Sunday, January 13, 2019

TBG Sunday Night Book Review: Johnny Risko: The Cleveland Rubber Man

The Boxing Glove Book Review: By Peter Silkov

"Johnny Risko: The Cleveland Rubber Man" By Jerry Fitch

There is a misconception in some modern boxing fans minds that the value of a fighters ability can be weighed up simply by a quick check of the number of wins and losses upon his record. Many fighters today tread carefully around their most talented and dangerous rivals for fear of what a defeat might do to their record. Of course, there are still exceptions to the rule, for instance recently crowned World lightweight champion, Tevin Farmer, was 7-4-1 in his first 12 professional contests, yet has developed into a genuine world-class champion. Yet the fact that Farmer is such a rarity in today's era, serves to prove the point that for modern day boxing keeping that undefeated '0' is all important to most fighter's managers and promoters.

The examples of fighters learning their trade as much through defeats, as they do victories, have become rarer and rarer in the modern boxing landscape.

It was very different in the past when there were far more fighters, far fewer titles, and the best fighters invariably fought their toughest rivals on a regular basis. Indeed in those days, most fighters wanted to fight the toughest opposition available, as they knew that this was the only route for reaching the top of the sport.

The name of Johnny Risko might not be familiar to many of today's fans, but back in what is often now referred to as boxing's 'golden age', 1920 to 1950, Risko was a great example of a fighter who fought regularly and almost exclusively against top-notch rivals. A look at Johnny Risko's final career tally of 68-46-6 (22koes) might provoke some to dismiss Risko as a mediocre also ran in the annals of boxing history. Like many fighters of his era, the bare numbers of Risko's boxing record fail to tell the story of his career, or his ability as a fighter.

However, for the intrepid boxing fan who likes his boxing history, Johnny Risko has now been brought back to life by boxing writer and historian, Jerry Fitch.

Jerry Fitch does a great job of telling the story of Johnny Risko's life and boxing career in his book "Johnny Risko: The Cleveland Rubber Man."

Born Mesto Bohunico, on December 18, 1902, in what is now part of Slovakia, but was then the Austria-Hungarian empire, Johnny and his family immigrated to America in 1908 when he was just 6 years old.

After settling in Cleveland, Ohio, Johnny's parents opened a bakery, where Johnny himself would work. Johnny was soon finding that he had a talent with his hands beyond using them in the bakery when he started using them in the ring and regularly knocking out his opponents as an amateur. As an amateur boxer, Bohunico, with his new Americanized name, won 39 of 59 contests via a knockout and became something of a sensation in his adopted home town of Ohio.

Risko turned professional in 1922, not long after the overturning of a ban on professional boxing in Cleveland. In a career which lasted until 1940, Risko would fight the cream of the light-heavyweights and heavyweights of the '20s and '30s. Short and stocky, at 5' 11" and between 190 and 210 pounds, Risko was to gain notoriety for his toughness and heart inside the ring.

Originally nicknamed 'The Baker Boy' Risko was soon being called 'The Cleveland Rubber Man' due to the impression he made of having punches simply bounce off him. Risko was an aggressive infighter, who relied very much upon his left-hand after an injury to his right shoulder early in his professional career rendered him almost a one-armed fighter. Indeed, when you learn about Risko's early career injury, that robbed him of the knockout punch in his right hand, the fact that he went on to achieve what he did in his career becomes even more impressive. Shorn of his powerful right-hand punch, Risko became a relentlessly aggressive infighter, who relied upon his work rate and toughness to outwork and outlast his opponents.

The list of Risko's opponents is impressive indeed, including, Young Stribling, Mike Mctigue, Gene Tunney, Jack Renault, Jack Sharkey, Jack Delaney, Tommy Loughran, Jimmy Slattery, Lou Scozza, Paulino Uzcudun, George Godfrey, Tuff Griffiths, Mickey Walker, Max Baer, King Levinsky, Bob Olin, Max Schmeling, and John Henry Lewis. Looking at the names on Risko's record, it becomes hardly surprising that he experienced a number of reverses. Yet, he also scored his fair share of impressive victories and was world rated amongst the top heavyweights for several years.

Jerry Fitch has done a meticulous job in bringing Johnny Risko's life and career alive. This book is nicely equipped with quotes from newspaper articles of the time, as well as a number of round-by-round commentaries upon some of Risko's most important fights. These commentaries, which have been taken from the newspaper archives of "The Cleveland Plain Dealer", give the reader the impression that he is going back in time and witnessing the fight himself. It is a unique way to appreciate Risko as a fighter and indeed appreciate his opponents.

'The Cleveland Rubber Man' never fought for a world title, yet this shortfall says more about the intensity of competition in his era rather than any shortcomings in his ability.

"Johnny Risko: The Cleveland Rubber Man" doesn't just shed light upon the life and career of Risko himself, it also gives the reader a nice insight into the era in which he fought and his many outstanding opponents. There are also a good helping of classic photos throughout the book, and Risko's boxing record is provided in the back of this biography.

Jerry Fitch has devoted himself to highlighting the boxing history of Cleveland Ohio, and after a previous book on Jimmy Bivins, he has highlighted yet another fighter whose life and boxing career deserves to be told and remembered.

