With Super Bowl XLVII approaching, the San Francisco 49ers are focused on the task at hand, but off the field, another topic of conversation often permeates the locker room.
“Most of the guys on the team are boxing fans,” running back Frank Gore said. “We talk about who’s going to win the big fights all the time.”
Right back at ya, Frank. Turns out boxers can’t get enough football debate when it comes to picking playoff winners, either. In reality, the pastime of pugilists prognosticating the pigskin postseason is far from a novel concept.
Who can forget Floyd Mayweather interrupting the HBO broadcasting crew during his fight with Henry Bruseles to tell them he liked the New England Patriots and then-Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick in the 2005 conference title games—while he dodged punches in the middle of the ring?
On the advice of teammate Michael Crabtree, Gore learned how to box at the Undisputed Gym in San Carlos during the preseason. However, while the 49ers’ all-time leading rusher has no immediate plans to trade his helmet for some sparring headgear on a permanent basis, others have tried their hand between the ropes with the intent of making a serious living.
RELATED: [Gore finds fountain of youth as pugilist]
In 1979, former Dallas Cowboys All-Pro defensive lineman Ed “Too Tall” Jones postponed his career for one season in favor of the sweet science, going 6-0 with five knockouts as a pro heavyweight. Granted, his competition left much to be desired, but at the gate, his short-lived career was an unbridled success.
In recent times, former Baltimore Raven and current Indianapolis Colts safety Tom Zbikowski temporarily campaigned as a pro heavyweight during the 2011 NFL labor dispute. To this day, he sports a perfect 4-0 record with three knockouts as well as a Golden Gloves title from his amateur days.
So what makes boxing so appealing to these guys?
“For me personally, I got my ass beat by an Arena Football League teammate who knew Capoeira and was mad that I was starting over him,” said Otis Griffin, who before his tenure as a San Jose SaberCat was a defensive back on the Ravens practice squad. “As a result, I went to [trainer] Nasser Niavaroni in Sacramento and learned Muay Thai kickboxing, and from there, that developed into boxing.”
Griffin, who has gone on to become a world-rated light heavyweight, analyzed the mutual respect between the two disciplines.
“I think football players want to be boxers partly because of their aggression,” he said. “Like football, boxing is as physical a sport as it gets. Also, people give the analogy of a fighter being a warrior in the coliseum. They admire fighters for being the king of the mountain.
“On the other hand, a lot of fighters have done nothing but boxing since they were kids because it requires that type of attention to your craft in most cases. So in a way, boxers admire football players because they can display a different type of athleticism outside the realm of the ring, like making a one-handed catch.”
For junior welterweight Karim Mayfield, he feels a kinship with his football counterparts. A friend of Gore, the unbeaten contender was also a running back during his playing days at Mission High School in San Francisco.
“I was trying to be the next Barry Sanders, because I was short but elusive,” said Mayfield. “That’s why I like watching Frank do his thing. To be a little guy yet strong enough to stand up to the big boys, he’s an inspiration. I’ll be rooting for him this week.”
Before Sunday’s marquee matchup between the 49ers and Ravens, CSNBayArea.com polled some members of the boxing community for their Super Bowl predictions.
DON CHARGIN, HALL OF FAME PROMOTER
GRIDIRON GLORY: Chargin, a San Jose native, grew up watching the 49ers at Kezar Stadium. In 1957, he tried to promote a bootlegged closed circuit viewing of the team’s infamous playoff loss against the Lions at The City’s Fairmont Hotel, but all hell broke loose when the signal died after the first half. Not all was lost. Chargin ran for his life from the angry mob, and while seeking refuge in a bar, bumped into his future wife, Lorraine.
SUPER BOWL PICK: “I think [Colin] Kaepernick is going to have a good game, but my MVP sleeper pick is for LaMichael James to go crazy. The 49ers need to score fast and early to kill that Ravens defense’s confidence. That starts with them pushing the Ravens around at the line of scrimmage. My score? 49ers 31, Ravens 24.”
FRANK ESPINOZA, MANAGER OF THE YEAR FINALIST
GRIDIRON GLORY: The L.A.-based Espinoza, who manages 122-pound star Abner Mares among others, enjoys his Sundays with a healthy helping of NFL action.
