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Boxing Odds and Ends: Filip Hrgovic vs. Efe Ajagba, Dame Helen Mirren and More

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  • Boxing Odds and Ends: Filip Hrgovic vs. Efe Ajagba, Dame Helen Mirren and More

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    By Arne K. Lang

    There’s a battalion of young heavyweights ready to make their mark when Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua and their cohorts leave the scene. There’s Daniel Dubois and Tony Yoka and Filip Hrgovic and Efe Ajagba to name just four.

    When one thinks of a fantasy fight, one usually thinks of a “what if?” match between two all-time greats. But one can also contrive a fantasy fight out of two young guns who have a high probability of meeting down the road.

    Filip Hrgovic (12-0, 10 KOs) and Efe Ajagba (14-0, 11 KOs) are at a similar stage of development. Both fought in the 2016 Olympics – Hrgovic for Croatia and Ajagba for Nigeria – and both have been touted as future champions. Ajagba’s former trainer Ronnie Shields, not a man given to hyperbole, compared him to a young George Foreman.

    Who would win if Filip Hrgovic were to meet up with Efe Ejagba?

    We posed this question to Jonnie Rice who is quite familiar with both fighters. Rice sparred with Ajagba and then went 10 rounds with him at the MGM Bubble on Sept. 19. Shortly thereafter, he was off to Florida to help Hrgovic prepare for his bout earlier this month with Rydell Booker. Rice sparred frequently with Hrgovic during the three weeks he spent in the Croatian’s training camp.

    “You have to respect Efe’s power,” Rice told us, “but I would have to go with Filip because he throws more punches and has better footwork.”

    Jonnie Rice, by the way, is improving at age 33 although one wouldn’t assume that from his 13-6-1 record. He was outpointed by Ajagba but had several good moments late in the fight.

    Helen Mirren

    Andrew Moloney failed to recapture his WBA world super flyweight title in his rematch with Joshua Franco on Nov. 14, but won legions of new fans. In case you missed it, the fight was stopped after only two rounds because Franco’s right eye was swollen shut. Referee Russell Mora ruled that the damage was caused by an accidental head butt which meant that the fight would go into the books as a “no-decision” and Franco would keep the title.

    It took the Nevada Athletic Commission 26 minutes to confirm Mora’s ruling. During the lacuna, the abbreviated fight was replayed over and over again for folks tuning in on ESPN. There was no visible head butt, at least not one that could have produced this result, and the TV talking heads, lead announcer Joe Tessitore the most vocal among them, were adamant that Moloney, who clearly won the first two rounds, was the victim of a grave injustice.

    Many well-known people took to social media to weigh in on the “villainy,” none more famous than Helen Mirren, Dame Helen Mirren, if you please, having been invested with that title during a 2003 ceremony at Buckingham Palace. The multi-decorated British-American actress (she holds dual citizenship), who won both a Tony and a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II, wrote “Moloney was clearly robbed in Vegas tonight. Shame on the Nevada boxing organisation” on her Instagram platform which reportedly has 903,000 followers.

    Many people were surprised to learn that a classy Dame like Mirren, now 75 years old, had any interest in pugilistic affairs, but maybe that shouldn’t have been so surprising considering that Mirren once had an affair with the ill-fated Argentine boxer Oscar Bonavena.

    I had best re-phrase that. Her screen character had the affair.

    The movie was called “Love Shack.” In the 2010 film, directed by Mirren’s husband Taylor Hackford -- who shared a producing credit with Lou DiBella -- Mirren played Sally Conforte, the wife of Joe Conforte, the keeper of Nevada’s most infamous brothel, the Mustang Ranch on the outskirts of Reno. In 1976, the rugged Bonavena, who twice went the distance with Joe Frazier and took Muhammad Ali into the 15th round, was working there as a bouncer when he was fatally shot by one of Joe’s henchmen, a killing supposedly sparked by Joe’s jealousy over Sally’s affair with the 33-year-old bruiser whose 38-vehicle funeral procession through the streets of Buenos Aires would reportedly attract more than 150,000 onlookers.

    The movie seemingly couldn’t miss. It had a compelling storyline based on real-life events and two stars in the leading roles, with Joe Pesci smartly cast as Joe Conforte. However, the movie got lukewarm reviews and died a quick death.

    Mirren’s hubby, by the way, is helming the big screen biopic of Mike Tyson with Jamie Foxx portraying Iron Mike. The movie, as they say, is in pre-production.

    Literally Matched Soft

    In case you missed it, former IBF light-heavyweight title-holder Tavoris Cloud returned to the ring this past Friday after a six-year absence. Cloud was matched Soft, and yes, that’s Soft with a capital “S.”

    Cloud’s opponent, a Sioux Indian from Rapid City, South Dakota, fights under the name Ryan Soft. He brought a 4-11-1 record and had been stopped eight times. Cloud made it “9”, stopping the softie in the third round on a show in Daytona Beach, Florida.

    Cloud, who was managed by Don King for much of his career, opened his career with 25 straight wins that included four successful defenses of his IBF belt. He lost his title to 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins, was stopped by Adonis Stevenson and Artur Beterbiev in his next two fights, and then disappeared. At age 38 and without a lot of mileage on his odometer, he may be young enough to snag a few decent paydays before he calls it quits for good.

    The Upside of Covid-19

    Five games in college football’s top division were postponed this past Saturday, including two games vs. Top 5 teams. Also, there was a hastily arranged boxing card this past Saturday on the Fox Sports 1 network.

    These developments were interrelated and they point out that this terrible scourge called Covid-19 hasn’t been all bad for boxing. As other kinds of sporting events are postponed or cancelled with little advance warning, boxing stands poised to fill the void. The mushrooming sports channels need content.

    The ever-expanding number of weight divisions in pro boxing pales alongside the glut of bowl games in college football. Counting the national title game and the semifinals bleeding into it, there will be 37 bowl games this year. The games are splayed across a 22-day window straddling New Year’s Day and it all starts with the ludicrous Tropical Smoothie Café Bowl on Dec. 19 in Frisco, Texas.

    Correction: There would be 37 bowl games if they all get played. But many will be cancelled. That opens the door to enterprising boxing promoters.

    On balance, of course, the pandemic has been terrible for all sports that depend in whole or in part on gate receipts, without which they are not sustainable. By and large, the boxers that have appeared in “bubble fights” have been working on the cheap. But for some, the pandemic has provided an opportunity for exposure they would not have otherwise received, and that will pay dividends down the road when the world returns to normal.

    Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

  • #2
    If I said it once, I said it a hundred times: Efe Ajagba is a KO waiting to happen.