Sunday, September 29, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Spence-Porter

Errol Spence fought every minute of Saturday's welterweight unification bout as if he expected to knock out Shawn Porter. With every shot thrown with maximum effort, taking punches to land his own, and abandoning the considerable boxing skills he displayed against Mikey Garcia earlier this year, Spence anticipated that Porter would wilt down the stretch. Yet Porter kept coming. Taking hellacious body shots that would make lesser fighters yield, Porter wouldn't be denied. He pressed the action relentlessly and landed his fair share of impressive power shots in close quarters. Even after being dropped in the 11th round from an unexpected rear-hand hook, Porter refused to back down.

Overall it was a fantastic fight with both boxers displaying their championship mettle. In the end Spence was declared the victor via split decision with scores of 116-111, 116-111 and 112-115. To my eyes he was the deserved winner (I scored it for him 115-112), but the margin between victory and defeat was paper thin.  


Photo Courtesy of Ryan Hafey


What puzzled me about Spence's performance was his lack of adaptation in the ring. Spence had ample opportunity to change the flow of the fight, perhaps making it easier on himself with his height and reach advantages, but he was determined to beat Porter at his own game. When there were spots to clinch and reset the action, he seldom decided to do so. In addition, Spence's right hand (especially his jab) was rarely a factor. Ultimately, the scores validated the effectiveness of Spence's performance, but I believe that he underestimated just how good Porter can be at infighting. 

Make no mistake; Porter fought to the best of his capabilities. Unlike some of his recent bouts, he didn't take breaks. He never was caught in between styles. He followed the game plan to the letter. Porter flashed surprising hand speed throughout the fight. He landed several of his best power punches from unusual angles. Using his feet expertly, he consistently broke the pocket and was able to get into areas where he could do the most damage. 

It's an open question as to whether Saturday's performance raised or lowered Spence's stock. On the plus side, he was able to win a dogfight, a type of bout that he had never had to endure as a pro. He showed a great chin and didn't seem to be hurt by Porter's best punches. Spence also displayed a ruthlessness that the best in boxing possess. Under intense pressure, he didn't fold. His conditioning was excellent and he maintained his strength and power throughout the fight. Despite Porter's constant aggression, Spence was the one who scored the knockdown in the championship rounds. 

However, there are some interesting questions to ask about Spence and his trainer, Derrick James. Why were there so few adjustments in the fight? If you believe that they underestimated Porter to a degree (and I do), why did they? It shouldn't have been surprising that Porter wanted to make it a dogfight. Perhaps it's a question of seeing a fighter on tape versus experiencing it in the ring. It's one thing to anticipate pressure, it's another to FEEL it. But there were adjustments that James and Spence could have made to alleviate some of that pressure, and they didn't make any.

Despite these criticisms, I don't believe that Spence demonstrated any fatal flaws in the fight. Whatever was lacking in his performance on Saturday are the types of attributes that can be corrected for future fights. Spence shouldn't abandon his jab. He also must rely more on his legs. Even though Porter had the quicker feet, there were many instances in the fight where Spence accepted the action in close quarters; he invited the pressure instead of maneuvering around the ring. 

Perhaps most importantly I hope that Spence and James have now realized that on the world level there are few gimme fights. Spence, whom many have regarded as one of the faces of boxing, has a big target on his head. Determined foes will fight hard for that scalp. It's not always a question of skills or talent. Those who are unwilling to go quietly will battle to the bitter end. Spence and James need to come into fights with a "Plan B"; the best fighters sometimes have to win in unexpected ways, whether it's Ray Leonard walking down Tommy Hearns or Floyd Mayweather outgunning Marcos Maidana in a shootout. It would behoove Spence and James to arrive at this realization.


Over the years Shawn Porter has faced significant criticism on account of his rugged style. Segments of boxing fans have been turned off by the supposed unaesthetic nature of his fights (his fights are ugly!). Now there is a lot to unpack regarding these critiques, but I think it mostly boils down to a portion of boxing fans not appreciating the art of infighting, or at least that type of infighting by an African American fighter. 

