Arizona Boxing News & Notes With Don Smith

flag_arizonaQ & A with Sergei Liakhovich & Much More

Boxing Fans,

On April 1, 2006 Sergei Liakhovich, in Cleveland Ohio, scored a unanimous victory over Lamont Brewster to capture the WBO Heavyweight Championship. It was a dream that came true.  However; dreams never last forever. He would lose the title 7 months later in Phoenix, Arizona at Chase Field to Shannon Briggs in a dramatic slugfest that saw Briggs knock Liakhovich out of the ring ending any chance of Sergei retaining his title.

    Officially, it was declared a TKO victory for Briggs with one second remaining in the 12th and final round. Sergei was prevented from returning to the ring by handlers who felt he was finished for the night. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a more intriguing ending. Sergei isn’t bitter over the decision; he understands ring etiquette and knows the decision was correct even though it was a sad night for the Liakhovich family.

 Sergei turns 38 in May of this year, but doesn’t think his age will prevent him from becoming a contender, once again.  Remember, Jersey Joe Walcott fought Rocky Marciano, a second time for the Heavyweight title in Chicago when he was 39 and the venerable Archie Moore waged ring battles until he was 47.  Heavyweights, with power, can normally sustain their careers a bit longer, i.e. Moore, Walcott and perhaps Sergei Liakhovich. Time will tell.

 The native born Belarusian turned professional a year after winning a Bronze medal in the World Champion ship in 1997. He represented Belarus in the 1996 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. After receiving a first round bye, Sergei lost to Silver Medalist Paea Wolfgramm (Tonga), 10-9. Wolfgramm turned professional after the Olympics, but found little success.

Since turning professional, Sergei has compiled a record of 25-6 with 16 knockouts.  After migrating from Belarus, he settled in Scottsdale Arizona where he resides with his wife, son and daughter.

The former WBO Champ returns to ring action in a scheduled 8 round contest on 2/22 on the Iron Boy X1 Card at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, Arizona. His opponent is Phoenix heavyweight Chad Davis trained by Tom Garcia. Sergei’s trainer of record is Tony Equera who helped me attain a Q&A session with Sergei via email.

I prefer face to face questioning, but for various reasons I was unable to travel to his workout sessions at Grant Park Boxing Gym, South 3rd Avenue in Phoenix, so we agreed to accomplish our goal through the email process.

It was unfortunate that I wasn’t able to watch Sergei spar with young Jashir Villa, a former Golden Gloves competitor also trained by Tony. Villa was highly touted until he stepped away from the sport for about a year. He is one of the few boxers to beat Red Nation Warriors boxer Albert Alvarez (Sells Arizona) and that was in 2012 before Albert changed coaches. A rematch would be very interesting.

Ironically, Tom Garcia (Davis Trainer) used to manage the Grant Park Boxing Gym before accepting managerial duties at the Central United facility in Central Phoenix, 17th Avenue & VanBuren. I wasn’t able to identify sparring partners for Davis. I was told, he is in the best shape of his career and a Garcia thinks a win over Liakhovich is possible. Every coach should be confident.

 There were no agreed upon ground rules set for our interview and the only editing administered was the correcting of spelling and grammatical errors; I hope we were successful.  I began our session with a personal question.

ABNN: Who are the four most important people in your life, past and present?

SL: My Family in Belarus, my first trainer Anatoly Kolchin who passed away last year and of course, my wife Irina and our 2 children, Nazar and Katerina.

ABNN: You migrated to Scottsdale, Arizona from Belarus.  Any similarities when comparing Arizona and Belarus and can you talk about the adjustment?

SL: No similarities, it was a big adjustment. I had to learn English, so conversing with American Trainer provided hilarious and painful moments. It was a great adventure overall and I am so glad I had the opportunity to come to America and build upon my boxing career and life. I consider the United States the Mecca of boxing.

ABNN: You were a member of the Belarus Olympic team in 1996. What did you learn from that experience and what is your take on why U.S.A. boxers, in recent years, can’t attain Gold medals at the Olympics? Is it the scoring system?

SL: Participating in an Olympic game is the greatest experience for any athlete. Adjusting to a world stage is huge. I lost 10-9 to Paea Wolfgramm (Tonga) who would go on to win a Silver Medal.  My people said I won the fight. Afterwards, I received invitation to the U.S.  I didn’t like the Olympic boxing system, at all. It takes away so much from boxing. In my opinion, U.S. Men aren’t winning boxing Gold medals because it’s very hard to find an Olympic styled trainer and at the same time it is equally difficult to find a boxer who wants to learn and work hard. Natural ability of U.S. Boxer is great, but the majority preparing for the Olympics lacks discipline and good coaching.

