Friday, July 19, 2019

Thomas LaManna Interview

By Luis A. Cortes III

Check out my recent interview with Thomas "Cornflake" LaManna (27-2-1)! 

LaManna will step into the ring for his 31st professional fight this Saturday at the Showboat in Atlantic City. LaManna will square off against Puerto Rico's Carlos Garcia Hernandez (15-21-1) in an eight round bout in the super welterweight division. 

You can stream the interview on both SoundCloud and iTunes

Thomas LaManna Interview with Luis Cortes on SoundCloud

Thomas LaManna Interview with Luis Cortes on iTunes

For more information on this great night of boxing in Atlantic City, visit the Rising Star Promotions official website



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Monday, July 15, 2019

The New Jersey Boxing Scene


New Jersey fight fans will not have to travel far to watch their home grown pugilists this summer as three scheduled fight cards in “The Garden State” will feature homegrown talent.  Leading the parade, 2016 Olympic Silver Medalist Shakur Stevenson headlined a well-attended Top Rank promoted show at the Prudential Center in Newark.

The city of Newark has nothing but love for Stevenson and loudly cheered the 2016 Olympic silver medalist's entrance into the arena. Pumped up for his homecoming celebration, Stevenson,126 lbs, punched the air out of Alberto Guervara, 125.4 lbs of Mazatlan, Mexico, stopping him at 2:37 of the third round. Excited about his homecoming celebration,  southpaw Stevenson started fast dropping Guervar twice during the second before ending it in the next stanza with a double right hook and straight left to Guervara's head.  Stevenson, 12-0 (7 Ko’s), called for a fight with IBF Featherweight champ Josh Warrington afterwards. Guervara returns south of the border with a 27-4 (12 Ko’s) record. 



A bunch of North Jersey ticket sellers were on the undercard . Most prominently seventeen-year-old welterweight Vito Mielnicki, 146 lbs., of Roseland, NJ made his pro debut dispatching Tamarcus Smith, 139 lbs, of Meridian, MS in the first round. Mielnicki has a powerful build for a boxer his age and very quick hands. Press agent Marc Abrams indicated the very popular Mielncki sold over a thousand tickets. Mielnicki starts his senior year at West Essex High School this fall. Smith is now 2-3 (2 Ko’s).

Entering his third year as a professional, John Bauza, North Bergen, NJ, continued to pad his record against inferior competition. The formerly Roc Nation promoted southpaw, Bauza, won a boring eight round decision over Angel Sarinana Gomez, Palacio, MX, in a junior welterweight contest. Bauza is now 13-0 (5 Ko’s). Gomez hovers above .500 at 10-9-2 (4 Ko’s).


Atlantic City boxing savior LaManna Family’s Rising Star Promotions are staging two shows two weeks apart at The Showboat Hotel. On Saturday July 20th, world rated Thomas LaManna headlines the night in a ten rounder. Two other local fan favorites, super welterweight Isiah Seldon and super middleweight Gabriel Pham support the card. LaManna was in negotiations to face former welterweight king Kell Brook on the undercard of Joshua vs Ruiz at Madison Square Garden in June, but Brook would not accept him as an opponent. A rumor circulated that LaManna was in line to challenge WBO Super Welterweight Champ Jamis Munguia for his crown.

On August 3, Rising Star Promotions returns to the ShowBoat Hotel to host the return of the South Jersey bantamweight prospect  Christain Carto. Carto was considered the areas hottest prospect and promoters from around the globe wanted to ink him. Carto won his first seventeen fights, eleven by kayo. One punch from Mexican journeyman Victor Ruiz changed that. Ruiz caught Carto with a shot to the chin that had him knocked out cold before he hit the canvas. The effect of the blow left Carto motionless on the canvas until he was placed on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. An opponent has yet to be named for Carto. In the co-feature, super middleweight Derrick Webster, will make his come back from a one sided loss in Lennox Allen.

LaManna, Carto, and Webster are big draws and both of these shows will undoubtedly sell out.



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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Slammiversary XVII Recap

By Steve Ward

The seventeenth installment of Impact Wrestling’s Slammiversary emanated from a sold out Gilley’s Complex in Dallas, TX this evening. The stacked card featured eight matches and was headlined by Tessa Blanchard battling Sami Callihan in an intergender match. Impact Wrestling continues to put forth a solid product as they have shown true perseverance after several years of turmoil within their ownership structure that had them on the brink of disaster and they needed to deliver again this evening with the quickly evolving landscape of professional wrestling. Impact did just that but only time will tell how things shape up with AEW coming on strong as their weekly tv program debuts on TNT in October, Ring of Honor is maintaining their foothold with their partnership with NJPW, and of course WWE -despite their stale writing and booking- is still the standard bearer in sports entertainment.

