Friday, January 26, 2018

No Holds Barred: Raul Ramirez on Catch Wrestling 2018 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with Raul Ramirez of the Catch Wrestling Alliance.

We focused on the plans for catch wrestling for 2018. We spoke with Raul Ramirez by phone Thursday.

This year, a key part of the plan is for "a lot more outreach, but then also trying to get more youth involved, but not exactly in pure catch-as-catch can with all the really painful submission holds," he said.

"Traditionally it was always seen as something a little bit too dangerous for children. But so we want to try to bring back what we call amateur catch-as-catch-can. We want to really try to get kids into that."

This amateur catch wrestling would have no submissions or points. Matches would have time limits, with victory either by pin, or if there is no pin, by judges determining the winner by who controlled the match and went for the pin the most.

We discussed plans to hold the first of these amateur tournaments in April; plans to appear at the 2018 NCAA Div. I Wrestling Championships and WIN Memorabilia Show in March in Cleveland; plans for a third annual Frank Gotch Tournament in the summer in a new location; training in Singapore along with the Kapap Academy; the close connections and historical links between catch wrestling, grappling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and judo; why catch wrestling is "most ideal" for self-defense; why Chinese kickboxing (sanda) is also important both for sport and self-defense; and much more.

(Photo by Phil Monson, courtesy of Catch Wrestling Alliance.)

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Downlow on Showtime's Boxing Upfront 

by Eddie Goldman

10 Marquee Events Across First Half Of 2018!
12 World Champions! 14 Undefeated Fighters!
12 World Championship Fights!

But amidst all the gushing over the premium network Showtime's private boxing "upfront" event Wednesday, which was live streamed and held at the bourgie Cipriani's 42nd Street in New York, here is what is missing from most of the discussion I have seen:

Notably absent at this event was the most popular fighter in the world, heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. His fights have been shown by Showtime in the U.S. of late, and Showtime apparently can match any offer to show his March 31 title unification fight with Joseph Parker. HBO, with a budget unburdened by contracts with Top Rank fighters and lightened by the retirements of Andre Ward and Wladimir Klitschko, already tried to grab Joshua when he fought Carlos Takam this past October, and aired his classic fight with Klitschko in April on same-day tape-delay. With Joshua's promoter Eddie Hearn dealing primarily with HBO through his new Matchroom Boxing USA, will Joshua soon be jumping to HBO?

Note also that with one exception, all the fights announced by Showtime for the first half of 2018 are in the U.S., with only the May 19 Adonis Stevenson-Badou Jack fight scheduled for just north of the border in Canada. No other international fights have been announced, although they always can be added. In the past few years Showtime has aired some fights from the U.K., which are shown live in the afternoons in the U.S. So far nothing.

For all the glitz of this announcement, there are only a few fighters in this lineup who are widely accepted as being the tops in their divisions. While this, of course, is a subjective judgment, arguably only Leo Santa Cruz at featherweight, Keith Thurman at welterweight, and Erislandy Lara at junior middleweight would get my vote for number one in their respective weight classes in an honest, independent poll. Again, this can be debated, but it does show that there may be less in this announcement than meets the eye.

Besides the lack of any international fights and anything outside North America, once again the talent-rich World Boxing Super Series is snubbed. The semis and finals of their cruiserweight and super middleweight tournaments take place this year, and thus far for these highly-anticipated fights, it looks like the American TV suits have their American heads in the sand (or maybe stuck up somewhere else).

And there are also no women's fights listed, although Showtime has featured Claressa Shields on their Friday night ShoBox series.

Perhaps most telling was what this says about the PBC, Premier Boxing Champions. This series was supposed to bring top fights back to free TV in the U.S. by first buying time to air these fights on the non-pay networks. But PBC's top fighters and fights are featured in Showtime's schedule, thus signaling that PBC is likely throwing in the towel on its hopes of ever getting a major TV rights deal from a non-premium network.

