Boxing in New England By Kirk Lang

Boxing in New England 

By Kirk Lang




David Benavidez Gives Boxing Fans a Taste of Training Camp

By Kirk Lang

Photos by Alyssa Lang and Kirk Lang

It was billed in a press release as his official start of training camp but David Benavidez’ challenge of WBC super middleweight champ Anthony Dirrell was still months away when he took on three sparring partners under the pavilion at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in upstate New York during the Hall’s 30th annual induction weekend.

“This is not really the start of my camp,” said Benavidez. “I still have 16 weeks left ‘til the fight. So I just came out here, enjoyed the people, got some good sparring and just enjoyed myself. I put a show on for the fans.”

David Benavidez (second from left) with his three sparring partners.

Benavidez, 21-0 with 18 knockouts, became the youngest ever super middleweight champion in September 2017 when, at 20 years old, he won a 12-round decision over Ronald Gavril for the vacant WBC super middleweight championship. However, a career misstep saw him test positive for a banned substance last September and he lost his crown.

At the time, Benavidez was scheduled to make the second defense of his belt against Dirrell. The title subsequently became vacant and Dirrell took possession of it in March with a victory over Avni Yildirim.

David Benavidez working out at the Boxing Hall of Fame.

The June 7th sparring in Canastota, New York, along with some shadowboxing the following day, provided a little sample of training camp life for approximately 100 boxing fans that crowded around the outdoor ring in perfect weather. Benavidez, who is intent on getting his belt back, didn’t appear to be too far from fighting weight, and looked sharp as he went three rounds a piece with a trio of local sparring partners.

David Benavidez getting ready for WBC champ Anthony Dirrell.

Benavidez, far more experienced than his opponents, clearly seemed to be holding back at times, but he also made sure to work on defensive maneuvers. However, he did let his hands go here and there, including when he positioned Syracuse, New York-based 6-foot-four-inch pro boxer Lawrence Gabriel, whose record currently stands at 3-2-1, into a neutral corner. Benavidez let the crowd know he could turn the heat up whenever he felt like it. In fact, although Gabriel has survived bullets – in 2015 he was the victim of multiple gunshot wounds while trying to stop a crazed gunman at a Syracuse bar – he couldn’t survive Benavidez. He came close though. As his third and final round with the former world champion neared its end, Gabriel got caught with a beautiful hook to the body. He rose to his feet, but needed a break and leaned against the ropes until the bell rang.

David Benavidez stretching out at the Boxing Hall of Fame.

“He’s a big puncher and he snaps every single punch,” Gabriel said. “And he gets his body into the right position to get power on all of his punches. He’s tough.”

Next up for Benavidez was the smallest of the three sparring partners – Luis “Azucar” Rojas. What Rojas lacked in stature he more than made up for in aggressiveness. Unfazed by Benavidez’ pedigree as a recent ex-world champion, he’d get in close and confidently let loose with combinations, usually to the head. Benavidez seemed to admire his opponent’s tenaciousness, but a well-placed power punch every so often let Rojas know who the real king of the ring was.

“I think he’s good,” said Rojas, who added, “I think he can be better. I’ve seen him fight before. I know he’s better than that.”

David Benavidez sparring.

Did Rojas think Benavidez was holding back?

“Sometimes,” he said.

What did he learn from his three rounds with the former champion who is still at the top of the class at super middleweight?

“That you’ve got to stay ready, all the time,” said Rojas, who admitted to not being at his peak physically at this point in the summer.

David Benavidez sparring before the Hall of Fame crowd.

The last sparring partner for Benavidez was 25-year-old Michael Rycraft, of Utica, NY. Tall and quick with his hands as well as his feet, Benavidez had to work harder in those final three rounds.

“The last one, he was the best one,” said Benavidez. “So I had to use every movement right. There could be no wasted movements.”

As good as Rycraft was, Benavidez left him with a bloody nose his corner-men had to attend to.

David Benavidez sparring before the crowd.

Rycraft seemed to appreciate the sparring, the opportunity, more so than the others that scrapped with Benavidez. He was seen talking with him and thanking him well after the sparring was over.

He told The USA Boxing News, “It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to be in this position, to learn from a champion, a true champion, a young champion at that.”

Avid boxing enthusiast Mark Jones, of Syracuse, NY, who watched Benavidez’ nine rounds of sparring – a pre-cursor to actual training camp -believes Benavidez has the goods to defeat Dirrell.

David Benavidez in action.

“I think he’ll beat Dirrell based on his youth and the fact that Dirrell is in the post-prime phase of his career,” he said. “Benavidez has a big frame. I think he could eventually perform well at light heavyweight.”

Dirrell-Benavidez is scheduled to take place in late September in Los Angeles.