There are inherited biases in the sport, and that will be news to absolutely no one who follows boxing. Some fans, pundits and those in the industry don't enjoy fighters from the smaller weight classes. Others are nationalistic in their rooting interests. Fans often prefer one style to another. But for some reason Mexican and Hispanic fighters are allowed to fight toe-to-toe in the trenches and are applauded for it, but those from other races or ethnic backgrounds aren't afforded the same latitude; their considerable talents are often dismissed. 


Photo Courtesy of Ryan Hafey


In a related, but slightly different bias, a significant segment of boxing fandom rejects infighters as a class, decrying these fighters' "lack of skills." I can't even tell you how many times I had to defend Orlando Salido from those who would mock or dismiss his style in the ring. There's a "purist" snobbery from certain boxing fans, and it can be from all races or ethnicities. To them, boxing is mostly about hitting and not getting hit, the sweet science, etc. 

Porter was a decorated U.S. amateur boxer and has considerable ring craft. Yet to many his pro style is somehow "beneath" that of the elite in the sport. Yes, not everyone has to like a certain fighter or style, but the snobbery aspect of what a boxer "should look like" is often appalling. Boxing can be a rough, rough sport. Past African American champions like Hagler, Pryor and Holyfield mastered the art of inside fighting. Generations later these fighters have been placed on pedestals by boxing fans. But has the ugliness of some of their fights been forgotten? Why are their rugged ring styles fondly remembered and yet Porter's is often dismissed? 

I think another bias is of a generational nature. For boxing fans beyond a certain age, infighting was common in the sport and considered a basic requirement for all fighters, irrespective of a boxer's preferred style. But in the last 30 years the biggest stars in boxing, whether it was de la Hoya, Jones, Mayweather or Pacquiao, rarely chose to fight in the trenches. As a result, whole generations of fight fans haven't associated greatness or superstardom with inside fighting. 

There are few current top fighters who excel at infighting. As a result, newer boxer fans have seldom seen just how successful that style can be at the elite level. I understand that infighting is not in vogue at the moment or that it might not be someone's cup of tea. But to reject infighting as a legitimate avenue for boxing greatness seems wrongheaded to me, and ignores crucial aspects of the history of the sport.

*

Spence-Porter was a thrilling fight that demonstrated the talent level of two of the best welterweights in the world. A number of boxing fans voiced indifference toward the bout when it was announced because Porter was not Terence Crawford, the perceived greatest threat and rival to Spence at 147. Don't get me wrong; I certainly would love to see Spence-Crawford and I hope it happens next. But I've never been one to dismiss a unification bout. 

Fights are won in the ring not in our conjectures among friends and colleagues. Yes, Spence was victorious on Saturday, as almost all thought he would be. But in the aftermath of the fight, it was Porter, the challenger, the "loser," who most impressed. He pushed Spence to the absolute brink. And even though Porter had won two championship belts in the past, Saturday's fight etched his name in the consciousness of boxing fans for a generation to come. 

Let's not forget that creating indelible memories, as Spence-Porter did, is paramount to the health of prizefighting. It's what makes fans come back; it grows the sport. Spence-Porter was legitimately a great fight. We have no idea how Spence-Crawford will play out in the ring. It's certainly an important fight and an attractive one, but it's unknown whether it will outstrip Saturday's action. 

Parlor games and mythical matchmaking are not a replacement for the enjoyment we receive when watching two high-level fighters give it their all in the ring. These games can certainly enhance the sport. They give us something to talk about during down times in the boxing calendar. But ultimately, they are just games. Saturday was the real deal, not a chat post or a tweet, and a wonderful reminder that nothing is guaranteed in the sport. Victories aren't on paper or settled by a collection of prognosticators chopping it up on a lazy Sunday.