SUPER BOWL PICK: “I really like the 49ers’ quarterback, Kaepernick. He showed me a lot the past couple games. Everything’s been on the line, and he handled the pressure well. Plus you have the angle of the brothers coaching against each other, and neither of them have been there before. I think it’s going to be close, but the 49ers are winning this one. 49ers 31, Ravens 28.”
SAM GARCIA, MANAGER AND TRAINER
GRIDIRON GLORY: Garcia, who manages and trains fighters in Salinas, is a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan; he makes it a point to catch at least one game per year at Heinz Field.
SUPER BOWL PICK: “On paper, the 49ers are the better team, but the Ravens match up with them pretty well. They’re both physical teams with physical defenses. Also factor in that this isn’t a regular game. It’s like a boxing pay-per-view in a way where all the attention is on the two fighters. Who can handle the nerves and festivities better? Either way, I can’t say how much I hate the Ravens. 49ers 20, Ravens 17.”
OTIS GRIFFIN, LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT CONTENDER
GRIDIRON GLORY: The Sacramento resident was a defensive back on the Ravens’ practice squad and a defensive specialist for the San Jose SaberCats before finding pro boxing in 2004.
SUPER BOWL PICK: “I’d like to show my old team some love, and I’d love to see Ray Lewis go out as a champion because he’s been such a great team leader, but I think the 49ers take it. I think their defense will key on the Ravens run game. Also, after the 49ers stop the run with their base defense, they need to blitz [Joe] Flacco and take the deep ball away. I think if they do that, and give Gore at least 20 carries to take all the pressure off Kaepernick’s hands, the 49ers will win. 49ers 35, Ravens 28.”
FERNANDO GUERRERO, MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE CHALLENGER
GRIDIRON GLORY: Guerrero, who hails from Salisbury, Maryland, now trains in Hayward with celebrated cornerman Virgil Hunter. By his admission, he’s not a big football fan, but he supports the Ravens.
SUPER BOWL PICK: “Baltimore’s about two hours away from Salisbury, and while I enjoy it here in the Bay Area, I have to go with the home team. I think it’s going to be a high-scoring game. Ravens 42, 49ers 32.”
ROBERT GUERRERO, WELTERWEIGHT TITLEHOLDER
GRIDIRON GLORY: Before winning six world titles in four weight classes, Guerrero was a freshman running back at Gilroy High School.
SUPER BOWL PICK: “It’s going to be a great game with two of the NFL's top defenses going toe-to-toe and many blows exchanged. Ray Lewis is one of the best linebackers ever, but the 49ers will come out victorious in a defensive war. 49ers 17, Ravens 13.”
KARIM MAYFIELD, JR. WELTERWEIGHT CONTENDER
GRIDIRON GLORY: Mayfield was a star running back at Mission High School in San Francisco, patterning his rushing style after Barry Sanders because of his height and heart.
SUPER BOWL PICK: “It’s going to be close. Both defenses are at the top of their game right now, but I think Frank Gore is going to have a big day and bring that title back to The City. 49ers 28, Ravens 17.”
SETH MITCHELL, HEAVYWEIGHT CONTENDER
GRIDIRON GLORY: Mitchell, a native of Brandywine, Maryland, was a starting linebacker at Michigan State and continues to don the green and white colors of his alma mater on his trunks.
SUPER BOWL PICK: “You have two dynamic defenses, but also two offenses that can both put points on the board, so I don’t see a blowout happening either way. I think the 49ers have a better team overall, but the Ravens are jelling at the right time. Ray Lewis is going to make a big play here or there, but his impact goes beyond his individual stats as well. It’s a pick’em game, but if the Ravens offense can continue the score the way they’ve been doing all playoffs, I think they’ll win. Ravens 27, 49ers 24.”
LEM SATTERFIELD, BOXING WRITER
GRIDIRON GLORY: Before his gigs at AOL Fanhouse, BoxingScene.com, and now at RingTV.com, Satterfield was a scribe for the Baltimore Sun, where he wrote several articles on the Ravens.