If you would like to purchase this book it is available on Amazon:

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

TBG Book Review: From Boxing Ring to Battlefield: The Life Story of War Hero Lew Jenkins

The Boxing Glove Book Review

By Peter Silkov

"From Boxing Ring To Battlefield:The Life Of War Hero Lew Jenkins" 
By Gene Pantalone

The life of a boxer is seldom a dull one, but some fighters lives are more exciting than others. The life of Lew Jenkins reads more like a work of fiction than reality, yet as is often the case, when it comes to Jenkins’ life story, the truth is often stranger than fiction. Lew Jenkins lived a chaotic, rambunctious life, both in and out of the ring, which saw him become Lightweight champion of the world in 1940, only to lose it after just 18 months, as his life and boxing career imploded. He had a meteoric rise to the top, and an even faster fall into boxing oblivion. However, he found a redemption that often eludes ex-fighters and ended his life in a kind of respectable comfort which would have seemed impossible for him, given his lifestyle during most of his boxing career.

Gene Pantalone has done a marvelous job in bringing Lew Jenkins’ life to the written page. It is a biography that reads like a fast-moving movie, with Gene’s vivid writing painting a multitude of colourful scenes inside your head. Indeed the overwhelming feeling that you are left with after reading this biography is the question of why there wasn't a book written about Lew Jenkins earlier.

If ever a fighter had a fan-friendly life story, that man is Lew Jenkins. He was an inveterate smoker and drinker, who got into as many unscheduled fights outside of the ring as he did inside of it. He became a sensation with the journalists of the day, picking up such nicknames as 'The Living Death' 'The Sweetwater Swatter', 'The Texas Tarantula','The Texas Thumper', 'The Medical Freak' and in the latter part of his career, 'Looney Lew'.

Born on December 4, 1916, in Milburn, Texas, Lew grew up in Sweetwater, Texas, where he experienced the poverty of the 1930s depression first hand. As a child, Lew spent more time picking cotton with the rest of his family than he did attending school.

''I wore cardboard in my shoes'', Jenkins is quoted as saying by Gene Pantalone; ''I had one pair of patched overalls. I don't know how we survived''.

Growing up at such a time, it should be no surprise that Jenkins, like so many other young men of his age, would seek to escape the poverty of the cotton fields by using his hands in the boxing ring.

Part of the charm of Jenkins is that he never looked much like a fighter (at least not to the trained eye.) He was lanky and scrawny, even when he was well-fed. Yet inside the ring he was the stereotypical 'hungry fighter', who fought every round as if his life depended on it. He was also one of the most devastating punchers ever seen in the lightweight division. Referee Arthur Donovan is quoted by Gene Pantalone upon the subject of Lew's punching prowess:
''That Jenkins, what a puncher he was. He was skinny, and he looked half-starved all the time, but he'd hit you a hook, and you'd just cave in, crumble to your knees. I think he was the hardest of all the punchers''.

Jenkins’ freakish physique was also possessed of uncanny speed, that allowed him in his short prime to fight like a wildcat.

Although Lew's official boxing record has him beginning his boxing career in 1935, at the age of 18, his introduction to the ring actually took place years earlier when he became a carnival fighter. Like many fighters of his era, Lew had many more fights than appear on his 'official' boxing record.

Jenkins won the World Lightweight championship at New York's Madison Square Garden, on May 10, 1940, with a violent 3rd round stoppage of Lou Ambers. At the age of 23, he had fought his way from poverty to the top of the boxing world and found himself a celebrity in the process. Unfortunately, like many other fighters from similar backgrounds, Jenkins found success overwhelming. The hunger that had previously exerted some control over his wild ways evaporated seemingly overnight, and life for Jenkins became one long unending party, which became ever more chaotic.

Many other fighters have seen their careers derail in the wake of 'the good life', yet few have derailed their careers as spectacularly as Jenkins. More interested in drinking, chasing women and racing motorbikes, Jenkins boxing career fell into free-fall almost from the moment he won the world championship. It was a decline that only accelerated after he lost the title eighteen months after winning it. Jenkins alcoholism became such, that he was barely sober for a fight after his world title victory.

With his life out of control, Jenkins found salvation in perhaps the most unlikely arenas of all, World War 2. With his boxing career and personal life in tatters, Jenkins signed up to join the Coast Guard. Jenkins had actually enlisted in the army years earlier when he was just a fledgling fighter, and he would find that his re-enlistment would be the saving of him.

Jenkins would carry on fighting in the ring, on and off, until 1950. But his fighting spark in the ring was burnt out. It was on the battlefield that Lew would mark himself out now. Lew Jenkins became a teetotal, career soldier, and a full-fledged War Hero.

As he did in his previous book “Madame Bey's Home To Boxing Legends” Gene Pantalone weaves a vivid and entertaining narrative in this biography of Lew Jenkins (who himself was one of the many legendary fighters who used Madame Bey's training camp.)

“Boxing Ring To Battlefield” is meticulously researched, with excellent use of historical interviews and quotes. As well as featuring many quotes of Jenkins himself, there are also quotes from his son and many others who knew him personally during his life. This book also contains very useful ‘notes’ and ‘Bibliography’ sections, which further informs the reader.

While Jenkins is perhaps the ultimate 'colourful character' himself, he is hardly alone in this book, which is just about overflowing with interesting characters. From his fellow fighters to the managers and promoters of the day, perhaps the most intriguing character of this biography, aside from Jenkins himself, is his first wife, Katie, who at one point was Lew's manager, trainer, and promoter, and had much to do with his spectacular climb to the top.

