Gloves for Grades 

Last night I had the privilege of attending the Gloves For Grades charity event at the Marquette Rec Center in South St Louis. This event was titled the “Jamilah Nasheed Classic” due to its sponsorship by the State Senator.

Gloves  For Grades is the brainchild of 7th Ward Committeeman Marty Murray. A former amateur boxer himself Murray seeks to use the sport of boxing to promote both academic achievement and staying off the streets. A number of local gyms participated in the event along with gyms from as far away as Indiana. 

Presently Murray is trying to close in on a building for the program and is looking to hold another show and fundraiser this summer so stay tuned. 

Below are some videos of a couple of the bouts. The victorious fighters in both of these bouts are coached by St Louis boxing hall-of-famer Keith Abdul-Qawi. 

Marty Murray, Umar Lee in the middle, and labor-activist Kevin Fitzgerald with the famous stache.


Mayweather-Pacquiao: A Megafight…Not The Last

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Every ten years or so there is a Megafight in the sport of boxing.  While hardcore fans like me get excited several times a year about big fights the Megafight transcends the sport. The nature of the event also attracts the mainstream media. 

When covering the Megafight the mainstream media can be guaranteed to do two things: pronounce the fight as the last Megafight in boxing history because the sport is dying and display a complete ignorance of the sport of boxing. 

I thought of this as I listened to an astoundingly ignorant panel-discussion on Pacquiao-Mayweather on Q. Q is the truly painful hour of hipster-fluff imported from Canada to St. Louis week days at 7pm. The show replaced the only African-American hosted show on the station ( a few weeks later Mike Brown was killed and the host of the previous show was sent to Ferguson for a townhall while Q entertained us with the ironic voices of the latest indie bands in Toronto).

One of the idiots on the panel stated Floyd Mayweather had no fans. While Mayweather is a polarizing figure a quick glance at his social media accounts will show you he has a massive fan following particularly in the African-American community.  Another panelist said the UFC is the future. The data doesn’t support that argument.  The numbers in the UFC are down and no event will come close to Mayweather-Pacquiao numbers. A third panelist said she liked boxing: but agreed May-Pac is the last Megafight. 

The non-boxing media has some huge holes in their argument:

-Yes boxing is a niche sport. We are moving towards a niche society whether that be in music with the end of the Top 40 era or television with hundreds of channels.  What is important is that boxing maintains a strong and loyal niche which it is doing.

-Boxing is international. Wladimir Klitschko may not be popular in America but he is selling out soccer stadiums in Europe.  The United Kingdom routinely sells out arenas for big fights and hosts a vibrant boxing scene and the same can be said of a number of other countries. 

-Demographics.  While the UFC may edge out boxing in suburban white American culture boxing is still way more popular in the African-American and Latino communities.  Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is one of the most famous sports stars in Mexico and already a pay-per-view star in the United States as an example.  As is Miguel Cotto with his Puerto Rican fan base. 

-Boxing is back on network TV. For decades boxing has suffered from bring a prisoner to late-night premium cable and pay-per-view.  Now boxing is back on network TV ( NBC, CBS, ESPN-ABC), as well as a number of basic cable stations ( BET, Spike TV, Tru TV, ESPN,  NBCSN, FS1, Telefutura, etc. ). This greater television exposure will in the long run produce household names who themselves will one day headine pay-per-view events and possibly Megafights. The TV picture for boxing,  while complicated  by promotional fueds, is improving. 

-Future stars. Manny Pacquiao wasn’t a pay-per-view star when he first came to America. Floyd Mayweather wasn’t a pay-per-view star until the Arturo Gatti fight. Star’s are built-up and occasionally they collide giving us a Megafight.  If we divide boxing into the HBO / Top Rank / Golden Boy camp and the Al Haymon/PBC camp we can look at the future stars.

First of all boxing fans know the Cold War between the promotional companies and the networks is bad for boxing and blocks fights. While I hope the war is ended at present that is wishful thinking.

On the HBO side you have Canelo Alvarez who is already a Pay-per-view star. The Kazakh Gennady Golovkin, the Ukrainian Vasly Lemenchenko and the Russian Sergey Kovalev are being groomed for pay-per-view status due to their fan-friendly styles.  Terrence Crawford is also being groomed for stardom although he has a steeper hill to climb without landing a Pacquiao or Mayweather fight. Felix Verdejo is being groomed to be the next Puerto Rican star and if Mikey Garcia ever fights again he’s being groomed as a Mexican – American star. Then there is the question of if Andre Ward will ever merit pay-per-view status.