Finally, I'd like to make a quick note about the judging from Saturday's fight. Before the final scores were announced, I was curious to see how the judges would evaluate Spence's body punching. Body shots are often harder to score for judges because the officials can be blocked by the action based on their vantage point. It certainly is easier to make an accurate visual account of what head shots successfully landed. 

Considering these factors, I applaud judges Steve Weisfeld and Ray Denseco for their 116-111 scorecards for Errol Spence. Not only did they give Spence commensurate credit for his body attack, but they were also able to distinguish the relative success of Porter's aggression; sometimes it was effective and other times it wasn't. Porter certainly had a case for winning the fight, but to my eyes, too often the guy coming forward gets the victory from the judges. Remember, "coming forward" is not a scoring criterion; effective aggression is. 

We certainly spend enough time criticizing officials in the sport (often justifiably so), but we should also acknowledge displays of professionalism to the highest degree. Spence-Porter was not an easy fight to score or officiate, but in aggregate, the officials – judges and ref – performed ably. And that is all we can ask.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Thompson Boxing Way

Los Angeles and its immediate vicinity have been synonymous with boxing greatness for generations. With bright lights, big money, TV broadcasts, celebrities and legendary gyms, L.A. is the place where careers have been made. Even the mere mention of arenas such as The Forum, Staples Center and Stub Hub Center (now Dignity Health Sports Park) conjures instant memories of great fights and unforgettable moments from the sport. 

But head east out of Los Angeles, on I-10, Route 60, or I-210, and suddenly the imposing and magnificent visages of capitalism give way to a far different area. Forty miles or so will bring you to Ontario, and the beginning of the vast Inland Empire part of California. The Inland Empire is a densely-packed (over four million people) pocket of California surrounded by natural boundaries. It's due south of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. To the southwest is the Cleveland National Forest.  In between the ranges and the forests, you'll find lots of boxing fans in the Inland Empire's cities, towns and outposts. You've probably heard of a number of these places: Riverside, Covina, Ontario, San Bernardino and Corona. Big Bear Mountain, perhaps one of the most famous remote training camp locations in the U.S, is just to the north off Route 18. Continuing further east on I-10, Joshua Tree National Park creates another northern boundary while the San Jacinto Mountains block off the south. Now you're in the desert, the Coachella Valley, home to Palm Springs and Indio. 

These areas of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties are the heart of Thompson Boxing Promotions, which has become one of the most successful local promoters in U.S. boxing over the past 20 years. From the DoubleTree Hotel in Ontario to the Omega Products International in Corona, Thompson has not just built up a successful fight series in the Inland Empire, but they have created world champions and title contenders such as Tim Bradley, Yonnhy Perez, Josesito Lopez, Carlos Bojorquez, Juan Carlos Burgos, Mauricio Herrera, Jhonatan Romero and Daniel Roman. 


Alex Camponovo and Ken Thompson
Photo Courtesy of Thompson Boxing Promotions


Thompson Boxing started in 2000, almost as a lark. Wanting to help a friend raise money for his gym, Ken Thompson and Alex Camponovo decided to put on a boxing card. Although both were avid fans of the sport, neither had ever promoted a fight. And while that first card, which featured Bojorquez, brought in a lot of fans, the behind-the-scenes drama was something of a nightmare.
 
Yet they had fun. After that initial fight card Thompson and Camponovo decided to get into boxing for real. They would learn local boxing from the ground up and would take full responsibility for their cards – ticket selling, promotion, state licensing, fighter negotiations, procuring facilities and handling all of the finances. 

And unlike most startup boxing promoters, they decided to be patient. For four years they didn't sign fighters. Sure, they held cards, scouted the local talent, forged professional relationships and started to grow a consistent customer base, but they wanted enough time to study what worked. They needed to learn the ins and outs of matchmaking, which fighters would resonate with the crowd, and how to be prudent with their financial resources. The Inland Empire fight scene would in essence serve as their laboratory.