There were plenty of fools and shills for rival boxing groups who declared PBC dead-on-arrival when it started in 2015, but PBC did manage to show the fights with the largest audiences in the U.S. these past few years. However, inconsistent matchmaking, failure to understand the Internet and social media, typical boxing paranoia about being a transparent organization, impossible to follow TV scheduling, endless postponing or just not making the right fights where the best fight the best, and more seem to have returned this venture from whence it sprung: pay TV, on Showtime.

The gushers were also noting that the January 20 Showtime card headlined by the Errol Spence Jr.-Lamont Peterson fight drew a relatively good average audience of 637,000. But that was less than the average of the UFC prelims on FS1, which was 905,000, and the Bellator MMA card on Paramount (formerly Spike) of 770,000, both on around the same time. (http://www.showbuzzdaily.com/articles/showbuzzdailys-top-150-saturday-cable-originals-network-finals-1-20-2018.html)

For Showtime, which relies on subscriber revenue and has no outside advertising, this number might be good. But for PBC's stated goal of showcasing the fighters in front of a large general audience, it is bad.

Hiding these fights behind a pay TV wall has its effects. The print edition of Sunday's New York Daily News, which long had been known for providing the major boxing coverage in New York, only ran an AP wire service story about this fight, and even after the show ended relatively early for boxing, before 11:30 PM EST. Also, if you search the web sites of both The New York Times and New York Daily News, you will find nothing on Showtime's Wednesday event. Such are not exactly endorsements of their media strategies.

Top Rank's move to ESPN last year has been accompanied by boasting of how well they are already doing. According to a Top Rank and ESPN press release, their shows in primetime were said to have averaged 1,575,000 viewers on ESPN and 95,000 on ESPN Deportes. They also said the 12 most-viewed fights on U.S. cable in 2017 were Top Rank on ESPN fights. But they also are reportedly planning on running pay-per-view fights soon, so here comes the paywall again for the top fights.

So will the recent revival of boxing in the U.S. see a race to the top, or once again a race to the bottom? Sun Tzu noted in The Art of War in the fifth century B.C.E. that: "All warfare is based on deception." Keep this in mind when you read all these cheery announcements.

The full Showtime-PBC press release can be read at http://www.premierboxingchampions.com/news/showtime-sports-and-premier-boxing-champions-announce-industry-leading-all-star-boxing-schedule.

(Photo by Amanda Westcott/Showtime.)

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Anthony Joshua Is A Star, But Not Yet A Hero 

by Eddie Goldman

About a year ago, on January 31, 2017, Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko held a press conference at Madison Square Garden in New York to announce what turned out to be their classic fight on April 29 of that year. Many boxing media types, including several from outside the U.S., covered it. Before the press conference formally started, I was chatting with Gareth Davies of the Telegraph of the U.K., and he asked me what I thought of Joshua, whose career he had been covering for some time. I told him that Joshua had the potential to become as popular as Muhammad Ali was, and his eyes lit up. What an analysis from an American, it appeared he was thinking, about the Briton Joshua, who still has never fought in the U.S. Most of the American media there seemed more concerned by the absence of a buffet at the press conference than the world historical potential of this fight. What I said made headlines in the U.K. and elsewhere, as it laid out the possibility of a major cultural development for boxing and for Joshua and his career.

Reflecting back a year later, we have learned much more about Anthony Joshua, both in and out of the ring, and are in a better position to evaluate that prediction.

It should be obvious that in 2017, Anthony Joshua became universally recognized as a star in boxing. His fight with Klitschko established him in virtually everyone's eyes as the top heavyweight in the world today, and thus, the baddest man on the planet. By defeating Klitschko, Joshua became a unified heavyweight champion, adding the WBA belt to his IBF belt. This fight, almost universally celebrated as the 2017 fight of the year, drew 90,000 fans to Wembley Stadium in London, set pay-per-view records in the U.K., and had widespread international TV coverage including in Germany and in the U.S., where both Showtime and HBO aired it, with the latter showing it on same-day, tape-delay. His next fight, on October 28 against late replacement Carlos Takam, also was seen by 78,000 fans at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, which is where he will return March 31 for a title unification fight against unbeaten WBO champ Joseph Parker of New Zealand. Besides being a pay-per-view staple in the U.K., both Showtime and HBO are bidding against one another to air his fights in America.