Clary Decisions Gonzalez to Win Vacant NABA Super Feather Title

By Kirk Lang

Photos by Al Derouin

August 29, 2019 – Mashantucket, CT – Foxwoods Resort Casino. 

In an all New England match-up of super featherweights, Providence, Rhode Island’s Toka Kahn Clary, 128, won a lopsided 10-round decision over previously once-beaten Irvin Gonzalez, 127, of Worcester, MA to take the vacant NABA super featherweight title. The scores were 99-91 twice and 98-92. However, this fight was far more competitive and exciting than the scorecards would indicate.

Toka Kahn Clary (R) stabbing Irvin Gonzalez with a straight right.

While Kahn Clary clearly had the speed advantage – at times looking like a southpaw version of a young Shane Mosley – his 23-year-old opponent was never discouraged and always answered back with punches of his own – often delivered in spirited combinations – that kept things interesting. Kahn Clary-Gonzalez headlined the latest installment of DiBella Entertainment’s Broadway Boxing, held on this night at Foxwoods Resort Casino’s Fox Theater.

Kahn Clary, trained by Peter Manfredo Sr. earlier in his career, is now a pupil of Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach. Kahn Clary’s sparring sessions with all-time great Manny Pacquiao seem to have given him an extra level of confidence in the ring, knowing that if he can trade shots with Manny at the Wild Card gym, then he can surely dare Irvin Gonzalez to try to hit him.

Hurshidbek “Hershey” Normatov

Gonzalez seemed a little bit in awe of Kahn Clary’s speed in the early going, hardly able to avoid the right jab and Kahn Clary’s preferred weapon of choice – the straight left hand. Kahn Clary bloodied Gonzalez’ nose in the second round. In the third frame, Gonzalez began to step up his aggression, willing to fire back more than he had in the first two rounds. The end of the fourth frame saw Gonzalez get off a couple of stiff right hands. If Kahn Clary wasn’t so quick-fisted, Gonzalez would have had more highlight reel moments. The fifth round featured great ebb and flow with both men trading serious punches that spurred on their respective cheering sections. Later in the round, Kahn Clary missed some big bombs that might have dropped Gonzalez had they landed. The final 30 seconds of the round turned into a live-action Rock ‘em, Sock ‘Em Robots affair. Gonzalez even seemed to hurt Kahn Clary as he took some shots along the ropes. However, Kahn Clary stood there strong and immediately fired back with a succession of power punches.

Hurshidbek “Hershey” Normatov (R) Walter Wright.

Gonzalez seemed a little arm weary to start the sixth frame but may have done enough throughout the round to earn the stanza, as Kahn Clary seemed to ease off the gas a bit himself. However, Kahn Clary came back strong in the seventh round, beginning with a right jab-right hook combination. In addition to his speed, it’s other things Kahn Clary does that are impressive, such as the lost art of feinting. Over and over again, he’d feint with his lead hand, or make a half step with his lead foot, and make Gonzalez think he was going to step forward and punch and then he’d fool him. Gonzalez was not only contending with far superior hand speed, he was often unsure of when Kahn Clary was actually going to attack. The combination of his speed and his feints often left Gonzalez perplexed, but the young pugilist showed no quit in him. He kept trying and gave a great account of himself. Gonzalez boxed well in the 8th frame but Kahn Clary landed the best punch of the round – a smashing straight left to the face that might have briefly stunned Gonzalez – with less than 20 seconds to go.

Stephen “Big Shot” shawvs. Willie Jake Jr.

Gonzalez’ nose would bleed once more, in the 9th round, after a beautiful straight left from Kahn Clary with about 1:20 left to go. Late in the 10th frame, Kahn Clary absolutely battered Gonzalez in a neutral corner. Referee Johnny Callas kept a watchful eye on things, seemingly ready to stop the fight, but every time it looked like Kahn Clary might get the stoppage, Gonzalez fired back with something. He eventually got out of the neutral corner but couldn’t get away from Kahn Clary, who kept firing punches from all angles until the final bell, giving the crowd a great ending to a dominant but entertaining victory.

He improves to 27-2 (18) while Gonzalez falls to 12-2 (9).

Kahn Clary’s last defeat was a close decision loss at featherweight last October to unbeaten top contender Kid Galahad. Now fighting at super featherweight, he feels he’s not draining himself to make weight.

Stephen “Big Shot” Shaw knocking down Willie Jake Jr.

Asked whether he might return to the 126-pound class or stay at 130, Kahn Clary responded, “I’ve still got a six-pack at 130. I’m staying here. One-hundred-and-twenty-six kills me. I’m staying here.”