By 2004 they were ready to ink their first fighter, Palm Springs' Tim Bradley. Later that year Riverside's Josesito Lopez would become their second. Thompson (president) and Camponovo (matchmaker and general manager) displayed a keen eye for signing and developing talent even in the beginning. 

But ultimately what kept Thompson Boxing in business were the fans. And here Camponovo paints a clear picture of what the expectations are for Thompson Boxing and their loyal customers:

"Trying to do the best fights possible is our number-one thing, especially in the area where we do fights, the Inland Empire. I've seen other fights in the Orange County area [not Thompson Boxing's] and the fighters were just duking it out in the ring and showed not an ounce of boxing ability, just throwing an enormous amount of punches. The crowd would get rowdy and throw money in the ring. That doesn't happen here...

"If fighters are not capable, people start booing. We have a different type of crowd. First of all, we try to entertain everybody with competitive fights. We want people to fall in love with certain fighters. And they see them on a consistent basis. That's the key. They follow their progression. They see them in four-rounders, six-rounders, eight-rounders and finally headlining the main event. Then they're fighting for a regional title. Boom, now they're on ESPN, Showtime, DAZN. I think our crowd really likes to see the story of the fighters moving along the way."

Camponovo’s approach to matchmaking differs from others in the industry. Primarily he's in the boxing entertainment business; The Inland Empire fans need to leave satisfied. The crowd's desire to see competitive action dovetails with his philosophy of signing, matching and developing fighters. For him, the goal is to challenge fighters each step of the way, and not create untested boxers with inflated records. He wants to know what his fighters are made of and how they respond to adversity.   

"I can’t do anything with a guy who is 20-0 with 19 knockouts who is just blowing people away in the first round," he said. "I believe in toughing up the guys, as tough as they can handle. And that makes sense for the fans. That makes sense for us. We know what we have. We know the guys are developing. We see what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. Having one-round knockouts doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t help the fighter. It doesn’t help their management or us as promoters. I think the consistency of having tough challenges for our guys – I’m not saying 100% of the time – but most of the time, makes a big difference."

Although Thompson Boxing doesn't have the ability to hand out enormous signing bonuses for untested talent, Camponovo follows a simple motto for fighters whom they do develop: You do everything you can for us in the ring and we'll do everything we can for you outside of it. For Thompson this often means partnering with other promoters to provide additional opportunities for their fighters, whether it was Gary Shaw for Tim Bradley, Matchroom Sport for Danny Roman or Banner Promotions for Michael Dutchover and Ruben Villa, two highly regarded prospects who will be appearing on ShoBox on Sept 20. 

For Camponovo, the big-time opportunities only come to those who put in the work in the gym, who are always available to fight, and who make the most of their talent: "I've always said give me a less-talented guy, but a guy who is in the gym 24-7. I’ll take that guy any day of the week. I know that he’s going to go farther. He might not be a world champion right away, but I know he’s going to go much farther than a talented guy who spars twice a week, handles everybody in the gym and thinks that because he is gifted, that’s all he needs to do. The greatest athletes in the history of the world – I don’t care what sport it is – are that way because they are working the hardest. They do have talent, but they have to work on that talent." 

Dutchover and Villa, two fighters who according to Camponovo have put in the work, have impressed in their developmental fights and are starting to receive national attention. If all goes well they could be fighting world-level opposition by the end of 2020, but Camponovo won't guarantee that – he has made sure that they are facing significant threats this weekend.  

Business is good for Thompson Boxing these days. With a unified world champion (Daniel Roman), several prospects starting to appear on U.S. TV and a healthy pipeline of younger fighters (Camponovo particularly likes undefeated welterweight prospect Angel Ruiz), Thompson has carved out a solid niche in the industry. Yet, despite their burgeoning national success, they have no plans to abandon their annual six-card series in the Inland Empire; they believe that the series has been crucial to their success and survival.