But being a star is not the same as being as popular as Muhammad Ali, who very clearly valued his influence and accomplishments outside the ring more than what he did inside the ring. Joshua seems to share that view, although he has not yet fully and publicly shared his views on broader issues outside of boxing. And because Joshua has established himself as a sports star does not mean that, even if he unifies all the major heavyweight titles, that he will be regarded as Ali was.

It is well-known, and thus not worth repeating in detail, that at the peak of his career, Ali was illegally stripped of his title and banned from fighting in the U.S. because of his refusal to be drafted into the U.S. Army on the grounds of being a conscientious objector and Muslim minister. He became a symbol of resistance to the U.S. war of aggression in Vietnam, and also for the Black Liberation, civil rights, and anti-war movements in general. Ali was thus lauded as "The People's Champion". When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction and he was allowed to fight again, his matches, especially with rivals Joe Frazier and George Foreman, became major international cultural and even political events.

Joshua, who is 28 years old, is now 20-0 with 20 KOs, Ali's 20th fight, at just 22 years of age, was in 1964 and his first victory over Sonny Liston. It is still a source of controversy as many continue to assert that Liston took a dive in that fight and also their rematch. It was after that first fight with Liston that Ali announced he had changed his name from Cassius Clay, and was a member of the Nation of Islam. Accompanying him to the fight were Malcolm X, football great and activist Jim Brown, and the legendary rock 'n' roll and soul singer Sam Cooke, who also had his own beef with the record industry.

While Joshua has not been embroiled in the type of controversies the Ali-Liston fights had, he also has not taken as radical a path as Ali. While today's political situation does have some parallels to the 1960s, there are not the same types of broad mass radical movements in the West as there were then.

But there still is plenty of protest in sports, especially in the past couple of years. In the U.S., the "take-a-knee" movement initiated by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick against racist police killings and brutality has garnered wide support as well as wide opposition. Other American athletes from the NFL and NBA, and especially women basketball players from the WNBA, have shown their support of it. And even in boxing there has been some open support. WBC heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder, who one day soon may face Joshua in a unification bout, spoke about how he might, too, take a knee during the playing of the U.S. national anthem, or at least express some type of support for this movement. Former welterweight champion Andre Berto has been outspoken on these issues, as have other fighters, and even on occasion Trump supporter Don King.

The charade that sports and politics are and always have been completely separate has largely ended in the U.S., but not as much in the U.K. Still Joshua has given some clues as to his political leanings, albeit short and incomplete analyses.

He was recently interviewed by the U.K.'s ITV News and said he would like to play a role in politics, although he added, "I'm not trying to run the country." He indicated he wants to change the tax system to allow people who pay high taxes to have more of a direct say over how their money is spent. Where this even puts him on the U.K. political spectrum is as unclear as is how to implement this suggestion.

The brief interview also included a comment on the U.K.'s NHS, its National Health Service. The NHS has had a major crisis, especially this winter, with years of underfunding, cuts, and privatization leading to the cancellation of tens of thousands of operations and outpatient appointments until at least the end of January, and major overcrowding in hospitals. But Joshua did not address these types of fundamental issues. Instead he implied that a key problem facing the NHS was people flooding its emergency resources over very minor problems, like simply cutting a finger, and thus there is a need to "educate" them about what the NHS is used for.

This is hardly a platform that would make Joshua the next Darcus Howe, the late British Black radical leader and media personality. And we also have no idea just what Joshua thinks on some of the top issues in the U.K., such as Brexit, immigration, and the economy.