TJP vs. Trey Miguel (of the Rascalz) vs. Jake Crist (of OVE) vs. Willie Mack
Winner: Willie Mack via pinfall

The opening contest of Slammiversary was an X-Division fatal four way attraction featuring TJP (T.J. Perkins) in his first pay per view appearance since his return from being buried in WWE on 205 Live. The action was fast and furious and certainly set the tempo for the evening. The body flying action culminated with the 285 lb Willie Mack executing a frog splash on Jake Crist to solidify the pinfall victory.

Impact Tag Team Championship
The Rascalz (Dez & Wentz) vs. LAX (Santana & Ortiz) w/ Konnan vs. The North (Josh Alexander & Ethan Page) (c)
Winners: The North via pinfall

After shockingly losing their tag team titles to The North Friday night at Bash at the Brewery - an Impact Plus event that literally looked like it was in front of a crowd of 100 people at a brewery - LAX entered as the challengers. Unfortunately for The North, the retention of their titles was overshadowed in this one by a bad landing Santana took that required him to be helped out of the arena after the contest.

First Blood Match
Killer Kross vs. Eddie Edwards
Winner: Eddie Edwards

After weeks of mind games initiated by Killer Kross including the destruction of Edwards’ best friend Kenny - the kendo stick - Edwards achieved retribution this evening as he made Kross bleed by raking the splintered edge of a kendo stick across his mouth.

RVD vs. Moose
Winner: Moose

For several weeks, Moose proclaimed that the old legends needed to retire and go away. This generated a brief feud between Moose and The North and ECW originals RVD, Tommy Dreamer, and Sabu. This short lived program seemingly reached it’s climax this evening in Dallas as Rob Van Dam stood toe to toe with Moose. First things first, RVD may be 48 but he certainly can still keep up with the best of them and has aged pretty well considering the wars he’s been in as he doesn’t look much different than the last time he had a significant run in WWE - with the exception of appearing to enjoy a few beers here and there. It appeared RVD would walk out victorious as he had Moose laid out on top of a chair as he scaled to the top rope for the Five Star Frogsplash. As Van Dam took flight, Moose rolled out of the way leaving nothing but unforgiving steel for RVD to land on. Moose jumped to his feet and nailed RVD with the spear for the pinfall.

Impact Knockouts Championship Monster’s Ball Match
Taya Valkyrie (c) vs. Rosemary vs. Su Yung w/ Father James Mitchell vs. Havoc
Winner: Taya Valkyrie

These ladies wasted no time after the opening bell as they rapidly transformed the ring into a visceral playground littered with chairs, ladders, tables, and eventually thumb tacks. Havoc seemed poised to solidify a dominating victory after she Tombstoned Su Yung from the top rope - yes you read that correctly - onto a bed of tacks but Taya Valkyrie returned to the ring and greeted Havoc with a chair to the face. As Havoc rolled out of the ring, Valkyrie covered Su Yung to retain her title.

X Division Championship
Rich Swann (c) vs. Johnny Impact w/ Johnny Bravo
Winner: Rich Swann

Two of the best high-fliers in not only Impact, but potentially all of pro wrestling, squared off for the storied X Division Title this evening. After a fairly even bout where neither man was really able to create much momentum, Rich Swann was able to persevere. In the closing moments of the match, Swann withstood a series of Spanish Flys (the first from the top rope), Starship Pain, and the antics of Johnny Bravo at ringside to answer with two springboard cutters and the Phoenix Splash to retain his title.

Impact World Championship
Brian Cage (c) vs. Michael Elgin
Winner: Brian Cage

Former Ring of Honor and New Japan star Michael Elgin made his in-ring pay per view debut this evening as he challenged “The Machine” Brian Cage for the Impact Heavyweight Championship. Cage wasted no time bringing the fight to Elgin as the first time Elgin rolled to the outside of the ring, Cage ensured there would be no reprieve for him as he ran and vaulted straight over the top rope to the arena floor taking out Elgin and landing on his feet in the process. In the final minutes of the contest, Cage attempted the Drill Claw but his back “went out” and he dropped Elgin. Elgin answered with a buckle bomb and as he hoisted Cage up for the Elgin Bomb, The Machine slipped out and rolled Elgin up for the pinfall. After the match, Elgin assaulted Cage with the title and then dragged Don Callis into the ring from his commentary position. Just before Elgin was going to lay waste to Callis, a masked man entered the ring from the crowd, executed a spear that looked a lot like a Gore (wink wink), and escaped through the crowd.

