Jose Ramirez TKOs Maurice Hooker to unify WBC, WBO super lightweight titles

Published on Yahoo Sports


Jose Ramirez came into Arlington, Texas and ruined Maurice Hooker’s homecoming.

In what will surely be a candidate for fight of the year, after a bout filled with back-and-forth action, Ramirez ended Hooker in the 7th round. He walked away as the unified super lightweight champion of the WBO and WBC titles and with his undefeated record intact.

The entire fight was a contrast of styles. Whoever imposed their style, largely through distance, controlled the fight. When Hooker used his long jab and fought in the middle of the ring, he looked calm while Ramirez bounced on his feet, as if bidding his time to attack. When Ramirez did attack and forced his way into Hooker’s body, he pushed him back into the ropes and negated his opponent’s natural advantages. There, against the ropes and smothered, Hooker looked helpless.

Throughout each round, just as it appeared either Hooker or Ramirez were beginning to gain control of the fight and establish their style, the other would answer. After the second round, Vince Parra, Hooker’s trainer, implored his fighter to remain calm. “Back to the jab,” he told him. At the end of the third round, it was Robert Garcia, Ramirez’s trainer, who told his fighter to not relent. “Don’t respect him!” Garcia screamed.

After several rounds that were difficult to score, the ending came suddenly. In the sixth round, Ramirez—not long after he looked momentarily stunned by one of Hooker’s shots—connected with a left hook that forced Hooker to stumble back into the ropes. Not giving Hooker any time to recover, Ramirez pounced. About nine unanswered punched from Ramirez snapped back Hooker’s head. It was sudden. And Hooker appeared to be only held up by the ropes at his back and Ramirez’s punches not allowing him to fall forward.

When the referee stepped in to hug Hooker against the ropes and wave off the fight, Ramirez celebrated by climbing his red corner. Ramirez’s cornermen hugged at his feet while not even ten feet away, Hooker struggled to keep his.

Ramirez won. At the time of the stoppage, he was leading on two scorecards while the other saw it even. Hooker lost. In front of friends and family, while Ramirez celebrated Hooker was left holding back tears and bleeding from his mouth and nose.

Maurice Hooker Has Traveled a Long Way to Come Back Home

Published on Yahoo Sports


On Saturday night, Maurice Hooker, for the first time as a world champion, returns home to fight. He’ll face the undefeated Jose Ramirez to unify the WBO and WBC super lightweight titles. For the first time as a world champion, he’ll fight in front of friends and family at the University of Texas in Arlington, not far from Dallas’ South Oak Cliff neighborhood where Hooker grew up.

This is, in many ways, his homecoming. But for Hooker, that road back home has been anything but easy.

Even at its best, boxing is a hard and lonely sport. It taxes all who fight for a living. But relatively speaking, some have it easier than others. A few begin their careers fighting for powerful promoters. They earn enough money to focus solely on boxing. Because they’re carefully matched, their development is slow and meticulously crafted. They have seemingly every advantage a boxer could have.

Then there are others.

These are the boxers who are often considered simply opponents. They are sparring partners. They fight in untelevised matches far away from home with only a few weeks’ notice. They risk their lives for short money. Hooker was one of these boxers.

“[Boxing] is a tough, dangerous sport,” Arnie Verbeek explained. “You make a little bit of money. You’re better off selling cars or doing something else.” Verbeek is Hooker’s manager, but talk to him for even a little while and you soon realize their relationship is more than that. “He became like my son,” Verbeek said of Hooker.

And so, when Hooker walked into Verbeek’s Dallas gym — Maple Avenue Boxing Gym — and said he wanted to box professionally, his eventual manager matched him tough.

“I said, we’re going to find it out early and if it doesn’t work, we’re going to do something else,” Verbeek recalled. “And that’s because I love the kid and I don’t want to fool him. So, we went through hell … I didn’t care. We’d take any fight.”

And as Hooker fought in nightclubs and hotel ballrooms, he kept winning. He seemingly always liked to fight. From his days in South Oak Cliff, which remains a tough neighborhood — “a lot of drug dealing, fighting, stealing” is how he describes it — Hooker fought. He did it so often, in fact, that’s how he began boxing.

“I was getting in a lot of trouble in the streets, a lot of fighting,” Hooker remembered. “So, my [step]dad took me to the gym to actually get beat up.”

Perhaps, Hooker’s anger stemmed from the time he and his family got robbed inside their home a couple of years before he went into that boxing gym. He had a gun put to his head. He saw his siblings also get guns put to theirs. His stepfather was made to kneel before getting kicked in the head.

“I had to go to counseling for that stuff,” Hooker says. “Kind of messed me up a little bit as a kid.”

But on the day Hooker went to the gym the first time, with his stepfather hoping he’d get beat, the opposite happened. “I beat a couple of guys up,” Hooker said in a matter-of-fact tone, “and I fell in love with it.”