Just like their fighters, most of whom were once beneath the radar of the big promoters, Thompson Boxing retains their humility and knows that they have to work harder to succeed. They've been able to get a foothold into boxing, but they don't believe in shortcuts or resting on their laurels – not for their fighters or for themselves. Thompson's success can be attributed to discipline, loyalty, consistency, competence and professionalism. Ultimately the Thompson Boxing Way may not be the sexiest, it may not necessarily be the blueprint for certain aspiring fighters or promoters, but there can be no argument that it has borne fruit.
  
Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Thursday, September 12, 2019

20 Questions with Russell Peltz

J. Russell Peltz, an institution in Philadelphia boxing, will be celebrating 50 years in the sport next month. In his honor Raging Babe Promotions will be presenting a boxing card at the 2300 Arena on Oct. 4 in South Philadelphia, toasting the achievements of a favorite son from the famous fight town. (Undefeated lightweight prospect Victor Padilla will headline the card.) 

Peltz, a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia and a reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin before turning to boxing, is synonymous with the now-defunct Blue Horizon, one of the most famous boxing venues of the 20th century. He also promoted a legendary series of middleweight fights at the Spectrum during the '70s, featuring a combination of future world titlists, contenders, local tough guys and visiting stalwarts (Marvin Hagler lost his first two fights during the series). That golden era of Philadelphia boxing featured names that still resonate 40 years later: "Bad" Bennie Briscoe, Willie "the Worm" Monroe, Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts, and Eugene "Cyclone" Hart (the father of current light heavyweight contender Jesse Hart). 

But Russell's influence was not merely local. He promoted numerous world champions and Hall of Famers, such as Jeff Chandler and Matthew Saad Muhammad. Many of his champs and contenders are fondly remembered decades later, while others may not be as well-known, including Charles Brewer, Marvin Johnson, Robert Hines, Gary Hinton and Charlie "Choo Choo" Brown.



Photo Courtesy of Russell Peltz


Peltz, an inductee of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the World Boxing Hall of Fame, The Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame, as well as many other shrines to the sport, continues to ply his trade: promoting local fight cards, signing fighters, providing his vaunted matchmaking skills, and serving as a mentor for emerging promoters. And although the tough Northeast winters have sent him to Florida for part of each year, Philadelphia and Philadelphia boxing will always be in his bones.  

I recently had the chance to interview Russell about his 50 years in the sport. He provided reflections on his career, touching on his most memorable triumphs, the fighters who got away, how boxing has changed during his time in the sport, what will keep local boxing thriving and much more. 

Interview by Adam Abramowitz
The interview has been edited and condensed. 

Russell, what’s your lasting memory from the first card that you promoted in 1969? (Bennie Briscoe and Tito Marshall headlined at the Blue Horizon.)

I don’t think I saw more than 30 seconds of it. Just the size of the crowd. I think it’s the only show my first wife ever came to. Being interviewed by Sandy Grady on the way out. He was the daily sports columnist from the Bulletin, where I used to work, and was one of the finest writers I ever knew. 

At what point in boxing did you feel like you belonged, that you could cut it?

There was one time where I borrowed two or three thousand from my dad and said if I can’t pay you back in a certain period of time that I would go back to the newspaper business. That was probably in the fall of 1970, the start of the second season. (Back then we didn't promote in the summer unless it was a big show because few arenas had air conditioning; the fall started each new season.) By that time we already had Bennie Briscoe and we were on our way. But mostly I never thought like that. I just kept going. 

As a promoter, what was your favorite victory by one of your fighters?

Bennie Briscoe against Tony Mundine in Paris in February 1974, not even a question. That was the best. 

What’s been the best Philadelphia fight card in the last 50 years?

I was fortunate enough to promote the best fight I ever saw, between, then Matthew Franklin, you know, Saad Muhammad, and Marvin Johnson [their first fight in 1977]. That was incredible. 

Who’s a fighter that turned out to be much better than you thought?

Jason Sosa’s doing a pretty good job of that right now, when you consider that I didn’t want to sign him. I had to take him as a throw-in. His win [over Javier Fortuna] in Beijing in 2016…as I told someone else the other day, if Briscoe-Mundine was number one then that was 1-A, especially in the time of my career that it happened. 