Intergender Match
Tessa Blanchard vs. Sami Callihan
Winner: Sami Callihan

A rarity in pro wrestling today, at least in televised matches and never in WWE, Impact decided to push the envelope and headlined this pay per view with an intergender match between Sami Callihan and Tessa Blanchard, the daughter of former Four Horsemen member Tully Blanchard. Blanchard made another huge step this evening as she continued her ascension from barely gaining air time in NXT towards becoming a bona fide superstar as she more than hung in with “The Draw.” Blanchard displayed her grit as she took some huge bumps in this bout but also demonstrated her impressive strength as she hoisted Callihan up for a Samoan Drop at one point. In the closing moments, Callihan escaped a crossface submission to finish Blanchard off with a Cactus Special piledriver allowing him to earn the pinfall.



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Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Road to Undisputed Lightweight King Begins

By Luis A. Cortes III

On Saturday night from Temecula California, Top Rank Promotions and ESPN (10 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT) will broadcast a fight card that’s main event will feature the beginning of the path towards an undisputed king.  The quest for lightweight supremacy begins as IBF lightweight champion Richard Commey (28-2, 22 KO’s) defends his title for the first time against former world champion and grizzled veteran Ray Beltran (36-8-1, 22 KO’s).  When Mikey Garcia decided to vacate the WBC portion of the lightweight crown back in April after his loss to welterweight champion Errol Spence, it meant that the biggest fight in the division between Garcia and the WBA/WBO champion Vasiliy Lomachenko would have to once again be placed on hold.

With Garcia now set to face Danny Garcia at welterweight, it meant that the division could now move on from the unification fight between Garcia and Lomachenko and allow for the rest of the world class talent a chance to stake their claim as the king of the talent rich division.  Lomachenko (a top pound-for-pound fighter) and already a unified champion in the division is clearly the proverbial favorite to be the last man standing when the dust settles.  This brings us back to what will take place this weekend between Commey and Beltran. 

Commey, the hard-punching champion from Ghana, won the IBF portion of the crown in February when he blasted Isa Chaniev with power shots in two rounds to earn the knockout win.  It was supposed to have set up Commey with the chance to unify his titles with Lomachenko in April.  However, due to a hand injury sustained during his title winning victory, it caused a need for surgery and Lomachenko to look elsewhere for his next opponent.

Beltran himself has had to navigate a twisting path towards this opportunity to have his name listed as the divisions king.  It was just last year that Beltran, after a long career that had seen its ups and downs, finally captured a world championship when he defeated Paulus Moses.  In his first defense of the WBO title in August, he dropped a decision to Puerto Rico’s Jose Pedraza.  Going into that fight (like the Commey situation this year), it was believed that with the victory over Pedraza, Beltran would be next in line for Lomachenko and the seven-figure payday that accompanies that type of fight.  Unfortunately for Beltran, Pedraza not only won the WBO title but would get the fight last December with Lomachenko.  With a comeback knockout victory last February, Beltran has now placed himself into a prime position to challenge Commey for another portion of the lightweight crown.   

“Being a world champion is great.  I went back home, and everyone welcomed me at the airport.  It was like a hero’s welcome, it was unbelievable,” stated Commey during the final press conference this week.  “I never try and knock out my opponent.  It comes when it comes.  I believe he’s a strong guy, a tough guy, and so am I.  It’s going to be a good fight, but I’m the champion, and I’m going to keep my belt.”

It’s clear that Commey has taken to the role of favorite for this fight as the champion, but for Beltran being an underdog is par for the course for him at this point in his twenty-year career.  “I feel like I made it the hard way.  Even when the sport or boxing world didn’t believe in me, that’s when I had to believe in myself,” expressed Beltran.  “Nobody gave me an opportunity, I had to go and take it.  I became a world champion and I am fighting for another world title.  It’s not about if people believe in you.  You must believe in yourself.”