And so Hooker fought. He fought as an amateur even though his style wasn’t entirely suited for the non-professional ranks. He fought and sparred countless rounds inside Verbeek’s gym against boxers like Errol Spence Jr., Alex Saucedo, and Rob Brant. He fought anywhere and anybody and for each of his first few fights he received $500. A few days after those fights, Verbeek would give Hooker another $500 just to keep him afloat.

“It never was about the money,” Hooker said, “it was about my dream. To believe in myself.”

Watch Hooker fight and one of the first things you notice are his natural attributes. He is 5-foot-11 with a heavyweight’s reach. But during his early years Hooker’s style negated his natural advantages. “He was an inside fighter when I got him,” Hooker’s trainer, Vince Parra explained. “He’s got an 80-inch reach, so I taught him how to fight long. Taught him that he was born with the power.”

Eager to maximize Hooker’s talents and natural advantages, Verbeek sought Parra as a trainer. Parra’s passion and intelligence impressed him. The three of them began working together in 2013 — they’ve since added a fourth member to their small group, Eddie Loco. They all have the same philosophy: The only way one learns how to fight is by fighting. And as Parra attempted to reconfigure Hooker’s style of fighting, he knew the only way to know if he could adapt was to put him in peril.

“I immediately took him to spar with elite fighters,” Parra said. “I took him to the Wild Card Gym [in Los Angeles] and I had him spar Ray Beltran. And then from there, he went with Miguel Cotto. And then from there he went with Ruslan Provodnikov. And he had bad days. … And you put him through deep water. You can see if he can swim and then you know if you have something to work with. … From that, we kept going.”

And as they kept progressing, fighting to make their name known, a few boxers that had hired Hooker as a sparring partner told him they’d rather not train with him anymore.

“I don’t drop names,” Parra said, “we’ve been with a lot of famous guys. But I can tell you at least two of the world champions he’s almost taken out. And we were asked to leave camp. I’ll just leave it at that.”

Hooker has fought his way from boxing obscurity to become a world champion. He’s fought his way from the tough streets of South Oak Cliff to training in idyllic San Diego. When he’s away from home, months at a time, he misses his kids.

“It gets harder,” Hooker, father of eight children, explains, “because my kids are growing up now. Now they know that daddy gone. I’m missing birthdays, graduations, field trips, father-and-daughter dance and all that. … It’s getting harder. But they know I’m doing it for a good reason, to make them have a better life.”

It’s this motivation that makes being away, more bearable. With that distance, he can focus on fighting. And it’s that fighting that’s now brought him back home.

Home. Where nothing has ever been easy for Hooker. Where nothing was ever handed to him. And where today, about halfway between the neighborhood he grew up in and Verbeek’s gym, there is a mural of Hooker. “Maurice Mighty Mo Hooker,” it reads, next to his picture.

“It’s amazing,” Hooker said of the mural. “It means everything.”

Home. Where Dallas is suffering through the highest homicide rates the city has had in decades. Where Hooker speaks to children at elementary schools and community centers. And in between the children asking how much money he makes and them swearing their father can beat him up, Hooker gives them advice.

He tells them jail and prison are real. That money comes and goes. He tells them they don’t have to throw their life away for little or nothing. Hooker tells them about his life, about his home, and where he came from. He tells them that they too can fight — if not literally then figuratively — to make something of themselves.

“I try to explain to all the young kids, just stay focused,” Hooker said. “Believe in yourself no matter what. Whatever you’re going through, believe in yourself.”

Home. Maurice Hooker returns home as a champion.

 

How Bingo Nearly Ruined My Life

Published on D Magazine


I don’t remember the last time I prayed. but inside this place, surrounded by a thick cloud of smoke that penetrates everything and everybody, I feel a sudden urge to do just that. Not a formal prayer but more of a plea that the bald man—the one who chain-smokes cigarettes and washes down that burn with coffee so dark the liquid shines as black as crows’ eyes—gives me what I need.

His calm, matter-of-fact tone is soothing. He says, “Thank you,” after someone gives him his cut. A tip, for speaking softly into the microphone amplifying his voice across this large room. Speakers beneath once-white ceiling tiles that have turned different shades of beige. The carpet, if it wasn’t already a dark hue, would be equally stained from all the smoke. Everything in here looks ruined.

The first time I saw this bingo hall was on a Saturday morning two years ago, from across the street, while getting my state inspection sticker. My wife and I had just moved from the Village, in Dallas, where we felt too old, to Arlington, which is more like my hometown of Juárez, Mexico. There aren’t as many squirrels here. It feels familiar. That morning, while waiting, I saw the large building on Pioneer Parkway. Despite the sign suggesting “Come Join the Fun,” it looked abandoned, like it was once a large department store that could have been the centerpiece of a proud neighborhood. But decades later, the building looked so decrepit that I couldn’t imagine it had once been new. Buildings aren’t constructed to house bingo halls. They get built for something else. When that something else fails, bingo moves in.

There’s a 99 Cents Only store next to the bingo hall. Next to that is a check cashing place. A bit farther and there’s a Jack in the Box that never closes even though nothing good ever happens there after sundown. This is where bingo halls exist. Anywhere else and they’d be as unseemly as fast food restaurants or military recruitment stations in an affluent part of the city.