In the night’s co-main event, WBA super middleweight champion Alicia “The Empress” Napoleon-Espinosa, 161, of Lindenhurst, NY, stopped Schemelle Baldwin, 163, of Newark, DE, in the fourth round. The official time was 1:30.

Napoleon-Espinosa, 12-1 (7), was making the second defense of her belt and apparently had trouble finding an opponent of similar pro experience. Baldwin came into the fight with a record of 3-0-1 (2). Not only did the records not compare, Baldwin was also significantly slower of hand than the champion. Napoleon-Espinosa had her way with Baldwin, firing bursts of punches while consistently moving in and out of range without getting countered. Baldwin’s mouthpiece was sent flying in the second round. Early in the third frame, Napoleon-Espinosa began hammering away at Baldwin in Baldwin’s corner. The assault lasted for more than a minute. When the fight was dangerously close to getting stopped Baldwin let loose with a haymaker to show she still had some fire in her.

The fourth round was a repeat of the previous frame, with Baldwin again getting blasted in her own corner. A plastic piece of her chest protector fell out. Soon after, with Baldwin merely serving as target practice for the champion, referee Al Lobianco stepped in and ended matters.

Undefeated Hurshidbek “Hershey” Normatov, 152, of Andijan, Uzbekistan, now based in Brooklyn, NY, won the NABA super welterweight title with a lopsided eight-round decision over 38-year-old veteran Walter Wright, 154, of Seattle. WA. The scores were 80-72 (twice) and 79-73. Normatov’s straighter punches and effective use of the ring negated Wright’s offensive attempts for the most part. Wright’s corner was yelling and imploring him to get closer and cut the ring off as early as the third round. Wright finally seemed to let his hands go at the start of the fourth frame. It seemed he was getting braver as the fight wore on. However, Normatov, a 6’2” southpaw, nailed him with some very stiff straight lefts to close out the round and make him think twice about being brave.

Normatov opened the fifth with some impressive combinations. In the sixth he was back circling the ring, scoring with jabs and straight lefts. Normatov maintained control in rounds seven and eight but for some reason kept looking up at the clock in the final round, which seemed odd because he didn’t look all that tired and he never let loose with punches in bunches to close out the final 10 to 15 seconds of the fight in impressive fashion. Normatov is now 9-0 (3) while Wright falls to 17-7 (8).

Stephan “Big Shot” Shaw, 251, of St. Louis. MO, extended his undefeated record to 12-0 (9) with a fourth-round stoppage of Willie Jake Jr, 233, of Indianapolis, IN. He dropped Jake in the opening round and then twice in the third stanza –  the first of the third round knockdowns had Jake going through the ropes nearly falling on judge Glenn Feldman– before seriously hurting Jake in the fourth with a left hook as Jake was in a neutral corner. Shaw followed up by targeting the head with hooks, straight right hands and uppercuts. Soon after, referee Johnny Callas ended matters, giving Shaw a TKO victory at the 0:56 mark. Jake is 0-2 in 2019 after riding a seven-fight unbeaten streak that dated back to July 2016. His record now stands at 8-3-1 (2).

Former WBC/IBF/IBO light heavy king Chad Dawson returns to the ring in start of comeback trail to become champion once again

Story by Kirk Lang

Mashantucket, CT – Foxwoods Resort Casino – Making his return after more than two years away from the sport, former light heavyweight champion “Bad” ChadDawson is giving himself one more go-round to try to reach the elite level once again.

In December 2017, he was TKO’d by Andrzej Fonfara, and in October 2014, Dawson – two fights removed from losing his WBC belt to Adonis Stevenson by first-round knockout– was outpointed by little known Tommy Karpency.

The 36-year-old New Haven fighter’s latest comeback almost hit a sour note. After outboxing fellow southpaw Quinton Rankin, 32, of Charlotte, NC, with relative ease over the first four rounds of their eight-round main event, Dawson got caught with a perfect rear hand left uppercut from Rankin that created the fight’s only knockdown and had Dawson buzzed for some time.

Fortunately for “Bad” Chad, a follow-up left hand to the back of the head from Rankin when Dawson was “down” – he did not hit the canvas, but collapsed to a squatting position and made contact with the ring floor with both gloves – prompting referee Micheael Ortega to provide him more time to recover than simply a standing 8-count.

Richard Schwartz, one of Rankin’s cornermen, complained that Dawson was given 41 seconds to clear his head before the action resumed. However, if Rankin, 32, had not thrown the illegal punch after the knockdown, he would have been able to mount a follow-up attack sooner rather than later while Dawson was in his most vulnerable state.