Both fighters are clearly focused on the task at hand and through their words one can tell that they are not taking this opportunity to prove that they are elite lightly.  Having both missed out on an opportunity to fight for bigger fight purses, each fighter clearly is aware what victory and defeat can mean to their careers.  What should also be promising for fans is the fact that both men are hard nosed both in their approach to the sport in terms of preparation, but also in how they fight inside of the ring.  They do not shy away from trying to find their opponents and are happy to exchange power shots to inflict punishment.  In other words, get ready for a fight that has the potential to provide fireworks and bombs for as long as the warfare lasts. 

With a fight between the sport’s top young sensation lightweight Teofimo Lopez and veteran Masayoshi Nakatani scheduled for July 19th as an IBF title eliminator, whoever survives the fight on Friday night and steps out of the ring with the IBF title will have his eyes focused on that ring in July.  In fact, Lopez will have his eyes on the ring Friday since he is scheduled to be in California to watch Commey and Beltran do battle from ringside. 

Lopez has not been shy about wanting to prove to the world that his days as “top prospect” are behind him.  He has been vocal in calling out the unified champion Lomachenko and with this road to crowning an undisputed lightweight king getting underway.  Lopez will have his chance with just two victories during the remainder of the year to not only fulfill his dream of becoming a world champion, but also, to put himself in the prime position to challenge Lomachenko to become undisputed champion.

A wild card has been thrown into the mix since there still is that issue of the WBC title being vacant.  While it seemed that Luke Campbell, the former 2012 Olympian, would somehow be involved as one of the fighters with top contender status in the WBC rankings, what became interesting was that the WBC named Lomachenko also as a top contender in their rankings despite holding two other portions of the crown.  As a result, there have been plenty of news circulating that a unification fight between Campbell and Lomachenko tentatively scheduled for late August in London is all but set.  Campbell could walk into a London ring with no titles, and if he were to pull off the mega upset, would walk out of that ring with three of the four portions of the undisputed lightweight crown. 

However, if all goes as expected late this summer across the pond, Lomachenko will add that WBC title to the other two portions of the crown he already holds and will await the fighter who survives this small tournament that gets underway Friday night to decide the IBF title.  Whichever way things will pan out in the division, by this time next year, barring any drastic changes or outside of the ring mishaps, fans of the sport should be happy to know that finally a talent rich division will have the elite champions and contenders fight to crown one undisputed king at lightweight. 



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Sunday, June 23, 2019

WWE Stomping Grounds Recap

By Steve Ward

WWE unveiled a new pay per view this evening entitled Stomping Grounds that was accompanied by the tagline, “It’s time to kick ass and take names.” Perhaps the prolific use of the word ass is WWE’s attempt to become “edgier” for FOX while still painstakingly maintaining a PG rating. To me and many longtime pro wrestling fans, June will always be known as the month that once belonged to the classic King of the Ring show but for now, this is what we get. Despite my seemingly negative perception of WWE and their current product, I continue to remain optimistic that Triple H will have the opportunity to bring his booking prowess to the main roster currently utilized on the real “A show” of WWE, NXT. This evening’s show emanated from Tacoma, WA and featured eight matches with six titles contested - not to mention the ominous overshadowing of Brock Lesnar looming with the Money in the Bank briefcase in tow.

RAW Women’s Chamionship
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Lacey Evans
Winner: Becky Lynch via submission

With Lacey Evans continued ascension to main event competitor in full swing, she earned her first pay per view title shot against The Man this evening. Lacey brought the fight to Lynch in a very competitive opening contest that set the tone for the show. In the end, The Man was able to retain her title against the overzealous Evans as she cinched in the Disarmer for the victory.

Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn vs. Xavier Woods & Big E
Winners: Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn via pinfall

In an effort to keep these four men from becoming involved in the WWE Championship match (because that always works), they were thrown into tag team competition. KO certainly had the crowd behind him in this tag team encounter which held a frenetic pace throughout. KO was able to solidify the victory for his team after he paid homage to Stone Cold Steve Austin with a stunner that laid out Xavier Woods. A notable mention should be made to Woods, however, as he continues to don his Iron Sheik-esque boots - although nothing compares to his old TNA/Impact persona, Consequences Creed, which to me was reminiscent of Afro Thunder from the classic boxing game Ready 2 Rumble.

United States Championship
Samoa Joe (c) vs. Ricochet
Winner: Ricochet

Ricochet earned this opportunity against the Samoan Submission Machine after he exited a Fatal Five Way match as the victor on RAW last Monday. In a rather shocking turn of events, Joe dominated virtually the entire match until Ricochet hit a Codebreaker (which Michael Cole dubbed a “double knees to the face”) and scaled his way to the top turnbuckle from which he masterfully executed a 630 splash to earn his first United States title.