ABNN: Champ, you’re fighting fellow heavyweight Phoenix fighter Chad Davis on the Iron Boy Card at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix; what can attending fans or live stream viewers expect from you? And can you comment about Jashir Villa, one of your main sparring partners during your preparation for Davis?

SL:  Boxing fans can expect a great fight. I am glad to be back in the ring in an effort to move my career forward.  As for Jashir Villa, he is young and working hard to become a better boxer.

ABNN: According to BoxRec, you fought once in 2011, once in 2012 and once in 2013; unfortunately all 3 fights resulted in losses for you. Deontay Wilder stopped you in round 1,. Your bout with Bryan Jennings didn’t go the distance and your title bout with Robert Helenians ended   with a 9th round TKO loss.  You should be commended for facing tough legitimate contenders, but what impact do those losses have on the future of your career? In your defense, Wilder seemed to get away with a few rabbit punches to the back of your head.  Would a loss to Davis end your long and successful boxing career that netted you the WBO Heavyweight Title in 2006?

SL: There is a lot more behind the scenes in boxing. Fights get scheduled and then rescheduled. The biggest problem in my career was inactivity for many different reasons. Sometimes people are too quick to judge, but they should not judge any fighter on his performance based on one round that ended like my last fight did. I am glad I have an opportunity to come back and make my back into the heavyweight division.

ABNN:  Can you explain your nickname “White Wolf”?

SL: Often asked question. Belarus means White Russia. It has nothing to do with race.  To me it’s more like Wolf from White Russia.  It is an easy name to remember for fans. Legend has it that that the high production of linen and the popularity of wearing white linen, centuries ago, had something to do with the name. It’s just a myth.

ABNN:  You manage yourself, what are the advantages and disadvantages of managing yourself?

SL: Managing yourself is the easiest way to get things done. No disadvantages at all!

ABNN: Are you superstitious? I hear some fighters refuse to fight on fight on Friday the 13th, etc. Are there days you would rather stay home than fight?

SL: Every fighter that I know is superstitious. For me, it’s not dates; it is other things that people find funny.

ABNN: Your 2006 title bout with Shannon Briggs at Chase Field in Phoenix had a rather bizarre ending; could Hollywood screen writers have scripted a more dramatic conclusion to a fight?

SL:  Good Question. I feel my whole my whole life is a great script for a Hollywood movie. It would probably be relevant with so many fighters and other athletes coming to the U.S. looking for a better career and life.

ABNN: The traditional and obligatory “stare down” at press conferences, weigh-ins, and ring introductions…can a fighter use these obviously staged stare downs to his or her advantage or do you view them as a silly way to acquire a photo op to hype a fight?

SL: I like the stare down, I think you get a very good sense of your opponent. For example, when you’re that close to your opponent, he can’t hide his emotions, it’s that sixth sense that’s working and you have a better understanding of whom you’re dealing with.

ABNN: You’re a big fan of the late great Jersey Joe Walcott, Why? And you met Carmen Basilio a few years before his passing; what was the occasion?

SL:  For me, old time fighters are a great inspiration. Jersey Joe Walcott is one of my heavies because he possessed great foot work. As for Carmen Basilio, we met at the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. In my opinion, he was verymuch underrated. It was an honor to meet him.

ABNN: As we end this interview is there any last thing you would like to say?

SL: I am lucky to have so many supporters, even when things don’t go my way. I think boxing, not unlike life, has its’ ups and downs and you have to be strong to keep fighting.  Thank you for giving me an opportunity to answer great questions, so people can get to know me better. All the Best: Sergei!

ABNN: You’re welcome and thank you very much.

Site Uncertain: According to a spokesperson from Goossen-Tutor Promotions, Cris “The Nightmare” Arreola won’t be going to Colorado to train for his upcoming title bout with Bermane “B Ware” Stiverne and Arizona isn’t a cinch as projected last month. Remember, all bouts are subject to change and rumors are merely rumors. When the final word comes, you will know.

Tijuana Time:17 year old Super Middleweight David Benavidez (2-0 w/2 knockouts) was scheduled and ready to fight in Tijuana, Mexico on 2/12, but his opponent was a no show. David was in Tijuana when he got the news. What a bummer.   The affable Phoenix boxer will return to Tijuana at the end of this month to face a “TBD” opponent.   Look for young David to take on stiffer competition next year. He is a young man in a hurry.

Boxing Alert: USA Boxing Arizona officials are asking its’ members to report any unsanctioned presentation of Amateur Boxing in Arizona.  Jake Magellan, President of the organization sent me an email that didn’t mince words. His communiqué named club owner(s) who, in his opinion, were using kids to line their own pockets at the expense of amateur athletes. Jake said he has proof that an entrance admission was charged, food and drinks were sold including alcohol. As proof, he sent pictures; furthermore, the President insisted that most of the bouts were mismatches and medical care and officiating was substandard.