Who’s a fighter that got away?

Oh my god. I turned Hagler down after he lost a second time in Philly. I released Buster Douglas after he lost to Mike “The Giant” White for me in ’83. I think I had to pay him $2,500 for the next season and I said no, because I had the one-loss thing at that time. Tito Trinidad’s people called me years ago when he was coming up [starts laughing] and I told them that I didn’t have the time. I wasn’t interested. Oh well. 

What’s been the toughest negotiation you’ve ever been involved in to make a fight?

I know I had to go behind people's backs to make the first fight between Briscoe and Eugene Hart. I had to go behind Hart’s managers and trainer and go directly to the fighter, which is really a terrible thing to have to do. But I had to do it. I just had to do it. 

Fight you are most proud of? 

Franklin-Johnson, whoever thought the first one was going to turn out to be like that? But the first Briscoe-Hart fight – how I was able to make it, what it meant to the city and the crowd that it drew. Boxing News called it the second best fight in boxing that year behind the Thrilla in Manilla. That would be it. 

What’s the sweatiest, most disgusting gym you’ve ever seen in your years of boxing?

You know you can’t make a fighter in a pretty gym. There were several reincarnations of Champ’s gym over the years. Boy, they were all pretty disgusting. I’d say the first one on the second floor walk-up over Roach’s CafĂ©, aptly named, on Ridge Avenue in North Philly.  


Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (2004)
Photo Courtesy of Russell Peltz


Where’s the most obscure place you’ve traveled to for a fight?

There was Liege, Belgium, which is the handgun capital of the world. I never forgot that. Briscoe fought there. There was Lucca, Italy, where Gary Hinton won the IBF title. There was a 600-seat casino in Campione d’Italia, which is on the Swiss/Italian/French border where Briscoe fought Rodrigo Valdez for the third time. I would say those were the most obscure places – places I had never heard of before I went there. 

Who has been your best friend in boxing?

[The late] Don Chargin, followed closely by Teddy Atlas and Nigel Collins.

How good was Jeff Chandler? 

He was probably the most talented fighter I ever had and was still learning on the job when his eyes went bad. 

As a promoter, what’s the best feeling in boxing?

When people are standing and cheering one of your fights. There's nothing like it. 

What’s the hardest part about promoting club shows?

The hardest part today is getting Philly fighters to fight other Philly fighters, which used to be a staple. Getting them to fight each other...that's the hardest thing today. 


Peltz with bantamweight champion Jeff Chandler
Photo Courtesy of Russell Peltz


Who’s a celebrity that you never expected to cross paths with in boxing?

Bill Cosby.  

What made the Blue Horizon so special?

The fights. 

How would you characterize Philadelphia boxing fans?

Probably as knowledgeable as any, up there with the Hispanics in Southern California who used to go to the Olympic [Auditorium]. The Philly fans and the Mexican, Mexican-American fans in Southern California in my experience are the two most knowledgeable. That might get me in trouble, but what can you do? [laughs] 

What has been the best performance you’ve ever witnessed, either for one of your fighters or on one your shows?

Charles Brewer’s complete domination of Frank Rhodes at the Blue Horizon in March of ’96, which catapulted him to the world title shot. Certainly at the Blue Horizon that was the most dominating performance that I ever saw. 

How will boxing survive on the local level in the next 20 years?

I don’t know, Adam. I really don’t know. 95% of the money today is generated by 5% of the people. And the other 95% of us are generating 5% of the money. If I get a fighter today…just take a guy like Sosa. If a guy gets 10, 15 wins, how am I going to get him on TV today without partnering with someone? 

I’ll tell you how it can survive: Bring back the neighborhood rivalries, but you certainly can’t do it in Philly. Because most of these guys don’t get it. 

What’s been your biggest accomplishment?

Staying in boxing for 50 years.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.