense which primarily consisted of stalking the El Paso native while looking for the wild overhand right. But by round two Vasquez started to feel more confident in the proposition that Luna wouldn’t be able to hurt him and he began to box with even more reckless abandon. The local crowd cheered as Vasquez landed a pair of overhand rights and although they did little damage it did seem that Luna might have trouble keeping the determined Amarillo native off of him and he soon began standing and trading with Vasquez. Although Luna was winning the exchanges, he still seemed to be fighting Vasquez’s fight. By round three it looked like the wheels might have come off for Luna when, midway through the round, referee Neal Young stopped the action after a cut was opened up over the right eye of Luna. Luna was allowed to continue but he suddenly found himself in danger of losing a fight he was dominating due to that cut. However the cut proved to be a pyrrhic victory for Vasquez as he walked into a picture perfect counterpunch in the closing seconds of the round. The shot sent Vasquez to the canvas and robbed him of any momentum he had going into the final round. Luna easily dominated the final round, coming out aggressively and going for the stoppage early and trading willingly with Vasquez for the remainder of the round. Luna won comfortably on all three scorecard (judges James Moreno and Kerry Hatley scored the fight while Judge Felix Rios scored the fight 39-36). With the win Luna improves to 4-1, 0 KOs while Vasquez drops to 3-5-1, 3 KOs.

In a battle of debuting heavyweights Midland’s Nick Tipton destroyed Longview’s Amil Ramos, scoring a stoppage at 0:30 of the opening round after landing a vicious uppercut that nearly decapitated Ramos. The referee was Jon Schorle.

Amarillo’s Dylan Nicholson showed a knack for showmanship in stopping Midland’s Larry Sanchez at 1:31 of round two. Despite his showboating, or perhaps because of it, Nicholson ultimately made the fight more difficult that it should have been. He fought much like a young Naseem Hamed…only without Hamed’s one punch power or speed. Despite his obvious talent, it is hard to see him competing with the top fighters in the middleweight division with his habit of coming in with his hands down and his chin out. With the loss Sanchez falls to 0-2 while Nicholson improves to 1-0, 1 KO.

 

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Boxing: Revisiting a 2010 interview with Wladimir Klitschko (April 15, 2010)

The Finger Post (August 15, 2018)

 

April 15, 2010.  Eight years ago today.  I was approached by Fightnews about a possible interview with heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.  Naturally I was excited about the opportunity to interview Wladimir, but not just because he was the heavyweight champion.  I felt like this interview might be the start of a legendary rivalry.  Quite frankly, in 2010 the division was stagnant.  In April of 2010 Klitschko had just passed something of a milestone: six years since he last tasted defeat on April 10, 2004.  In that time he won 12 straight fights but to many American fans the division had grown stale under his dominant reign.  But along came a cocky Brit who seemed to push all of Wladimir’s buttons.  In 2010 it looked like boxing was about to get a shot of adrenaline and the birth of a new rivalry for the ages: Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye.

Of course history has shown us that the rivalry was anticlimactic…but for a few months in 2010 and 2011…it did look like something special was brewing in the heavyweight division.

 

Wladimir Klitschko calls out David Haye 

    For many boxing fans, the heavyweight division has been in a serious slump for several years, despite the fact that the reigning IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko (54-3, 48 KO’s) is so clearly a class above almost every other contender in the division.  Since winning the IBF title back in 2006 from Chris Byrd he has arguably not lost a single round against the eight fighters he’s defended his title against, and even his harshest critics admit that he could easily continue that streak of dominance for several more years.  But it’s not so much that fact that he’s dominant that has boxing fans writing off the division.  It’s the manner in which he has been winning lately, with some critics considering him to be to “safety first” against clearly overmatched opponents.  But if there is one thing that could give the division and the sport a much needed shot of adrenaline, it is a legitimate grudge match between Klitschko and the only fighter in the world who doesn’t share his last name and who is widely perceived as his only serious threat: David Haye.  And although a unification fight seems like a no-brainer, it is already emerging as quite possibly the most heated heavyweight rivalry since Mike Tyson and Razor Ruddock. 

    “I want to wipe (Haye) out of the ring,” Klitschko said to Fightnews with noticeable anger and contempt, “I care about the punishment in the fight for David Haye.  The best scenario is like the (Eddie) Chambers fight.  I want to punish him for twelve rounds and then knock him out.  But I don’t think I can wait, If I see the opportunity to knock him out at I’m going to do it.”

    Klitschko admitted to Fightnews that not only has Haye gotten under his skin, but he has emerged as the most despised fighter he’s ever encountered.