I take his charge seriously and I know the problem exists; but I need hard evidence before I can make a judgment call and print an accurate story. Mr. Magellan sent pictures showing a crowd people standing around and near a boxing ring, but the pictures were dark and out of focus. As a rule, spectators aren’t allowed to use flash photography at boxing events and therein lies part of the problem of acquiring admissible evidence. Amateur sleuths, as a rule, turn in poor evidence. Jake wanted me to see the photos and possibly use them as exhibit A; however they were of poor quality; therefore, inconclusive. I respect his concern and encourage him continue protecting boxers oat any age.

My investigation into the matter is ongoing. A week ago, a seemingly mature boxing fan told me he was invited (2 years ago) to a night club in Surprise, Arizona to serve as the “official” ring doctor for an amateur boxing exhibition. He said there was an admission charge and a number of bouts, possibly 10, that took place before a packed crowd.  Sadly, the Arizona native barely knows the difference between a stethoscope and a telescope, but he willingly pretended to be the ring physical. According to the pretend doctor, what transpired was ugly: bloody noses, contusions, etc. It was a onetime experience. The second time offer was refused.

My advice to violators is to stop it before someone gets hurt if he/she hasn’t already. And to parents, please know what your children have agreed to do and don’t sign a waiver without knowing what you are waving. Hospital bills aren’t cheap and good parenting will always serve as an ounce of prevention.

2/22 Iron Boy X1 Live Stream:  Phoenix boxing favorite Alexis “The Beaver” Santiago defends his WBC USNBC Bantamweight crown on 2/22 at the intimate Celebrity Theater in Phoenix Arizona against Hanzel  Martinez from Mexico. The title contest is scheduled for ten rounds.  Iron Boy Promotions (Fight Promoter) is offering a free live stream of the event at 10p.m EST-7p.m. PST.  Included in the live stream package is an insightful documentary on the champ, Alexis Santiago.  If you go, doors open at 4 p.m. First bell at 6:00 p.m. or shortly after.  Tickets start at $25.00…very affordable! Martinez vs. Santiago title bout should be a war.

In the co-main event, former WBO heavyweight champion Sergei “The White Wolf” Liakhovich faces Phoenix fighter Chad Davis. Scheduled for 8, but don’t count on it. Sergei, A native of Belarus, lives in Scottsdale. And in a very special bout, former world champion Joachim Alcine takes on Jovan Ramirez.  Joachim (34-7-1 w/20 knockouts) is a veteran of 16 title fights during his illustrious career.

The rest of the under card showcases local talent  embraced by the Arizona boxing community: Joey Ruelas, Andrew Hernandez, Edgar Brito, Keenan Carbajal, Brandon Riddell, Alexis Zazuets and rising prospect Francisco “Panchito” De Vaca.  Iron Boy Promoter Roberto Vargas and Match Maker Mike Sanchez should be commended for promoting Arizona boxing by giving the state’s young boxing talent a platform to perform.  The 2/22 show at the Celebrity Theatre is Iron Boy’s 11th show in the valley and the product keeps getting better. Good job!

Iron Boy is hosting the official press conference on Thursday 2/20 at the Mariscos Vuelve A LA Vida Restaurant located at 5630 W Camelback Road in Phoenix. The event is free and open to the public. Fans are advised to arrive 15 minutes before the 5 p.m. scheduled start. Expect a few surprise guest appearances. Weigh-in, same venue, tips off at 5 p.m. on 2/21.

Agree to Disagree: …. Arizona boxing announcer/aspiring actor and filmmaker Ralph Velez is very angry at me for what the 35 year old boxing fan calls “speculative journalism”. He emailed me his personal thoughts and asked me to never email him again.

Mr. Velez also promised to relay his criticism of my column to social media members who subscribe to face book, twitter, etc. How sad, Ralph is going to sacrifice family time to crucify me. I hope his kids understand. Social media rage is comparable to road rage; neither is good. He is entitled, according to the constitution, to his first amendment right  and hopefully he won’t abuse it.

I respect his right to dispute me and my work, but I think his argument is weak and unsubstantiated. Here is a recap on what ticked him off and I apologize for taking space to address this issue, but on the advice from wise friends, I do so.

In my last column, I referred to the relationship between Fan Base Promotions and protégée Mario Esparza as “rocky” and based on multiple conversations with inside sources, “rocky” is an understatement.  Mr. Velez interest in Esparza stems from his role in signing the young fighter to a contract with Fan Base which was active in the Arizona Market, but in recent years the promotion company hasn’t found a venue or fight card suitable for their wishes.