Smackdown Tag Team Championship
Heavy Machinery vs. Daniel Bryan & Rowan (c)
Winners: Daniel Bryan & Rowan via pinfall

ASU alumni Tucker Knight and his partner Otis Dozovic put forth a spirited effort in their conquest for the Smackdown tag team titles and I dare to say it was better than the three matches that preceded it. The final moments saw Tucker take flight from the top turnbuckle to the outside where he flattened out Rowan with a sickening collision. As Tucker reentered the ring, Daniel Bryan rolled him up quickly for the pinfall victory.

Smackdown Women’s Championship
Alexa Bliss w/ Nikki Cross vs. Bayley (c)
Winner: Bayley

Bliss had Bayley set up for Twisted Bliss when Nikki Cross entered the ring in an attempt to exact revenge on Bayley. This distraction allowed Bayley to intercept Bliss on the turnbuckles but The Goddess was able to knock Bayley back down to the canvas. As Bliss again attempted Twisted Bliss, Bayley got her knees up and subsequently executed the Bayley to Belly suplex for the victory.

Drew McIntyre w/ Shane McMahon vs. Roman Reigns
Winner: Roman Reigns via pinfall

After Reigns was embarrassed by Shane at Super Showdown, his path to redemption continued this evening with McMahon’s “henchman,” The Scottish Psychopath Drew McIntyre. Roman was able to overcome the adversity of Shane’s presence at ringside, including dragging the referee out of the ring at one point to allow him to land a Coast to Coast on Reigns. The conclusion of the match saw Roman land a punishing spear on McIntyre to secure the pinfall.

WWE Championship Steel Cage Match
Kofi Kingston (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler
Winner: Kofi Kingston via cage escape

After Kofi retained his title over Ziggler at Super Showdown thanks to help from Xavier Woods, Ziggler demanded a rematch within the carnal confines of a steel cage. In a rather uninspired match, where it even seemed as if WWE lowered the crowd volume at one point as they booed, there was a surprising lack of high risk maneuvers attempted considering the combatants. In the end, the cage door was open as Dolph attempted to crawl out only to have Kofi vault himself over the top rope (and Ziggler), through the door, down to the arena floor to retain his title.

Universal Championship Match
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Baron Corbin
w/ special guest referee Lacey Evans
Winner: Seth Rollins

After Rollins had all of his special guest referee selections suffer vicious beatings at the hands of Rollins and a steel chair, Corbin selected one who he knew Rollins wouldn’t attack - Lacey Evans. After Evans persisted with her one-sided shenanigans, such as changing the match to a no DQ contest, Becky Lynch came down to ringside and opened a can of whoop ass on her. This allowed referee John Cone to take over much to the chagrin of Baron Corbin. Corbin attempted another End of Days only to have Rollins escape and execute a super kick followed by the Curb Stomp to retain his title.



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Friday, June 21, 2019

Golden Boy Promotions Returns to Atlantic City

By Luis A. Cortes III

Ocean Casino Resort played host to Golden Boy Promotions Fight Night Live.  Broadcasted live on Facebook Watch, this fight card was the opening event for the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame (ACBHOF) weekend.  With future International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Bernard Hopkins being honored by the ACBHOF this weekend, it only made sense for Golden Boy Promotions to feature a fight card in the city honoring one of their own. 


Ballard and Espadas have unfortunate No Contest 

With the first round looking like it would just be a feel out round, D'Mitrius Ballard (20-0-1) (13 KO's) and Elias Espadas (18-4-1) (13 KO's) clashed heads when they both lunged in to land a power shot.  It resulted in a cut over the left eye of Espadas and the urgency forced a fire fight.  It carried into the second round and as both men threw with bad intentions, however, it was Ballard who landed the stronger shots that also made blood fly across the ring. 


Doctors looked at the cut to start the third just as they did to finish the first and allowed the action to continue.  Thankfully that was the case since Espadas, who was losing the round, landed a clean hard right hand that buzzed Ballard who was on shaky legs for a bit.  Ballard was able to steady himself and regained control with thudding power hooks to the body and head.  Once the doctors checked on the cut again, the fight was called off in the third round, thus forcing a no contest.  

Eddie Gomez Destroys Corral 

A refocused and rejuvenated Eddie Gomez (23-3) (13 KOs) destroyed Saul Corral (30-14)(20 KO's) in just two rounds.  The fight was stopped after four knockdowns were scored by Gomez.  He landed good left hooks to both the head and body of Corral, who was tough, but couldn't take the pressure.   