Like his previous work, Gene Pantalone instills the atmosphere of the time in “From Boxing Ring To Battlefield”. You can almost smell the sweat and the smoke of the gyms and the area's, and hear the thump of the leather upon flesh. You can most certainly hear the clink of glasses and bottles as Lew drinks himself into a stupor between fights.

This is a book that shows why boxers are without a doubt the most 'fan-friendly' of all sports stars when it comes to interesting life stories. Yet even a good story can come over poorly if it is not told well, however, the story of Lew Jenkins is in great hands here with Gene Pantalone.

“From Boxing Ring To Battlefield” is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the 'Golden Age' of boxing that existed between 1920 and 1950. It is also a great read even for those who might not class themselves as a boxing 'fan', but still enjoy a good story. The most impressive thing perhaps about Lew Jenkins’ life story is that it really did happen. What a tale it is indeed.

If you would like to purchase this book it is available on Amazon:

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Boxing Glove Big Fight Report: Tyson Fury Rocks the World

Photo: NZ Herald

By Peter Silkov

Sometimes you don't need to win to really 'win', but it’s nice all the same not to be robbed of a victory earned through blood, sweat, and tears, in the hardest 'sport' that exists. Anyone who watched Saturday's fight between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury with an unbiased eye and a fair amount of boxing knowledge would be hard pressed to explain how Fury ended the night walking away with just a draw. For most of the match, Fury dominated the fight. He out-boxed Wilder with his unique mix of speed, herky-jerky skill and some of the most audacious moves you will ever see in the boxing ring. Even Muhammad Ali never boxed with his hands held behind his back!

This isn't to say that Fury is as good as Ali, he doesn't need to be. On Saturday night Fury showed that being himself is good enough. He has the athletic ability in abundance along with a strong dash of that something extra that takes what he is beyond just being an outstanding athlete. Fury's story, like the man himself, is complicated, he is not a media creation, far from it. Media creations are two-dimensional objects, that fit into a nice standard box so that the media at large can package and distribute them. Often the most interesting aspects of media creations are hidden from the public, in favour of a predictable, rather bland story that engages on certain levels but never challenges or outrages.

Photo: BBC
To compare any fighter with Muhammad Ali is always a risky project, prone to attracting reactions ranging from ridicule to outrage. Yet despite there being some obvious differences between Ali and Tyson, which don't doesnt need explaining, there remain some tantalizing parallels, both in the ring and outside of it.

Tyson Fury, like Ali before him, has always been anything, except bland and predictable. Over the 10 years of his professional career, Tyson has never fit into a simple box. His outrageous freedom of spirit has, until recently, made members of the media, and indeed the public at large, suspicious of him. Subsequently, Tyson has often been portrayed in the media as either a clown or a madman.

After his brilliant out-boxing of Wladimir Klitschko just a little over three years ago, to win the World heavyweight championship, Tyson was rewarded with a hostility in some areas of the media and the public which remains shocking. It was as if the wrong son had struck it rich, and his reward was a rejection so abject and unforgiving, that its weight hit Tyson harder than any punch he has ever felt inside the boxing ring. Including the one that he took from Deontay Wilder in the 12th round on Saturday night.

Tyson Parties After Win Over Klitschko Photo:
Fury's physical and spiritual collapse following what should have been his career-defining win over Wladimir Klitschko is well known. The colourful history of boxing is overflowing with the tales of prodigiously talented fighters, who have burned away their talent and careers by going off the rails into a life of self-destructive indulgence. Yet, Tyson Fury's self-implosion has been unusual by its suddenness and seeming finality.

As his depression deepened, and the months of inactivity grew into years, Tyson's once athletic frame grew and bloated. At the same time, the chances of him ever entering the ring again seemed to grow smaller with every month that passed. Tyson became a caricature of himself. Even some of those who had previously lambasted him without mercy felt some sympathy as Tyson's life descended into the kind of chaos that never ends happily. Fury seemed set on a not so long trip into the abyss.

Just as it seemed that all was lost for Fury, some spark of self-survival made him step back from the edge. Perhaps it was the realization that he had already been written off by so many people. In another parallel to Ali, Tyson Fury is a man who loves to prove his doubters wrong. Tyson Fury is at his happiest when he is the underdog.

In just 12 months of constant training, Tyson Fury has lost over 100 pounds, transforming himself back into almost the exact image of the fighter he was three years ago against Wladimir Klitschko. As comebacks go, that's pretty impressive for a start.

However, to also make a return to the highest level of the most dangerous sport in the world is something else altogether. When Tyson Fury entered the ring on Saturday against Deontay Wilder, he was, in essence, taking part in his first real competitive match in over three years, against the man who is generally accepted to be the heaviest puncher in the division.

Photo: Belfast Telegraph
Perhaps it was a consequence of the measly 20-foot ring that they were cramped together into, but despite his fleet-footed boxing skills, Tyson chose to spend much of the fight standing right in front of Wilder. Instead of constantly using the whole ring, Tyson instead relied upon his head and upper-body movement, and catlike reflexes to duck block, and make Wilder miss repeatedly. As the rounds unfolded Fury walked a tightrope of repeatedly making Wilder miss by a hair’s breath with wild yet, powerful shots, that looked like they could bring down walls if they connected.