Team Esparza isn’t happy with Ralph and Fan Base because they thought Mario would be fighting on shows promoted by Fan Base.  Mario’s professional record is 1-0-1. Both performances were held on Iron Boy Cards in Phoenix.

Iron Boy Promotions does well with shows Phoenix , but the Arizona based company stays away from  the large venues, US Airways, Glendale Arena, Veterans Coliseum, etc. and  in my opinion, wisely so.

  Top Rank, Showdown and other major promoters have shied away from bringing major boxing shows to Arizona in recent years for 1one obvious reason; it’s a tough market. The venues in Arizona are overpriced and to compete against Vegas is tough sledding. When they were active, Fan Base presented entertaining shows, but the cost factor was unbearable and when their star attraction (Jesus Gonzales) was knocked out by Adonis Stevenson in the first round in Montreal…it was lights out, the party was over. As a result, Gonzales was dropped and so was the other fighters signed to Fan Base with the exception of Janks Trotter 7-1-1 who lives in Canada and hasn’t fought in more than 2 years. Mario is 1-0-1 and doesn’t have a bout scheduled.  After the stable was empty, Ralph signed Mario. He wanted to manage Esparza, but that was nixed, so he has no real role that I can confirm.

   I checked with the office of the Boxing & MMA Commissioner and a spokesperson for the office checked his files to see if Mr. Velez possessed a manager’s license, promoter’s license or a Sports Agent’s license and the PIO for the Commission said he couldn’t find Ralph’s name on any such document.

He was able to ascertain that Mr.  Velez held a boxing announcer’s license in 2013, but he hasn’t renewed it.  So, I don’t see his (Velez) ties with Esparza or Fan Base and I can’t understand why he (Velez) threatened to take his dispute with me to face book and other social media venues, Twitter, etc.  I wish him and his family the best.

Boxing Updates: Light heavyweight prospect Trevor McCumby, fighting out of Glendale, Arizona, pushed his unbeaten record to 14-0 -11 knockouts with a first round TKO victory over   Chris Epley on 2/15/ . McCumby trains at Busted Knuckle Gym in North Phoenix, Arizona.

Phoenix resident and talented amateur boxer Sulem Urbina Soto won Gold in the Independent Cup in the Dominican Republic.  She continues to show why she will probably represent Mexico in the 2016 Olympics. Her trophy collection is awesome.

Undefeated Glendale, Arizona Light welterweight Luis Olivares (6-0) is active in March and April. On 3/14, Luis will meet a TBD opponent in Florida. Avid sports fans should know the city if they can relate to where the Atlanta Braves play their home games during Spring Training; starts with a K.  Luis is quite the traveler. On April 4, Olivares   will fight in Mexico for the first time, professionally. Olivares trains regularly at Busted Knuckle Gym, but he was sparring with Alexis Santiago at Central United Gym last week before an audience that included representatives from Golden Boy Promotions who were reportedly scouting Santiago. No word on their evaluation.

AZ USA vs. Mexico: A boxing team comprised of Arizona pugilists traveled to Nogales, Mexico to do battle with some of Mexico’s best fighters. Arizona got the short end of the stick but did produce a few winners. Fernando Martinez and Melissa Ramos from Fuentes Gym scored wins and I was told that Eban Vargas, Gene Lewis Boxing Club was also victorious and so was an 8 year old Arizona boxer. His name and gym affiliation is unknown and I apologize for the lack of info provided by the co-coordinators of the event. Members of Mexico’s team were helped by Cuban Coaches and that irked some members of the American delegation.

Parting Shots:  Arizona Prospect Abel Ramos fights on the Homeward Bound card, March 21 in California….Jose Benavidez Jr. fights March 29 at the Texas State Casino in Las Vegas; he could be 2-3 fights away from a minor title shot..….Catch Golden Gloves action March 7, 8, 9, at the Arizona Event Center in Mesa. Red Nation Warriors Boxing Club plans to bring 9 fighters to the tourney. Team boxers, friends and coaches washed a boatload of cars to take care of trip expenses. Please support amateur boxing. Special wink to USA Boxing Arizona and the Fenn Family…. Heavyweight “Blue” Delong (0-5) hopes to find victory with his next fight; no date yet! Super Middleweight Sijuola Ade Shabazz (3-1) has picked up stakes in New Mexico and moved to Phoenix where he training at Pro Edge Gym off Indian School Road in Phoenix. His lone loss came at the hands of Joey Ruelas who also trains at Pro Edge….Local heavyweight John Zemrose hurt his back recently and will be laid up a few days.   Until Next Time


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