Crews wins in her Golden Boy debut 

New to the Golden Boy stable, Franchon Crews (5-1)(2 KOs) blasted the tough Kayla Williams (0-3-1) out after five rounds.  Crews landed right hand power shots at will and worked the body early, until Williams seemed to run out of gas.  The fight was halted at the 1:40 mark of the fifth round.   

***
Raul "Chino" Rivas continues to have an impressive stable; this time it was local super middleweight Gabriel Pham (11-1)(5 KO's) using his southpaw stance, height, and reach advantage in order to frustrate Jaba Khositashvili (4-1)(2 KO's) over six rounds.  Khositashvili wasn't bothered by the size disadvantage early in the first round until Pham landed a straight left hand that dropped him to his knees.  

For the rest of the fight, it was Pham who controlled the pace and distance of the fight.  After the final bell rang, it was a matter of hearing just how wide the judges would score this fight in favor of Pham. Scores were 59-54 twice and 60-53 for Pham.    

Reed outworks the tough Hernandez over eight 

Mike Reed (25-2)(13 KO's) and Angel Hernandez (15-14)(9 KO's) had a real good eight round battle in the welterweight division.  Reed, the Washington D.C. native, boxed well out of his southpaw stance to easily win the first two rounds.  In the third, Hernandez landed a big right hand that got the attention of Reed, who elected to trade shots on the inside.  

Whenever Reed seemed to take a few too many shots from Hernandez, he was able to get on his toes and box well from the perimeter of the ring.  Reed had plenty of supporters in the crowd and they cheered him on as he battled with Hernandez in the final round.  Both fighters had their moments, but it was Reed who landed more consistently and with the cleaner shots throughout the contest.  Scores were 79-73 twice and 78-74 in favor of Reed.  Afterwards Reed stated the following about the fight, "this was a very tough fight,. It was exactly what I needed right now.  I'm looking for a world title at 135 or 140, I feel really good."

*** 
George Rincon (7-0) (4 KOs) of Dallas won in impressive fashion by knocking out the tough Greg Young at the 2:01 mark of round three.  Rincon is a good young prospect to keep an eye out for.  He works well with combination punching, has a strong frame, and has nice head movement which allows him to cut the ring off.  Also, he worked well to the body and then the head, which helped him score a knockdown in round one and eventually score the winning knockdown in the third.       

***
Dan Murray (5-2) won a unanimous decision over Leonard Kenon (3-6)(1 KO).  Murray was the more active fighter and landed the cleaner shots throughout over the game Kenon.   




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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Hart & Conto Provide Philly Flavor in Sin City

By Luis A. Cortes III

Saturday night in Las Vegas is no doubt another chance for the glamour division of the sport to bask in the spotlight of the sporting world as Tyson Fury (27-0-1) (19 KO’s) defends his lineal championship against German Tom Schwarz (24-0) (16 KO’s).  After the shocking results at Madison Square Garden that saw Andy Ruiz win portions of the heavyweight crown by knocking out the unbeaten Anthony Joshua, Saturday is a great chance for Fury to solidify his claim as the “baddest” man on the planet (a moniker which comes with being the best heavyweight in the world). 

While Fury fights for the first time since his draw against the other champion thought of as one of the best, Deontay Wilder, and begins his partnership with promotional juggernaut Top Rank, the undercard features a co-main event that easily is worthy of its own main event status when Philadelphia native Jesse Hart (25-2) (21 KO’s) battles Sullivan Barrera (22-2) (14 KO’s) in a ten round light heavyweight contest.  Also, on the undercard is heavyweight and Top Rank prospect South Philadelphia’s future real life “Rocky” Sonny Conto (2-0) (2 KO’s).

Since his last fight, a second go around defeat at the hands of former WBO super middleweight champion Gilberto Ramirez, Hart has continued to reinforce that it is only a matter of time before he is known as a world champion.  His quest for the super middleweight crown was well documented by this writer prior to his first clash with Ramirez in the fall of 2017.  After the close defeat, Hart regrouped with the knowledge that he was one point away from fulfilling his dream.  Three knockout victories and a year later saw Hart back in the ring with Ramirez.  It seemed entering the final rounds that Hart would clear the Ramirez hurdle, but he was hurt by an injured Ramirez and the result wound up being the same. 