My mother used to play bingo. We lived in Colorado, where, during the winter, the sun set at such an early hour that it felt ungodly. The Army stationed my father there, about a nine-hour drive from our home and family. A couple of times each year, the Army would take him on monthlong training exercises. When my father left, it was just my mother, little brother, and me. As a child, I spent many evenings inside bingo halls with Mom. That’s why, as soon as I saw the bingo hall in Arlington—with its large BINGO! sign in faded red and yellow—I thought of her. I thought about how, in the parts of American cities where you hear more Spanish than English, she had confidence. She spoke for herself. Outside of those enclaves, though, she was lost.

Dile, Roberto, dile que”—tell them, Roberto, tell them that—she’d begin each of her frustrated sentences. Because she didn’t speak English and her young son had to translate for her, she felt we were being judged. Or worse. When you don’t know what’s said, every conversation around you sounds conspiratorial. Every half-smile accompanying a dumbed-down explanation of why certain items aren’t eligible for layaway looks like a mixture of pity and disgust. And yet, partly through playing bingo, she learned to pronounce words and letters. I remember the joy in her voice on the few nights we drove home after she’d won. “Gracias a Dios,” she’d say, thanking God for answering her prayers.

Play bingo once for money that offers weeks of financial relief, and you understand why its popularity rose during the Great Depression. And because it doesn’t require skill so much as sheer luck, you also understand why some play with a talisman within arm’s reach.

So, after driving past the bingo hall for two years, I came to play. In here, I can hear the soft mumblings that sound like prayers. The same prayers I, having made peace with my hypocrisy, also silently recite. “Please, God,” I think. I still can’t remember the last time I earnestly said those two words. “Please, God, B9.”

The B9 ball would mean I’d be able to mark the bottom left-hand corner of my bingo card with my blue dauber. With that ball, I’d not only fill the entire B column but also the bottom row. That, along with the N column already filled would mean I’d have a triple bingo and win the highest prize, $750. Theoretically, one can win $10,000 a day here. But to ask for that much feels greedy. Praying to win $750 sounds measured.

The closer one gets to winning, the more one makes plans for spending the money. One feels a hope. I would pay some bills, buy something nice for my wife and daughter, send some money to my mother. Or maybe I won’t tell anyone. I can spend it all on myself.

“I need this money,” I think with each ball sucked out of that low-humming vacuum contraption. The bingo balls make a soft thumping sound when they land at their resting place. The bingo caller then rotates the ball toward the camera so all can see on the television screens hanging in the corners and middle sections of the room. No B9 ball again, but I need it. To lose it—something that was never mine, something that everyone in here also wants—would be a disappointment.

B9. Say it, you son of a bitch. Whisper it softly into the microphone so I can yell out, “Bingo!” and hear others curse me the way I’ve cursed those who’ve won. I want to feel that envy. I want to feel what it’s like to hold back a cackle of greed or a devilish smile as I watch the cash getting paid on the spot. Those $20 and $50 bills rapidly peeled off a stack and placed on the picnic table in front of me. I want to win despite what may come.

I wonder: what if winning does more harm than good? Win once and maybe I’ll spend the rest of my life chasing that high. First, I’ll play a few nights each week. Then every night. When that’s not enough, I’ll play a few days each week at noon. Then every day. I’ll mark my birthday by taking advantage of the opportunity to play for a penny on that special day. I’ll eventually come here for the New Year’s Eve special. Then Valentine’s Day. Then every holiday after that until Christmas. I’ll play so much that no matter how hard I scrub my hands, the blue ink from the dauber will never wash off my fingers. Nor will I be able to rid the smell of cigarette smoke from my hands since, already here and surrounded by it, I’ll also start chain-smoking—the way my mother did when she played and prayed inside a place like this.

I overthink many things. I can feel when it’s happening. Perhaps everyone in here is happy while my dark thoughts force me to smile at the absurdity that I might lose everything I’ve gained because of a game. Bingo, of all things, which doesn’t even require speaking English to play. Bingo, of all things, makes me miss my mother. I think that if I miss her that much, I could just call or even drive those nine hours to visit more often.

But at this point, those thoughts aren’t as important as winning. I can’t remember wanting anything more than this. “God, let B9 be the next bingo ball and I’ll never ask for—”

“Bingo!”

After you hear that yell, you see a wave of disappointment roll across the entire room. Many look up to find the face that goes with the voice. Sometimes you hear curses from the same mouths that mumbled prayers just a moment before. A few throw their hands up and declare, to no one in particular, which ball they needed. They, too, had hope. They likely made plans for that money.

Hear that yell—“Bingo!”—and you feel betrayed. By your talisman, by those daydreams that happen at night, by the old security guard staring at you after you finally look away from the person counting their cash. Betrayed and forsaken by those unanswered prayers that turn bingo, that simplest of games, into something dark and cruel.