By Arne K. Lang
A long three-day weekend of boxing began Friday evening at a Rochester soccer stadium and concluded in Brooklyn at a new amphitheater in Coney Island. The professional fights played out against the backdrop of the 2016 Olympics in Rio where the big medal winners in boxing were the teams from Uzbekistan and Cuba.
Last week was a coming out party for Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller – in the media, that is. The Brooklyn-born heavyweight, who now resides in the neighboring borough of Queens, was the subject of generally fawning profiles in New York newspapers and various web sites. But Miller’s bout with Fred Kassi, who quit on his stool after the third frame, taught us nothing about what to expect from him when he moves up in class. More revealing was the previous day’s weigh-in. Big Baby, who stands 6’4”, tipped the scales at 296 ½ pounds.
The late Budd Schulberg once suggested that boxing needed a new weight division: the overweights. Schulberg made this wry observation during Mike Tyson’s incarceration when Don King rolled out a revolving door of alphabet soup title-holders conspicuous by their love handles. Big Baby Miller would have fit right in.
If there was a standout on the Rochester show it was lightweight Mason Menard who built upon his smashing knockout of Eudy Bernardo with a ninth round stoppage of Bahodir Mamadjonov. Menard hails from Rayne, Louisiana, deep in the heart of Cajun country. The area, known for producing outstanding jockeys, has produced very few good boxers. Menard is already more accomplished than his trainer Chad Broussard who fashioned a 56-5 record but was blown out of the water when he stepped up in class on the road against the likes of Sharmba Mitchell and Meldrick Taylor.
Later Friday evening, out on the West Coast, Golden Boy light heavyweight Vyacheslav Shabranskyy improved to 17-0 with a third round stoppage of overmatched Oscar Riojas in the featured bout at LA’s Belasco Theater. Shabranskyy is ranked #5 by the World Boxing Council which recognizes Adonis Stevenson as their champion.
Shabranskyy, from the Ukraine, entered the ring sporting a new nickname, “Chingonskyy” (loosely translated, “chingon” means awesome). There’s a large colony of Eastern European fighters in Southern California, and all have been Mexicanized by their publicity agents. No disrespect to the Mexicans, whose ring exploits are legendary, but the current crop of Ukrainian boxers needs no ethnic embellishment. They are pretty special.
There was scant activity in the U.S. on Saturday where professional boxing played second fiddle to a big UFC show in Las Vegas. However, there was a noteworthy promotion in Milwaukee featuring native son Luis Arias in the main event. Arias improved to 16-0 (8 KOs) with a 4th-round stoppage of 41-year-old trial horse Darryl Cunningham.
Originally a member of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s Money Team stable, Arias is now promoted by BoxNation. According to boxing writer Steve Kim, Arias’s next fight will likely be on the undercard of Ward-Kovalev, a RocNation co-promotion. Arias uses the nickname “Cuba.” His father came from Cuba; his mother is Nicaraguan.
South of the border, in an unlikely setting for a boxing match, Jose Uzcategui scored a smashing second round knockout over Fabiano Pena at the L.A. Cetto Vineyard just north of Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico. A Tijuana-based Venezuelan, Uzcategui, 26-1 (22), solidified his hold as the #1 rated contender to IBF super middleweight champion James DeGale. Mexicali’s Lopez declined to 18-6-1.
In the co-feature, Ensenada welterweight Carlos Ocampo exploited his superior length to remain undefeated with a lopsided 10-round decision over Mexicali’s Alvaro Lopez. Ocampo improved to 20-0. Lopez declined to 19-6.
Across the Pacific, at the Eatons Hill Hotel in Queensland, Australia, Brisbane iron worker Trent Broadhurst won a minor IBF light heavyweight belt when Troy, New York club fighter Shawn Miller retired on his stool after the seventh frame. Miller was acting on the advice of his trainer John Scully who complained that his fighter had been rendered unfit to continue by a low blow. Prior to the stoppage, Broadhust had won every round. His next fight is expected to be in New York in November, the opponent and venue as yet undetermined. Broadhurst’s U.S. representative is Gary Shaw.
In Hyogo, Japan, veteran Katsunari Takayama won the vacant WBO World minimum weight title, turning back hometown favorite Riku Kano in a bout that was stopped by the ring physician at the .58 mark of the sixth round. Earlier in the fight, Takayama was cut by an accidental head butt. When the cut worsened, the bout went to the scorecards.
The 33-year-old Takayama, now 31-8 (12 KOs), has been around the block before. He previously held the WBC and IBF versions of the 105-pound title. We likely haven’t seen the last of Kano (10-2-1) who is only 18 years old. It was his first loss since losing a 4-round decision in his pro debut.
The Coney Island show was the boxing equivalent of a day-night doubleheader in baseball. More than four hours elapsed between the starts of the two co-features. Errol Spence Jr. destroyed pesky Leonard Bundu in the opener, knocking him out cold in the sixth round, but the ladies stole the show in the nitecap.
Brooklyn’s Heather Hardy, a 34-year-old single mom, faced her toughest test to date in Providence’s Shelly Vincent and was up for the challenge. The two ladies, both undefeated, put up a spirited battle, albeit there were no knockdowns. When the smoke cleared, Hardy (18-0, 4 KOs) emerged victorious. The scores were 95-95, 97-93, and a curious 99-91. Hardy’s promoter, Lou DiBella, says that she will go down in history as New York City’s first female breakthrough fighter.
Earlier in the day, Claressa Shields accomplished another victory for female boxing by topping her Dutch opponent Nouchka Fontijn with little difficulty in the ladies middleweight finale at Rio. In repeating her 2008 triumph in London, Shields became the first American boxer to win two Olympic gold medals.
That would be the only gold medal won by the U.S. team which faltered after winning six of their first nine bouts. The other medalists were bantamweight Shakur Stevenson (silver) and light flyweight Nico Hernandez (bronze).
Here’s the complete list of 2016 Olympic gold medalists.
Light Flyweight – Hasanboy Dutmatov, Uzbekistan
Flyweight – Shakhobidin Zoirov, Uzbekistan
Bantamweight – Robeisy Ramirez, Cuba
Lightweight – Robison Conceicao, Brazil
Light Welterweight – Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, Uzbekistan
Welterweight – Daniyar Yeleussino, Uzbekistan
Middleweight – Arlen Lopez, Cuba
Light Heavyweight – Julio Cesar La Cruz, Cuba
Heavyweight — Evgeny Tishchenko, Russia
Super Heavyweight – Tony Yoka, France
Flyweight – Nicola Adams, Great Britain
Lightweight – Estelle Mossely, France
Middleweight – Claressa Shields, USA
No Olympiad has ever been free of controversy and the Rio games were no exception. The big brouhaha this year concerned Irish bantamweight Michael Conlan who was clearly robbed by the judges in his quarter-final match with Russia’s Vladimir Nikitan. Conlan was considered Ireland’s best hope for a gold medal. The Irish team ultimately came up empty, winning no medals for the first time since 2004.
On Monday, U.K. bookmaking behemoth Paddy Power, headquartered in Dublin, announced that they would pay off on all bets received on Conlan to win. That included wagers on Conlan in the Nikitan match and wagers on him winning the gold medal or finishing in the top four. This decision, said a spokesman for Paddy Power, was a fitting reward for punters who showed their patriotism by backing the Irishman.
We’re guessing that Paddy Power’s business rivals are stewing over what they see as a terrible precedent.