    “Whatever you call it, under my skin, it’s enough bullshitting from David Haye and his side, and I think now is the time to make it.”  Klitschko stated, “I made it clear in the message I posted online, I want David Haye’s title, and I want to beat this ‘bitching out’ person in the ring.”

    May boxing fans have already seen the now infamous clip of Wladimir Klitschko challenging the WBA champion in harsh and at times profane words; it proved as shocking as it was effective, showing a different side of the German based champion.  The Clip was featured on Fightnews and in the two days since it was posted on Youtube it has garnered nearly half a million views.  The video itself has created more buzz in the division than any of the title fights this year, but there remains one unanswered question: will Haye accept the challenge?

    “I made it as clear as possible, I used social media so it came direct from me and not the promoters,” Klitschko stated, “I just had enough of David Haye’s bullshit for a year and a half, and I laid back, but that’s enough now.  Actions speak louder than words.  Now we’ll see how scared David Haye is.”

    Klitschko also made it clear that he believed that David Haye had ducked him in the past, and has not put it past the WBA champ to come up with an excuse to avoid fighting him.

    “No doubt he avoided me, Sorry to call him a liar.  But I was relying on his word.  Then two weeks before (the scheduled Wladimir KlitschkoHaye fight) he bitched out and claimed he had a back injury, and then asked for two more weeks.  And then four more weeks, and then six more weeks.  Then he made an excuse for not fighting Vitali, saying the contract was bad.  It was the same contract he signed with me!  That’s why I just can’t trust this guy.  He’s dishonest”. 

    For many boxing fans it is refreshing to see the heavyweight champion show a meaner, edgier side.  But some insiders are wondering if he is falling into Haye’s trap.  Most insiders felt that Klitschko was too cautious and defensive in his last several fights, and many are wondering if the raw emotion that Klitschko is displaying could lead him into a fight that would benefit that smaller, but hard hitting, Haye. 

    I have my strength, forty-eight fighters out of fifty-three that I faced ended up either sitting on the stool or being knocked out.  David Haye is going to be one of those guys.  I will knock him out.  I will knock this mo-fo out!”

    A tasteless T-shirt that Haye was recently spotted wearing created an uproar with many boxing fans (it featured Haye with the severed heads of both Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko), but it appears that it had the desired effect.

    “It’s just not acceptable to represent himself with two (severed) heads and then not to take the fight, but just to promote himself.  I think he’s obnoxious and I don’t like how he walks and how he talks”.

    Klitschko also considered his plan-B if the Haye fight fails to materialize, a fight with long-time #1 contender Alex Poevtkin.  Although Povetkin is not widely recognized by American fight fans, he is widely regarded as the best undefeated heavyweight in the world and long overdue for a title fight.  A Haye fight will require another postponement for the #1 contender.  When asked why that fight hasn’t occurred yet, Klitschko pointed the finger squarely in Povetkin’s camp.

    “If David Haye keeps bitching, then I have to fight Povetkin,” Klitschko stated, “But we have another problem in which Povetkin is not ready.  His coach is saying he’s not ready.  Two years ago we had an opportunity and they say he’s not ready.  Now he is still not ready?  How much time does he need?”

    Although Klitschko has been getting a fair share of criticism in the last few years, there is little question that he has been dominant.  And Klitschko feels that much of the criticism is somewhat unwarranted. 

   “Eddie Chambers and Sultan Ibragimov are similar fighters,” Klitschko pointed out, “after four rounds they gave up with there strategy and were just playing safe.  If you try to knock out a fighter who is just playing it safe it is very difficult.   If a fighter is just playing safe, then any fight is going to be boring.  That’s why I got into the conversation with Emanuel Steward in the last round.  Emanuel was in the corner and told me I have to knock him out, I said ‘Emanuel, Relax, I’m trying!’”

    But for American boxing fans, it has been increasingly difficult to gauge his performances since his less than stellar decision over Sultan Ibragimov in February 2008 was his last U.S. appearance and his most recent title fight against Eddie Chambers has not broadcast on any major cable network.  HBO executive Ross Greenburg even made a comment that American boxing fans were having trouble telling the two Klitschko’s apart, leading to a drop in ratings and interest from fans.

   “It’s just about boxing and not about who looks alike or not,” Klitschko fired back, “and Vitali’s fight against Arreola had the highest rating on HBO of the year!  It is difficult to comment on such things.”

    Almost all boxing fans admit, however, that there is one heavyweight fight that could happen that would prove to be one of the most talked about, and possibly exciting, title fights in the division’s history.  But for boxing fans it is no closer to happening.

    “There is nothing that can make us fight,” Wladimir said about a possible Klitschko versus Klitschko matchup, “if the world goes down and only our fight can save the world then maybe we will fight each other, than otherwise not.”

 

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