Wilder's technique or rather lack of it has often been seen to be one of his major flaws, yet he knows how to turn this deficit into a credit. Wilder's 'wild' technique gives him an unpredictability that no opponent likes to face in the ring. With his long arms and underrated hand-speed, one can never quite know when or where 'The Bronze Bomber's’ next hay-maker is going to land.

As the rounds passed Fury fought like a man with a mission. A giant relying on the kind of speed and ring guile that seems barely possible in such a big man. Despite being confined to such a relatively small ring, Fury showed a knack of knowing just when to duck or step back that little bit so that the incoming bomb would fly harmlessly by him. Sometimes you had to look closely to make sure that the punch had indeed missed.

Wilder began the fight with the intensity and confidence of a man who has knocked out 39 of his previous 40 opponents and knows that it is just a matter of time before he brings an end to the proceedings. By the 6th round, Wilder's eyes had started to fill up with the anxious look of a fighter who knows that a knockout is his only chance of victory or rather should be.

The purpose of boxing is to hit and not get hit and to display a technical superiority over your opponent. As this fight progressed Fury carried out these missions to the tee. His jab nullified Wilder's from the start. Unable to land his own jab Wilder was reduced to simply trying to land one of his dynamite hay-makers upon Fury.

Between making Wilder miss, Fury landed his own shots regularly, at times knocking Wilder back with the force of his own blows. Time and again Fury ducked beneath Wilder's punches, often making him miss by mere fractions. Fury was giving Wilder a boxing lesson, while for the most part standing right in front of him and also pushing him back with the force of his own punches.

Tyson wasn't just out-boxing Wilder; he was out-fighting him as well.

Add to this Fury's frequent clowning, which consists of pulling various expressions on his face, sticking his tongue out, and putting his hands behind his back, raising his arms in an early victory celebration, and you have an extraordinary performance taking place round after round.
As with Ali before him, Tyson's antics in the ring are not simply self-indulgent clowning. They are apart of the whole chess match. An integral part of Tyson assuming his mental superiority over his opponent in the ring.

It has been said that Tyson Fury's life story would make a good movie, perhaps he thought that his fight with Wilder needed a little more drama.

Wilder Connects In The 9th Photo:New York Post
In the ninth round, one of Wilder's bombs finally connected cleanly, hitting Tyson on the back of the head, and knocking him down. Tyson had finally miscalculated one of his ducks. Still, after regaining his feet, Tyson carried on pretty much as if nothing had happened. By the rounds end, he was back to raising his arms, holding his hands behind his back, and sticking out his tongue. Wilder's audacity at knocking him down seemed to provoke Fury to release his whole repertoire.

With a strong point’s lead, despite the knock-down, Fury could have gone onto the back foot after the 9th but instead, he chose to fight in 'the pocket' and even take the fight to Wilder. Rounds 10 and 11 were good rounds for Fury. His recovery from the 9th round knock-down had added a further splash of drama and colour to a fight that didn't really need it. Fury's performance after 3 years in the abyss was drama enough to make this a special fight.

In the 12th round, something happened that took this fight out of the usual and placed it upon that revered mantelpiece of boxing history, which is reserved only for the true classics. These are the fights where either one or both participants seem to reach somewhere deep into themselves and produce something physically miraculous. Something that defies the innate fragility of the human body.

Fury Hits the Canvas in the 12th
By out-boxing Deontay Wilder for the vast majority of their bout, despite being knocked down, Tyson Fury had already seemingly defied the laws of athletics in general and logic itself. Yet in the 12th and final round of their fight, Tyson performed a feat that will most likely prove to define both his life and his boxing career. For the first time in the whole fight Wilder connected with two punches, one after the other. Fury, his catlike reflexes finally dimmed a little from fatigue, took a right hand to the side of the head, and as he tried to ride the punch, a left hook struck him full on the right side of his jaw. Fury's own movement meant that he actually ducked into Wilder's punch, which added to the potency of Wilder's punch.

Fury seemed to fall to the canvas in slow motion, like an actor in some western who had just been shot. His body shook upon its impact with the canvas, and his eyes stared vacantly ahead unblinking
as his mouth gasped for air. It was as violent a knock-down as you could wish to see in this most violent of sports. Many watching will have been overwhelmed by adrenalin powered excitement at such legalized violence, at the same time feel that conscious pang of guilt for taking pleasure in seeing another human being's physical destruction.

The first thought that I felt after seeing this knock-down was the hope that Tyson was not seriously hurt, and would in the end, get up smiling and unscathed. The question of him beating the count at that point didn't enter my head in those first few seconds.

Although Tyson's eyes were wide open, he seemed to be very much 'out', like Thomas Hearns against Marvin Hagler at the end of their 3-round epic encounter of 1985. It was as if everything that Tyson had built over the past 12 rounds had come crashing down with him under the weight of those two punches from Deontay Wilder.
Fury Get Up After Knockdown by Wilder  Photo: BTSport
At the count of five Tyson blinked. At six, he started to rise again. As the referee counted nine, Tyson was back on his feet. Who knows how Fury was able to regain his feet after such a knock-down. Perhaps the same strength of spirit and mental attitude that allowed him to conquer his demons and get himself into good enough shape to fight Wilder in the first place.