On the Haymon side you have Errol Spence, Danny Garcia,  Deontay Wilder, Adrien Broner, and others being groomed for that level of stardom.

On either side fighters have to keep winning to ever dream of getting to the Megafight status.  Who it will be I don’t know.  Perhaps no one on this list. However, one thing I can guarantee is that Mayweather-Pacquiao isn’t going to be the last Megafight. 

HBO Boxing and It’s Problem With Boxers

Saturday night Terrence Crawford the undefeated lightweight prospect from Omaha, NE put on another absolute boxing clinic. Instead of appreaciating his performance HBO announcers catered to the base desires of inebriated illiterate boxing fans in Orlando who were booing.

This does not come as a surprise. HBO announcers, most notably Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant in the past, have often shit on fine performances of boxers. Meanwhile, if an unskilled brawler fights like he is in a ten-dollar tough-man contest at a bowling alley HBO goes crazy for them.

HBO of course becomes it’s own worst enemy. They build up punchers with limited defense and then the first time they meet an elite, well-rounded, skilled-boxer they get schooled. James Kirkland, Brandon Rios, Tavoris Cloud, Nonito Donaire, etc. . In Donaire’s case he gets absolutely taken to school by Guillermo Rigondeaux and instead of hyping up Rigo as a Cuban Pernell Whittaker they don’t give him a date while adding Donaire to a fall card.

Many will say ” how else can HBO play it?” Given the fact fans like punchers and many of these fighters who are lacking in defense and have problems with boxers are Mexicans whose fanbase is critical to the boxing economy.

Those are fair questions. I will counter with two arguments. First, the hardcore boxing base is small. This is a niche sport. Most of the people who tune in may be casual fans or just flipping the remote. Imagine if the first thing they hear is announcers shitting on the fight, the boxers, and the event itself. How is that good for boxing or ratings?

Secondly, instead of shitting on and disrespecting why don’t these announcers educate fans. Explain footwork, counter-punching and defense? Raise the level of knowledge amongst the masses so they can appreaciate what they are watching?  That’s what baseball announcers do during pitching-duels and football announcers do during defensive battles.

I see great potential in Terrence Crawford. I would favor him to beat anyone at Top Rank ( Marquez, Pacquiao, Alvarado, Bradley and to 120-108 Rios). Been watching Crawford since the amateurs. Yet, will he get his chance to shine? Will HBO in Vince McMahon WWE-like fashion freeze out Crawford like they did Rigo? Will Bob Arum punish him for success like he did Zahir Raheem after he beat Erik Morales? Or will Arum promote him like he did Timothy Bradley? Time will tell and I will be watching. But remember: if HBO did baseball in the eighties they would have fired Ozzie Smith because his defense was too good and shit on “Whiteyball”.

Other boxing notes: the agressive Miguel Cotto looked great: but with all due respect to Delvin Rodriguez was picked to make Cotto look good. I am intrigued by a Cotto-Sergio Martinez matchup….I really like the Klitschko Brothers. Had lunch with them years ago and found them to be smart caring individuals. Just find there fights to almost always be boring as hell. Last saturday definitely no exception.

Gennady Golovkin: Baddest Kazakh Since Borat Destroys Macklin

I have been following Gennady Golovkin since the 2004 Olympics and have been impressed every step of the way. It is hard for foreign fighters to get a big fan base in America. Especially when you are from a nation like Kazakhstan that has a minuscule amount of emigres in the United States ( keep in mind with Manny Pacquiao there are a number of American cities with sizable Filipino-American residents and the same goes without saying of fighters from Latin America) . However, when you have the kind of devastating punching power GGG has you can sell tickets and get the TV ratings that makes network executives happy. This guy is sparring with light-heavyweights and heavyweights  in training and hurting them and against a very game Matthew Macklin GGG seemed to hurt him with virtually every punch ( including scoring what should have been a knockdown in round one before the brutal end came in round three). Along with Argentinean Junior Welterweight Lucas Matthysse we are living in an era of two devastating imported punchers wowing  hardcore American boxing fans. I rate GGG ahead of Matthysse though. Yes the Argentinean scored knockdowns against Zab Judah and Devon Alexander but I had both bouts being scored correctly ( 114-113 for Judah and 95-94 for Alexander). I think Matthysse has grown as a boxer since that point: but I still think he can be outboxed. A well-schooled amateur I think GGG would be a more difficult task.