With roughly 1:20 remaining in the round, the action resumed and Rankin, 179, attacked Dawson, 178, along the ropes. Soon after however, time was called and Dawson received another respite, the result of referee Michael Ortega taking a point from Rankin for another punch behind the head. The slight break seemed to be the trick for the ex-champ because when both men to box again, Dawson looked like his younger self, ripping hard rapid-fire shots to the body with both hands. Trapped in a neutral corner, now seeing the man he dropped turning the tide in the same round, Quinton looked visibly tired. In addition to power punches, Dawson also did not forget the jab, and a series a right jabs set up a beautiful left uppercut seconds before the bell to end the round.

While Rankin’s most consistent punch of the night was a sneaky straight left, he also made the fight ugly. In addition to some punches behind the head, he was often guilty of pushing up on his opponent’s chin with his right arm. In the seventh round, Rankin finally had a point deducted for such a maneuver.

In the eighth and final round, the former champion boxed smartly, not wanting to give his opponent any possible chance to score another knockdown, or worse, connect with a fight-ending punch. With a minute left in the stanza, Dawson impressed the judges and the audience with a trio of right hooks in rapid succession. When there were only twenty seconds left on the clock, Dawson landed a solid right hook to the body, and Rankin, in one last good effort, countered with a hard straight left.

Other than the fifth round, the fight was pretty much a one-sided affair, as the judges had it 80-68 and 78-72 twice.

 “He [Rankin] was very durable, a very strong guy,” said Dawson. “He came to win and think for a two-year layoff that was a good guy to come back against. The kid was strong. He was better than what his record said.”

Dawson, 37, improved to 35-5 with 19 knockouts while Rankin fell to 15-6-2 with 12 knockouts.

In the night’s co-main event, another New Haven fighter notched a lopsided victory. Featherweight Tramaine Williams won a 10-round unanimous decision against Neil John Tabanao of the Philipines. The scores were 99-91 twice and 98-92. Williams, like Dawson, learned the fundamentals of boxing under the tutelage of local legend Brian Clark at New Haven’s Ring One Boxing gym. Because of the New Haven connection with the top two guys on the A-side of the bout sheet, the fight show was billed as “Homecoming Kings.” Foxwoods Resort Casino is little more than an hour from New Haven.

But whereas Dawson is trying to return to former glory, Williams’ star is still rising. The sky is the limit for him as long as he stays dedicated to his craft. Generally considered the most talented young boxer in the Nutmeg State, the win over Tabanao is the latest step on the path to a world title opportunity.

The opening round of Williams-Tabanao was a feel-out round for both fighters. Neither man had many solid connects and it seemed like they were an inch too far apart from one another at all times. Williams certainly possesses the speed to quickly close the gap but he seemed content to be patient and observe his man from afar, at least in the opening stanza.

A minute into the second round, Williams jumped in with two straight lefts that caught Tabanao’s attention. Later in the frame, Williams seemed content to make his adversary miss. A very solid defensive fighter, Williams draws comparisons to the recently deceased Pernell Whitaker, boxing’s former pound-for-pound king.

The third round saw Williams gradually increase his offensive output and “The Mighty Midget” ended the round with a beautiful right hook with about 12 seconds left in the frame. The fourth round saw increased use of the right hook but the best punch of the round was perhaps a lead straight left with about 25 seconds left.

Williams, 123, upped the aggression in the fifth stanza, yet also showcased some great upper body movement in evading Tabanao’s offensive attempts. Tabanao, 123, had some success in the sixth with a few right hands to the body, but Williams never allowed him to get into a groove. As Williams continued to dominate in rounds seven and eight, Tabanao was simply perplexed. Unable to land anything of significance, he found himself rushing at Williams like a bull at one point in the 9th frame.

In the tenth and final round – halfway through the frame – Williams landed two successive straight lefts that caused Tabanao to fall back a step. He followed up with some good power shots, but was unable to get Tabanao out of there early.

Williams, 123, improved to 18-0 with 6 knockouts. Tabanao saw his ledger dip to 17-6 with 11 knockouts.

 “Tramaine controlled the action, the fight, to his pace,” said Williams’ trainer Mike Conroy, who had no issue with his fighter taking Tabanao the full 10 rounds. “Sometimes people don’t understand the art of boxing. Everybody wants to see the knockout but we knew he was a durable guy so we were not going to go in there and try to knock somebody out that hadn’t ever been stopped.”

On July 27 at the College Park Center in Arlington, VA, Williams, 26, won a 10-round unanimous decision over Yenifel Vicente, 33, to capture the vacant USBA and NABO super bantamweight championships on the undercard of the super lightweight unification clash between Maurice Hooker and Jose Ramirez. That means that Williams engaged in two fights in less than a month, which makes Tramaine on pace to earn “Pro Fighter of the Year” honors from the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame in 2019. The late July clash with Vicente was Williams’ fourth bout of the year, and that still leaves August through December for him to rack up a few more wins.

by Kirk Lang