As if beating the count wasn't enough after a couple of seconds, Fury started taking the fight to Wilder, whose astonishment at being unable to keep his challenger down was written throughout his body language for the rest of the round. Suddenly it was Fury on the charge, like a wounded animal, while Wilder swung his arms desperately then held. A Fury punch actually shook Wilder, and if not for the knock-down this was another round that Fury should have won.

Wilder Reaction to Fury Getting Up Photo: Unilad
When the bell rang to end the fight the crowd erupted into the kind of roar that you only hear at the end of the special fights. And while it would be churlish to ignore the part that Wilder played in this match, the truth is that it was Fury's fight, and fury's performance that made the match what it became. In the end, Wilder was almost a bit player. He was the supporting actor in a fight, which had it been choreographed for a 'Rocky' movie, would have been labeled too far-fetched.

Then came the point’s decision. Despite the two knock-downs, Tyson looked to have clearly won the fight. Even the 12th round, without the knock-down, could have clearly been given to Tyson. Usually, a fighter will win a round by 10-08, in points, when he knocks own an opponent, but Tyson's spirited fight back, including having Wilder visibly hurt at one point, could arguably render the round 10-9 to Wilder rather than 10-08.

Ref Talking to Fury After KD  Photo:
The last round knock-down also held an eerie echo of Muhammad Ali's 'fight of the century' with Joe Frazier in March 1971, when Ali, like Tyson against Wilder, was trying to regain his world title after three years out of the ring. Ali, like Tyson, was floored in the fight’s final round (which was the 15th for Ali vs Frazier) and despite looking out to the world regained his feet and finished the fight strongly.

Special praise should go to referee Jack Reiss, who gave an exemplary performance throughout the fight showing no bias, and a willingness to simply just let the fighters get on and fight. In the 12th when Fury was dropped, Reiss showed excellent judgment in allowing the fight to go on when some referees would have stopped the fight, there and then, due to the violence of the knock-down. For those who have tried to say that Tyson got a 'long count', he hit the canvas at 2.23 of the round and was back on his feet at Reiss's count of 'nine' at 2.13. The only reason for the slight delay in the count being picked up was the failure of Wilder to go straight to a neutral corner after Fury had gone down, such was his confidence that Fury would not get up.

After Fight Ended  Photo: Evening Standard
The scorecards when they were announced caused an uproar. Robert Tapper had it 114-112 to Fury. Phil Edwards had it 113-113 (a draw) and Alejandro Rochin scored it 115 to 111 for Wilder, rendering the match a draw, and robbing Fury of the chance of taking home Wilder's WBC world heavyweight title. The knock-downs aside, this was a fight which Tyson Fury dominated and should have won clearly. Some rounds were close, but still clearly Fury's. A fighter should have to dominate 3.00 of a whole round to be sure of winning it. If we are dealing with judges who know the art and intent of boxing, then even a close round should not be a problem to score fairly.

Unfortunately, this is yet one more in a long line of big fights staged in the USA that has ended with dubious point’s decisions.

The problems seem to be either incompetence on the part of the judges or else something a little darker and more sinister. The truth is that bias judging is one of the oldest scourges of the sport and lately seems to be dominating the results of the big fights in America, especially in fights that pit an American champion against a foreign opponent.

Robert Tapper's score is the only acceptable one out of the three. Watch the fight. All three judges had Tyson losing the first round, which I had him winning clearly. Rochin had Tyson losing the first 4 rounds of the fight, something that I find incredible. Tyson’s fellow countryman, Phil Edwards, gave the 6th and 7th rounds to Wilder, despite Tyson visibly having two of his best rounds in the fight in those stanzas.

The Boxing Glove scored the fight 115 to 112 for Fury. Aside from the rounds in which he scored a knock-down, the only other round that I gave Wilder was the 5th, while the 3rd I made a drawn round. And this was watching the fight with the attitude that the judges would be at least partially biased towards the 'home-town' fighter. How right I was!

Wilder-Fury Scorecards  Photo" Fox Sports
In the end, the judges (well two of them) were overly biased towards Wilder, but the crowd certainly weren't and voiced their displeasure with the drawn verdict loud and clear.
In fact, if Tyson Fury had not been so calm and sporting straight after the fight, the situation could really have become ugly, as the 17,000 crowds had a good proportion of travelling fans who were there to support Tyson Fury.

Had Tyson not been so professional, the evening could have ended in a riot.

Tyson's post-fight behaviour has been as impressive as his performance in the ring. While voicing his displeasure with the decision, he has remained magnanimous and philosophical.

Tyson Fury has been reborn as a fighter and is now a very able spokesman for those who struggle with addiction and mental health. In a sport where fighters are usually unwilling to admit to any physical weakness let alone mental weakness, Tyson's openness about his struggles has been even more courageous and inspiring than his performances in the boxing ring.

Perhaps it is because he has found himself appreciated now. Opening up about his struggles with mental health and addiction, as well as his physical transformation over the last 12 months, has finally won over the public at large. And if there were any doubters going into that final round all but a handful of them would have been won over by Tyson's recovery from that knock-down.

The match might go down into the record books as a draw, but those who watched it with a knowledgeable and unbiased eye, know who truly won.

Indeed being robbed of his rightful victory may even help Fury in a perverse way. It keeps him the underdog and gives him something extra to fight for in the future. Now he will want to avenge the injustice that was metered out to him on Saturday night.

