The wear-and-tear of a boxing career can drain most vestiges of youth from even a young man’s face. There is something about ridges of scar tissue and multiple broken noses healed at odd angles that can give certain fighters identifying marks of toughness and character, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but those altered features come at a cost. Nobody was ever going to confuse Carmen Basilio, Chuck Wepner, Henry Cooper and others of their oft-sutured ilk with classically handsome stars of the silver screen. With the exception of Muhammad Ali and maybe Oscar De La Hoya, to be a pretty boy in the ring is tantamount to being a non-committed dabbler in a blood sport, forever hesitant to engage in the kind of slugfests that might finally get his good looks mussed up.
All of which makes 23-year-old Isaac Dogboe (18-0, 12 KOs), who challenges WBO super bantamweight titlist Jessie Magdaleno (25-0, 18 KOs) in the ESPN-televised main event Saturday night at Philadelphia’s Liacouras Center, something of an anomaly. The Ghanian-born Dogboe, who moved with his family to the United Kingdom when he was eight and is a British citizen, isn’t claiming to be the second coming of such dark-hued heartthrobs as Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington. But, at 5-foot-2 and with the angelic, unscarred countenance of a carefree seventh-grader, he aspires to become something much more meaningful.
“I always say that where Azumah Nelson left off, I’m carrying that baton and taking it to the next level,” said Dogboe, referencing Ghana’s most beloved and accomplished champion, a 2004 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. “We’re looking to do that same thing here in Philadelphia. I have full confidence that I’m going to knock Magdaleno out. I’m on the verge of becoming the first pay-per-view, mega-superstar to come out of Africa. It can only get better.”
Despite neither man sporting much if any facial evidence of their brutal trade, the prefight sniping between Dogboe and Magdaleno has been, well, ugly. They sparred in Las Vegas two years ago and got almost chummy, but after they signed for the upcoming fight their relationship, such as it was, took a turn for the worse. Exactly who threw the first verbal brickbat is a matter of conjecture, with each fighter insisting that he is the more aggrieved party.
“We used to be cool,” Dogboe said. “After we sparred in Vegas, we followed each other on Facebook and things like that. Then this fight was announced and everything changed. He blocked me on Facebook and started saying mean things about me on social media.”
With immigration issues on the U.S. southern border a hot-button issue, Paul Dogboe, Isaac’s father and a former soldier in the British army, perhaps went a bit too far in detailing what he expected his son to do to Magdaleno, who was born in and remains a Las Vegas resident, but is proud of his Mexican heritage. Two weeks ago, Paul Dogboe told Ghana’s Pulse news website, “We hope Magdaleno will not run like a chicken, we hope he makes the weight and comes in with no excuses because we are ready for him. We are ready to eat him like a chicken. We are focused and our only mission is to devour him, eat the crazy chicken, throw him over the wall of Mexico and present the title to Donald Trump. Magdaleno will run when he sees Isaac.”
Paul Dogboe has since apologized for the incendiary nature of those comments, but if Thursday’s press conference at the Liacouras Center is any indication, the principals in this intriguing war of words aren’t prepared to let bygones be bygones. If they can deliver inside the ropes even half of what they promised to inflict upon the other while on the stage, a fight that otherwise might not be of significant interest to a Philly fight crowd more interested in such homebred undercard performers as Bryant Jennings, Joey Dawejko, Jesse Hart and Christian Carto just might become an instant classic. If that happens, the City of Brotherly Love, generally hesitant to open its collective heart to outsiders, could be willing to again put out the welcome mat for these feisty little visitors.
“I can sense fear in Jessie Magdaleno’s voice,” said Dogboe, with the precise, low-decibel enunciation of a very proper British gentleman. He later said he hoped that Magdaleno has “finally found his balls” and that “everyone knows he’s been the worst world champion ever.”
Magdaleno, 26, a southpaw who will be ending a career-long 371-day period of inactivity because of injury – countered with a promise that Dogboe is “going to get the ass-whipping that he deserves to get” and his opinion that “I can’t beat him any uglier than he already is.”
From a purely boxing standpoint, it is not out of the question that Magdaleno-Dogboe will wind up being the fight of the night, befitting its main-event status and overshadowing the best efforts of the coterie of Philly guys who are driving the local ticket sales. If Dogboe, who is ranked No. 1 by the WBO and is that sanctioning body’s interim 122-pound champ, fulfills his pledge to knock out Magdaleno, it will be historic in that Magdaleno has never been floored, either as a pro or an amateur. Dogboe, who represented Ghana at the 2012 London Olympics, is still largely unknown in America, but that was also the case at first for such foreign fighters as Roberto Duran, Manny Pacquiao and even Azumah Nelson, whose skills were so obvious that they served to convert even the most hidebound of U.S. skeptics.
“He’s Ghanian-British, but at his core he’s a Ghanian warrior,” said Dogboe’s adviser, Mike Altamura. “He represents the perfect balance of two boxing cultures. On one side of his trunks he wears a Ghanian flag and the flag of Great Britain on the other
“Shorter guys are generally better in the trenches, but he’s not just a come-forward banger. He’ll try to set his man up with feints, jabs and a little bit of artistry. And even though he’s short in stature, he’s got a long reach. He can still catch guys from the outside, but he’s definitely most effective in close.”
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