What we have so far seen of Joshua in the cultural sphere is quite tame and respectable as well. He has hob-nobbed with England's Prince Harry, writing on social media only half-jokingly that he would like to be his best man at his wedding. He frequently appears on the BBC late night comedy talk show hosted by Graham Norton, where he also schmoozed with American actor Tom Hanks. In November he was in Dubai for the Dubai Fitness Challenge. And he has a growing list of mainstream sponsors.

In his press conference last week to announce the Parker fight, Joshua was a bit more agitated and less respectful than he has been previously. Parker and his camp had trash talked him beforehand, saying he had a glass jaw and was a "king of steroids", thus leading Joshua to respond, although again he did not descend to the level of trash talking.

Joshua said, "It will take more than a human to stop me from where I'm destined to be." He explained just when he had been knocked down and knocked out as an amateur, including in 2011 against British fighter David Price, the same day, he said, he had just "come out of a police cell", in the tail end of the days when Joshua was still getting in trouble with the law. Later promoter Eddie Hearn listed the numerous random drug tests Joshua has taken and still is subject to, in none of which he has tested positive for PEDs.

Parker later apologized for his steroid accusation, and at the press conference Joshua reversed an earlier statement saying he would refuse to shake Parker's hand after their fight. Thus the temptation to follow the path of WWE, UFC, and the rest has been avoided for now.

The British tabloids continue to write about Joshua, almost every day. He is also often a hot topic in the African media, although some articles reflect such low journalistic standards that they incorrectly say Joshua was born in Nigeria, when he was born in Watford, England. Nigeria is where he did live for some time as a child, where his mother was born, and where his father, who is of Nigerian and Irish descent, still lives.

Taken together, all this makes Anthony Joshua an international star and a celebrity, but not yet a hero.

Muhammad Ali achieved iconic status not simply by becoming the heavyweight champion of the world. He did it by risking all that fame and fortune by standing up for what he believed in, and thus had his boxing career taken away from him at its height and when he was in his prime. Ali later was vindicated, but not before facing a barrage of scorn, demonization, and opposition far greater that even Colin Kaepernick has had. Ali was also abandoned by almost all the so-called great boxing and sports journalists of his era, with the notable exception of Howard Cosell and a few others.

We just do not know publicly what Joshua's views are on the major issues of the day in the U.K. and the world.

There was a minor controversy in December about a series of private messages attributed to Joshua by former heavyweight title challenger Eddie Chambers, which were posted online. They appeared to come from Joshua's social media accounts, and denounced Chambers as a "bum" and a "Disgrace to the superior black race".

None of this has ever been fully explained by Joshua or his camp. We do know that these messages were sent while Joshua was still on vacation in Dubai. If he did send these himself, was he just joking, trolling, being an asshole, or serious? Or did someone else send these messages, and with or without Joshua's knowledge and permission? Do they indicate that Joshua secretly is a Black nationalist of some sort, or just messing with Chambers in an unsettling way?

On the other hand, we also know that in the past, Joshua has publicly called himself to journalist Oma Akatugba a "citizen of the world" and punctuated his comments by saying: "One love. Peace".

Whatever all this indicates, if anything, it does mean that Joshua the star and celebrity has a long way to go if he ever will become a hero and an outspoken foe of injustice and oppression like Ali was.

That, by the way, is merely an observation and not a criticism. There is not today the kind of mass movement which supported Ali when he was attacked and vilified. This mass movement even helped give birth to Ali's one-time radicalism, which he did not publicly reveal until after the first Liston fight.

Does Joshua share any of these types of views, or is he perhaps less political than Ali and even pretty mainstream in his views? Or is there something brewing there that will one day come out of a fighter, whose right shoulder bears a tattoo of the map of Africa with Nigeria's borders outlined, and the word "Wisdom" written above it? And what exactly can Joshua do and say today without jeopardizing and even killing his boxing career, at a time when vindication may be even less certain than it was for Ali?

And always be aware that while notable individuals can and do certainly influence events and history, it is primarily the times that make the people, and not vice versa.

Anthony Joshua has taken the first steps to ensuring worldwide stardom. We shall see whether or not out-of-the-ring heroism follows.

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