Photo:  Irish Central
If Tyson keeps his focus from here, things will only get better for him. He is now the biggest name in heavyweight boxing. The titles have almost become incidental. Tyson Fury should be the man everyone wants to beat. He may have been robbed of the WBC belt on Saturday, but he is still the lineal heavyweight champion of the world. Perhaps more importantly, he seems to have become the champion of the people. From being ridiculed and even despised, Tyson has won over the public at large and the press and media have in turn changed their attitude to him.

As a fighter, he should still get better after Saturday's match. Brilliant though he was at times against Wilder he was not 100% the Tyson who beat Wladimir Klitschko three years previously. Be it as it may, 80% of his best was enough to beat Wilder or should have been.

Tyson Fury now has the chance to make his mark upon the world in a way that will transcend his accomplishments as a boxer. He can become a role model and spokesperson who can really make a positive difference and impact. Tyson Fury's 'Rocky' story has hopefully only just begun.

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Boxing Glove Big Fight Preview: Tyson Fury Dares To Be Great

Photo:  The Independent

WBC World Heavyweight Championship

Deontay Wilder Vs. Tyson Fury

By Peter Silkov

When Tyson Fury
(27-0, 19koes) steps into the ring at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, against Deontay Wilder(40-0, 39koes) this Saturday night, it will be exactly three years and three days since his brilliant yet largely unsung victory over Wladimir Klitschko. On that night Fury became heavyweight champion of the world with a boxing display that remains one of the most underrated performances in the history of the division. Despite being a huge underdog, Fury achieved what no one had ever done until then against Wladimir Klitschko. He out-boxed the man whom, for over a decade had performed his craft in the ring with the clinical precision of a surgeon.

Fury Victory Over Klitschko Photo: BBC
That night Wladimir had entered the ring against Fury with an unbeaten streak stretching back over 11 years, and Fury was the nineteenth consecutive challenger to try and prise the world heavyweight titles away from him. Yet despite being given little chance against Wladimir, who provided the added comfort of defending his championship before his adopted 'home fans', of Düsseldorf, Germany, Fury didn't just win, he won with an ease that perversely has repeatedly been used against him by people seeking to denigrate his victory and performance. At times Fury out-boxed 'Dr. Steelhammer' literally with his hands held behind his back. It was a performance that behind its unorthodoxy, contained strong undercurrents of brilliance. Fury's speed and all-around boxing ability often defy his six feet nine, eighteen stone plus, size.

However, Tyson Fury's quirky boxing style in the ring strongly mirrors his character outside of it. Throughout most of his career, he has become the human equivalent of Marmite, boxing fans, and the media generally, seem to either love him or hate him. If Tyson's relationship with the fans was periodically a little rocky, his relationship with the media has often been even more fraught.

Tyson's unorthodox intelligence outside of the ring, like his ring IQ, has frequently worked against him with the fans and the media. In a world where people are supposed to fit neatly into certain boxes, Tyson Fury has often been too complicated for peoples liking.

Fury Protesting Photo: BBCSport
Winning the world heavyweight championship would prove to be bitter-sweet, with a strong emphasis on the bitter. If he had thought that his victory over 'Dr. Steelhammer' in Germany would be greeted with an outpouring of fanfare and respect on his return to England; Tyson was sadly mistaken. The reaction of most of the media ranged from a general disinterest, to what can only be described as nothing short of a public crucifixion of Tyson Fury's character by much of the wider media.

There is an inescapable irony when comparing how Fury was treated in the aftermath of his victory over Klitschko, to the feverish excitement which greeted Anthony Joshua's triumph over Wladimir 17 months later. While Fury had beaten Klitschko with a technical superiority that many still can't acknowledge, Joshua beat Klitschko after being just a punch away from defeat.

You will nonetheless discover many people who maintain that the Wladimir who fought Joshua was a superior fighter to the one who had lost to Fury 17 months earlier. Sometimes the substance of an athlete's ability hinges more on the perception of those around him than on the real reality of his true ability.

The extent to which this most public rejection influenced Fury's now much-publicized tailspin into depression, drug, and alcohol abuse, in the wake of the greatest performance of his career, can only be surmised. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that being the subject of such negativity on such a wide scale is not beneficial for a person's mental health.

Tyson Fury Weight Gain Photo: Daily Mirror
One year after winning the heavyweight championship of the world Fury's world had imploded into a sea of alcohol and depression. He vacated his WBA, IBO, and WBO belts (having been stripped by the IBF barely two weeks after his victory over Wladimir, for still unclear and rather dubious reasons) and sunk into the kind of self-destructive abyss that many never escape.

12 months ago Tyson Fury had not fought since his win over Wladimir and had ballooned to over 28 stone. Far from him ever boxing again, there were fears amongst his friends and family for his life.

Fast forward to the present and Tyson Fury, weighing around eighteen stone (252 pounds) again, stands on the threshold of regaining everything he has lost, and more.

Something clicked in December last year, and Tyson started training again. It was baby steps, to begin with, the man who had danced unorthodox rings around Klitschko could barely run at the beginning.

Even when news of his return to the gym had leaked out, few expected Fury to stick at it. Even when he finally made his long-awaited return to the ring, on June 9, 2018, against the overmatched Sefer Seferi, a still blubbery Fury was ridiculed in some quarters. The fact that he had already lost more than seven stone in six months was lost on most of his detractors.