With the two Ramirez fights being the only blemishes on his record, and Ramirez stating his desire to move up and join the talent loaded light heavyweight division, it was thought by many that Hart was poised to stick around the 168-pound super middleweight division and not only finally win the vacated championship by Ramirez, but in doing so would set himself up for big pay dates against some of the other talented champions and challengers in the division.

It was a bit of a shock when he told The Weigh-In directly that he was planning a move up to join the rest of the talent at 175-pounds in the light heavyweight division.  He stated that he was planning on fighting a big name in his debut and had targeted former world champion, Sergey Kovalev conqueror Eleider Alvarez.  “That division is so full of talent and now I’m going to add my name to the mix,” stated Hart.  Kudos to Hart for making the decision to not play it easy and defeat a lesser challenge to earn the championship he craves, and for chasing both greener pastures and tougher terrain at light heavyweight.

Enter Sullivan Barrera (22-2) (14 KO’s), himself a former title challenger, who like Hart only has two losses. These defeats came at the hands of future Hall of Famer Andre Ward and the current WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol.  At 37 years old, Barrera has been less active than the 29-year-old Hart and struggled a bit during his last fight back in November against the durable Sean Monaghan.  Barrera seemed a bit off during the early portions of the fight, maybe it was due to disinterest because just eight months earlier he was stopped in twelve grueling rounds in his championship bid against Bivol.  Whatever it was, Barrera handled himself like the true professional and wound up battering Monaghan in route to the decision victory.

With Alvarez dropping out of the proposed fight with Hart, Barrera was the name that filled in and allowed Hart to remain as the co-feature on this big night in Vegas.  Hart is never shy to speak his mind and has traded barbs with Barrera over social media. Recently, he informed the media on his thoughts regarding this fight in career terms and Barrera.  “The 175-pound division is wide open and I’m finally ready to win that world title.  Sullivan Barrera is in my way, so I am going to smash him,” stated Hart.  Barrera is indeed a seasoned veteran, but at the age of 37, the idea that a fighter can get “old” overnight is always close by.  “After Saturday night we’re going to put him (Barrera) into retirement, you’re not going to hear from him again,” said Hart. 

Barrera puts all of that to the side and thinks its just Hart trying to avoid dealing with nerves he may be facing since he is moving up in weight. “Jesse Hart knows he’s never fought anyone like me, he is scared.  He is coming up from 168, but the punching power at 175 is not the same.  I am a different level than what he’s used to.  It’s going to be a long night for him,” remarked Barrera.

ESPN analysts, former world champions, and future Hall of Famers Timothy Bradley and Andre Ward also had interesting takes on this fight.  “I think it’s a good move for Jesse.  I thought that at 168 pounds he may have been zapping some of his strength to make the weight.  He is a big strong guy, so 175 may just be the better fit for him,” stated Bradley.  “This is going to be a good fight and is a good way to lead into the Fury fight.  Barrera is a seasoned fighter that is technically sound,” replied Ward.  Both agreed that the winner of the fight aligns himself for bigger fights and bigger purses against the rest of the division that is rich with talent.  With the champions (Kovalev, Bivol, Beterbiev, and Gvozdyk), seemingly on a collusion course to unify their titles.  If Hart can get by Barrera (who is ranked #7 in the division) he will stake his claim for a shot at one of those champions in the future.

Also, on this loaded undercard is the aforementioned heavyweight prospect Sonny Conto.  With just two fights as a professional, Conto is indeed at the prospect stage of his career.  He has the amateur pedigree that included being crowned a National Golden Gloves champion.  His stock was high enough that Top Rank signed him right away.  With both of his wins coming at home in Philadelphia in front of an adoring crowd (and Conto already has a nice size fan base at home to build off), it made sense for Top Rank to have him continue his nurturing process by taking part in a big fight week in Sin City featuring a current heavyweight champion. 

Conto was flown out to Vegas where he spent time training and sparring with Fury as well as Joseph Parker, the only man to beat Andy Ruiz.  As Conto progresses inside of the ring, it will be a bit of time before we see the 23-year-old in a meaningful fight.  Especially a fight that begins the test to see just how far he truly can go. 

Full of talent, Conto continues to progress that talent and build the foundation to handle big fight weeks and fight nights when his name will be the one in the lights.  “Sparring with a champion is great work for a young fighter.  You don’t want to be just a sparring partner though,” stated Ward.  Bradley also agreed with Ward, “Terrance Crawford spent time with me in camp before anyone knew his name.  I think for him it was just as good outside of the ring as it was in terms of the work that we gave each other.  He got to see how I handled myself as a champion and the way I dealt with my family.”  So just what does Conto think about his time sparring Fury, “It was awesome, a great experience, and priceless.”