Where does Golovkin go from here? HBO is clearly trying to groom him for a bout with Sergio Martinez and then Andre Ward and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.. Against Martinez and Chavez I favor Golovkin by brutal stoppage. Golovkin-Ward I can’t call it right now and I see it as being a classic fight and boxer v. puncher match-up. Matchups with Golden Boy fighters not fighting on Showtime such as Peter Quillin  is not going to happen for business reasons and a waste of time to think about.

I had Brandon Gonzales beating Thomas Oosthuizen 96-94. If Oosthuizen is being groomed for Andre Ward I’m not sure who is going to be excited by this matchup. Didn’t catch Willie Nelson’s win. For the sake of his promoter, local St. Louis guy Steve Smith, I hope he does well.

Bernard Hopkins: American Hero and Champion

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I am a huge fan of the sport of boxing. Yet seldom do I root for any one fighter. When I am asked “who do you want to win” my answer is always the same: “I don’t care who wins I just want to see a good competitive fight”. Bernard Hopkins is the exception.

At 48 years old Hopkins became the oldest man to ever hold a major title by defeating light-heavyweight beltholder Tavoris Cloud at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. He broke his own record. The story of Hopkins is a man who has defied father time, doesn’t seem to age, and outsmarts younger and quicker opponents. There is more to the story though.

Hopkins grew up on the mean streets of Germantown North Philadelphia. At an early age, like many of his peers, Hopkins got caught up in a life on the streets. Strong-armed robbery was Hopkins game. It is easy to judge and say he should have stayed in school and in his amateur boxing gym: but you are talking about a young man from a highly dysfunctional home growing up in poverty and some of the meanest streets in America.  This does not excuse his behavior it only gives it context.

Like most who turn to a life of crime, and many from his neighborhood, Hopkins ended up in prison. At age seventeen he began serving a five-year sentence at the notorious Grateford Prison in Pennsylvania. Hopkins witnessed rapes, murders, and countless acts of violence. It was only through his conversion to Islam and taking up the boxing program that Hopkins was able to stay clean and begin turning his life around from behind bars. Notice what I said: Islam and boxing. A religion that has turned so many lives around from behind the walls and boxing a sport that has turned lives around. It is ironic that prisons in the post-911 era have often developed a hostile attitude toward their Muslim prisoners and almost all prisons have cut their boxing programs. Hopkins left prison never to return. Never to go back to his old life and forever leaving behind him his old ways. This is an inspiration to the millions of prisoners and ex-offenders in America.  Wardens should be inviting Hopkins to speak at such juvenile detention centers, county jails and prisons.

In his first professional fight Hopkins lost. He could have gave up: but he found the legendary trainer Bouie Fischer who taught him boxing and guided him to a middleweight championship. While Hopkins went on to defend the middleweight crown a record twenty times he was overshadowed in the 90’s and even much of the 00’s by Roy Jones, Jr., and James Toney. It was only in 2001 when Hopkins destroyed the heavily-favored Felix Trinidad at Madison Square Garden in front of a Puerto Rican crowd did Hopkins finally get his just due. By that time Hopkins was already getting old. Little did the public know the party was just getting started.

Hopkins has went on to have big wins into his 40’s. This time under the guidance of Brother Naazim Richardson a fellow Muslim brother from Philly who himself has inspired many by overcoming a serious medical-condition to train at the elite-level. How is he able to do this? Let’s start with the facts he doesn’t, drink, smoke, get high, eat sweets, eat junk foods, hang out in the streets, stay out late in night clubs and approaches boxing as a 24-7 lifestyle. He doesn’t get out of shape after fights and then have to cut weight in training. Hopkins is always in fighting shape. Wear and tear is not wasting in the gym with meaningless “Philly gym wars” he saves his energy. Most importantly Hopkins has a “boxing IQ” that is off the charts. Quite simply, like many other elite-fighters, he outthinks his opponents. While they are playing Asteroids he is playing Call of Duty. This is the model for all young boxers. If you want a long and successful career, and you have the goods, emulate this. If you want a short career make it rain at the strip clubs, buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need, get multiple child-support cases, drink and get high between fights, and surround yourself with violence and criminals.

Finally, not only is Hopkins a role-model for troubled urban youth, ex-offenders and young boxers, B-Hop is also a role-model for fitness in America. At 48 B-Hop is in elite condition and as we are all getting older, including myself, we can take inspiration from his discipline and physical condition.