Just nine weeks after his comeback fight against Seferi, Tyson outpointed Francesco Pianeta over 10 rounds. Though it wasn't the Fury who beat Klitschko, he was noticeably much trimmer and fitter than he had been against Seferi, and more impressively showed the legs and stamina to outbox Pianeta at a steady pace for ten rounds.

Fury Vs. Pianeta  Photo:
It is no exaggeration to say that Fury's comeback, when taken in the context of where he was both physically and mentally, just over a year ago, is already a remarkable story.

If Fury can crown his meteoric comeback with a victory over Deontay Wilder this Saturday, then his return to the ring will be one of the most outstanding ever seen, certainly in the heavyweight division. Muhammad Ali came back from three and a half years of enforced inactivity in the early 70s to eventually regain the crown. Unlike Tyson Fury, he did not need to lose over ten stone in the process.

The comparisons between Ali and Fury are interesting. Of course, Fury is not on the level of Ali. No heavyweight active today comes close to Ali, but style-wise and character-wise, Tyson comes closer than any other heavyweight today.

Like Ali, Tyson is fighting for the world title again in just his 3rd fight back. While Tyson's comeback opposition so far has been a far cry from the first two opponents of Ali's comeback (Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonevena), the fact that Tyson's comeback has involved overcoming mental health as well as physical problems.

Also like Ali, Tyson Fury enters the ring against Wilder with the distinction of being the 'lineal' heavyweight champion of the world, despite having been officially stripped of his title by men in suits, rather than an opponent in the ring.

Wilder KOS Stiverne Photo: Los Angeles Times
While Deontay Wilder is certainly not comparable to the Joe Frazier whom Ali fought in his bid to regain the world title that had been taken from him, he is a formidable opponent for any fighter having his first real competitive fight in over three years.

Wilder is himself a tall and unorthodox fighter, who has been brought along carefully for much of his career but has shown flashes of real ability at times. Wilder's most dangerous weapon is his right hand. Even though many of his opponents have been 'selected' 39 koes in 40 wins bares witness to the fact that Wilder can punch.

Since winning the WBC world heavyweight title in 2015, Wilder has often struggled to impress in his subsequent seven successful title defences. Wilder's most recent defence nine months ago against the highly touted Cuban, Luis Ortiz, was his most impressive performance as champion to date. Wilder came through a very slow start, which saw him hurt and out on his feet at one point, to finally overcome and stop Ortiz in the 10th round. The fight exposed as many weaknesses in Wilder as it did strengths, yet his ability to win after almost being knocked out, showed that there is more substance to Wilder the fighter that had been previously thought.

Nevertheless, if Fury was facing Wilder straight from his victory over Klitschko, without all the inactivity and various problems he has had in the past three years, its fair to say that he would be going into the ring a clear favourite.

At his best Fury is the far superior boxing technician, with better speed and has faced stronger opposition overall than Wilder.

Wilder/Ortiz Weigh-in  Photo:  Bad Left Hook
Fury will be the underdog on Saturday night because of the competitive inactivity he has experienced and the turmoil he has endured over the past three years.
While he has looked encouragingly good against Pianeta, Fury will know himself that it is a huge jump to go from fighting Pianeta to Deontay Wilder. If he had given himself another 6 months and a few more 'comeback' fights the odds would be much more in Fury's favour. But this is the boxing business, and Fury knows very well that the chance he is getting on Saturday against Wilder, may very well not be available in six months time. The reality is that Fury was given this chance because Wilders people know that this is the time to take him on, rather than wait for Fury to have a few more fights and get rid of the remaining ring rust.

In taking this chance Fury is in his own words 'daring to be great'. The fact that he is leaping into a showdown with the fighter whom Anthony Joshua has so far managed to avoid has made many people stand up and take notice.

A funny thing has also happened in the midst of Tyson Fury's comeback, like Ali during his own, now iconic, comeback, Fury is discovering a newfound popularity upon his return. Tyson's recent interviews, where he has honestly and courageously opened up about his struggle with depression and addiction has made him an unlikely spokesman for a sensitive subject which still carries a stigma for most sufferers. Tyson has said that he

wants to be a champion of the people and help bring awareness to mental health illness.

Some might say that it is too good to be true and that Tyson is simply selling a good story. However, those who have followed Fury since his early days as a fighter will know that he would talk about his struggles with depression and alcohol, long before he was even a world-class contender.

It's tempting to say that Tyson is the winner already, whether he beats Wilder or not. Sometimes victory is not measured by the result in the ring.

Wilder, on the other hand, has everything to lose. His three-year reign as WBC world heavyweight champion will be defined by Saturday night.

Time to Focus Fury  Photo:  ITV
As the fight has moved closer Fury has seemed to grow increasingly more focused and more confident, while Wilder has seemed to grow increasingly angrier.

Like he did with Wladimir Klitschko prior to their fight, Tyson Fury has been playing mind games with Deontay Wilder at their pre-fight press conferences. At times Fury has been verbally running rings around Wilder in a manner that he will be looking to replicate physically in the ring on December 1st.

Wilder's inability to control his emotions at these conferences is a chink which Fury will seek to further exploit all the way to the ring at the Los Angeles Staples Center.