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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame

By Luis A. Cortes III

For the past two years the early summer months have brought the sport of boxing back to the Atlantic City Boardwalk.  No, not in the traditional way that fans remember how the Casino/Resort city of Atlantis would shake up the boardwalk with one or two, sometimes as many as three different fight cards on the same day.  This will be the third year that the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame (ACBHOF) provides fight fans with the chance to both discover and reconnect with the rich boxing history that has transpired in Atlantic City.  Yes, it is true and has been well documented that Atlantic City has fallen on some tough times in recent memory.  However, starting in 2017 there was a call for a resurgence for the city to try and bring it back to the glory days as a summer destination for all prior to the economic crash. 

Last year, while there was a start to bringing back actual fights of meaning to the city with new casinos like the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and the Ocean Casino Resorts rising from the ashes of the past eight wonders of the world, a new boxing tradition has become the norm for the city.  So much so that for the first time the induction weekend will be kicked off by a special night of fights presented by Golden Boy Promotions on Thursday night June 20th. (More on this fight card along with ticket information coming to TWI next week.) 

Over the course of the past two years, the ACBHOF has been a three-day weekend hosted at the Claridge Hotel complete with an intimate VIP reception on Friday night that greeted all the inductees and honorees.  The second day provided fans the chance to see special exhibits while they met with past world champions and got to buy merchandise and take pictures with their heroes.  “Our mission is to honor, preserve, and celebrate the excellence of Atlantic City’s rich boxing history and there's no better place to highlight this tradition than at the historic Claridge-A Radisson Hotel. My team and I are excited about this collaboration,” stated Ray McCline the President of the ACBHOF. 

Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Arturo Gatti, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks, and Mike Tyson are some of the fighters that have been inducted into the ACBHOF in the past two years.  Of course, the third day was the when the inductees had their ceremony and official induction. 

With the success from the past two years, this third year of events has been updated and includes the special night of fights.  Of course, there will be the return of the VIP reception along with the opening of the Legends Café.  Also, on the night of June 21st, there will be the screening of the 30-minute documentary, Muhammed Ali: Me Whee.  It’s an in depth look at the “Greatest's” time in between fights at his training camp in Deer Lake Pennsylvania.  Directed by Drew Stone, it’s a personal piece of film for Stone, since his father recorded the footage during his time with Ali.  Most of the footage has never been seen by fight fans.    

The Legends Café has been added to the event will feature coffee and conversation with many boxing legends from the New Jersey and Pennsylvania area.  Artwork and exhibits including work by famed boxing artist Patrick Killiam will also be on hand.  A fan experience will continue at the Tennessee Beer Hall, which will be open to the public.  With a comedy show back at the Claridge closing out the third night of festivities, the main event takes place on Sunday in the late afternoon when the 2019 Hall of Fame class receives their induction honors.  

This year’s class features former world champion Iran Barkley, who has been popular with fans the past two years.  Virgil Hill Sr., along with John Brown, and Tim Witherspoon Jr. are also decorated fighters that have had memorable fights in Atlantic City.  Bernard Hopkins, Micky Ward, and Roberto Duran will most likely garner the most fanfare, as each have had made boxing history in Atlantic City.  Hopkins had his first fight, a loss, in A.C. and returned to the city several times before capturing two of his biggest victories over Kelly Pavlik and Antonio Tarver at Boardwalk Hall. 

Micky Ward will forever be linked with Arturo Gatti due to their trilogy that inspired many sports fans in the early 2000’s.  Ward rightly joins Gatti who was inducted in the first class, but had many other memorable nights in A.C. during his career.  Each year, along with the fighters that are inducted, there are always inductees that are contributors to the world of the sport outside of the ring. 

Famed cutman Ace Marotta and trainer English “Bouie” Fisher will also join the class of 2019.  Nigel Collins, who currently writes for ESPN, is a former editor and chief for the “Bible of Boxing,” Ring Magazine will be honored for his tremendous career of not only following and reporting on the sport.  But also, for his unique voice that has helped to define a lot of the history that has taken place in the sport, especially in Atlantic City. 

Tickets for the ACBHOF weekend are still available and can be purchased by visiting https://www.acbhof.com/ or by calling the ACBHOF for more information at: (609) 318-3188.




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