Boxing is much more a matter of brains, than it is brawn. For all his mental fragility away from boxing, Tyson Fury has a very strong fighter's mentality and a ring IQ that is by far the best of any heavyweight in the world today.

Tyson's greatest opponent on Saturday night will be the lack of real competition for over three years. In Wilder, he is not only fighting a man with an undeniably dangerous punch, but he is also facing a difficult boxer for him style-wise. Wilder is awkward, erratic and unpredictable. Style-wise he is a far more difficult opponent for Fury than Anthony Joshua would be.

Wilder Vs. Fury  Photo:  Telegraph
Fury will look to out-box and counter Wilder, who he will hope will come after him. Wilder's main chance of victory will be to catch Fury with one of his failing bombs. It is a danger which Fury will need to be aware of throughout the fight. One mistake is often all that is needed in the heavyweight division. Wilder may seek to try and out-box Fury, but if he does, Tyson's superior footwork and jab will take him to victory.

The Tyson Fury who beat Wladimir Klitschko three years ago is a level above Deontay Wilder. How far back to the boxer he was can Fury reach back on Saturday. My feeling is that if Tyson can just recapture 80% of the form he had against Klitschko, then he can out-box and perhaps even stop Deontay Wilder on Saturday night.

Victory won't necessarily make Tyson a 'great' fighter (at least not yet), but it would be a great achievement and would pave the way for what could be one of the more interesting chapters in the history of the heavyweight division. This time he may receive the plaudits which he was denied three years ago.

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Thursday, November 8, 2018

TBG Book Review: Latino Boxing In Southern California

The Boxing Glove Book Review
By Peter Silkov

"Latino Boxing In Southern California" Written By Gene Aguilera.

In his first book, the excellent "Mexican American Boxing In Los Angeles" (2014) Gene Aguilera paid homage to the many Mexican American fighters who have lit up the world of boxing on the West Coast, but especially Los Angeles, where the Olympic Auditorium produced weekly classics from the theatre of boxing. Legendary fighters such as Manuel Ortiz, Mando Ramos, Bobby Chacon, and Alberto Davila, to name just a few, fought out the twists and turns of their careers before thousands of screaming fans in Los Angeles. The book looked at a group of fighters who despite their huge influence upon the sport, especially in the lighter divisions, have been curiously neglected by the many books that have been produced upon the sport of boxing.

Baby Arizmendi (photo not included in book)
Aguilera has now produced his second book, "Latino Boxing In Southern California" and like his first book, it is another gem, which looks at a part of boxing's history that has for too long been underappreciated in boxing literature.

Once again, Los Angeles and the Olympic Auditorium is the center stage, but this time Aguilera mainly focuses on the Mexican born fighters who largely dominate the Latin America boxing world, and who have contributed so much action and excitement to the rich history of the boxing ring.

We are taken into the world of the Mexican warrior, as Aguilera introduces us to fighters such as Kid Azteca, Raul 'Raton' Macias, Baby Arizmendi, Vincent Saldivar, Ruben Olivares, Carlos Zarate, Lupe Pintor, Salvadore Sanchez, and Julio Cesar Chavez.

Just as the Mexicans dominate the Los Angeles community, the Mexican fighters also monopolize the Los Angeles rings.

Alexis Arguello Vs. Ruben Olivares (photo not included in book)
Mexican fight fans are famous for being the most passionate and loyal of all boxing fans. It is not hard to see why when Aguilera outlines how the Mexican fighter, perhaps more than any other nationality, feels so strongly that he is fighting not just for himself and his family, but for his Nation as a whole. Mexican fighters, whether champions, rising contenders or struggling club fighters, no matter what the different levels of fistic talent, are usually always emboldened and toughened by the pride which they feel at representing their people every time that they enter the ring.

It is this pride and drive that has seen so many Mexican fighters reach greatness.

As well as reliving the careers of the great champions and contenders that Mexico has produced over the years, Aguilera also takes us back to some of the legendary matches and rivalries. In addition to the famed ring wars between Mexicans and American, there are also the classics between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans and of course, the often unforgettable duels between two Mexican battlers. It is true to say that a Mexican fighter is never so determined to win a match as when he is facing a fellow Mexican.

Enrique Bolanos (photo not included in book)
Gene Aguilera takes us on a tour of some of boxing's most exciting moments, especially the sport's golden era of the 60s to 80s. classic fights between the great champions and their most dangerous rivals was a weekly event, and more often than not, one or even both of the participants were of Latino origin.

"Latino Boxing in Southern California" a friendly and engrossing read. It is packed full of a dazzling array photos, ranging from programs, tickets, Flyers, magazines, to action photos and portraits of various boxers in fighting pose. The vast majority of this memorabilia comes from Aguilera's own boxing collection, and an impressive collection it is.

Carlos Zarate (photo not included in book)
"Latino Boxing In Southern California" is unlikely to disappoint any boxing fan with an interest in one of the most exciting areas of a sport that has always relied on its ability to thrill, and entertain, and raise the passions of its fans. The Mexican boxing fan, in addition to being the most passionate of all boxing fans, could also be said to have over the years been the luckiest and most entertained, as he and she have been treated to a veritable feast of great ring warriors over the past six decades.

This is the kind of book with the ability to both delight the boxing connoisseur and converts the non-believer.

If you would like to purchase this book it is available on Amazon.


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