SUPER BOWL PICK: “The 49ers’ offense has been playing at a high level, and Kaepernick has been beating teams with the [read] option, something I haven’t seen run regularly in the NFL as long as I can remember. I think it’s on the Ravens defense to bend, but not break. It’s not as much giving up the big play or big gains, but making sure they stop the 49ers when they get to the 20-yard line and have a short field to work with. I think they’ll do just enough of that to win it. Ravens 27, 49ers 24.”
FINAL SCORE: By a 6-3 split decision, our panel has tabbed the 49ers to win Super Bowl XLVII and capture their sixth Lombardi Trophy. (For the record, I also have San Francisco edging the Ravens by a margin of 27-23. Flacco’s been coming on as of late for Baltimore, but I think containing Rice will be the key.)
• HENRY SUCCUMBS TO CANCER AT 25: After a valiant three-month fight against gall bladder cancer, Omar Henry passed away Friday morning at the University of Chicago Medical Center, according to a report by BoxingScene.com’s Jake Donovan. The promising junior middleweight was just one week shy of celebrating his 26th birthday.
Henry (12-0-1, 9 KOs), who was raised in Chicago, had recently moved his camp to Oakland with trainer David Ali for his last two bouts. The rising prospect was set to headline a card on Showtime against Juan Ubaldo Cabrera last November, but was forced to pull out due to gallstones, which led to his cancer diagnosis.
A fan-friendly pugilist with his composed, versatile boxer-puncher style, “O. Henry” was just as accommodating to the fight faithful with his accessibility outside the ring. The 154-pound up-and-comer was a fixture on social media and often went out of his way to interact with boxing aficionados.
On Jan. 27, Henry posted his message on his Facebook account:
“To all my friends and loyal fans I want to inform you all that I am fighting the fight of my life against a disease known as gallbladder cancer. While lm in this current state I am fighting with my family by my side and I will not go down for the count. I am a champion who has chosen to fight not just for myself but for those who's faith is believing in what u cant see, and i will continue to fight!!!!!and fight!!!!!and fight!!!!!till I knock this sickness out. Your love and support mean the most to me, your prayers are prayers not only to me but to others like me. Please be advised l am grateful for any and all support in any kind of way please inbox me. My family has continued to be by my side, and its hard for them as well. I want to thank God for unconditional love and unconditional fans. Thanks again Omar Henry”
Rest in peace, Omar. While you tragically never got an opportunity to fight for a world title, your grace and courage in facing death will make me remember you as a champion.
• ESCALANTE-SOLORIO IN REDWOOD CITY MAIN EVENT: In an eight-round headliner, junior bantamweight Bruno Escalante (6-1-1, 3 KOs) will face Alejandro Solorio (4-6, 3 KOs) on March 8 at Redwood City’s Fox Theater. Tickets, which are scheduled to go on sale Friday at the Undisputed Boxing Gym in San Carlos and online at pacopresentsboxing.com, will range from $45-$60. Don Chargin and Paco Presents will promote the card in association with Jorge Marron.
The undercard is loaded with local fighters who will face foes to be determined. San Bruno cruiserweight Joe Gumina (4-1, 2 KOs), Salinas welterweight Preston Freeman (3-0, 1 KO), Redwood City featherweight Jesus Partida (2-1-1), and the San Francisco trio of junior welterweight Jonathan Chicas (8-1, 4 KOs), middleweight Ricardo Pinell (1-0-1, 1 KO), and junior welterweight Jhonnathan Zamudio (1-1-1) are slated to appear.
• ABELLA HEADLINES SACRAMENTO CARD: Osric Pratt and O.P.P. Presents will promote their first pro card of 2013 on Apr. 13 at Lions Gate Hotel, which is located in McClellan Park just north of Sacramento. In the main event, hometown hero John Abella (3-0-1, 2 KOs) will meet Salvador Cifuentes (1-4-1) in a six-round junior featherweight rematch of their draw last November.
San Francisco’s Martha Salazar (11-4, 3 KOs), who is returning from a six-year hiatus, is negotiating a co-main event bout with arguably the world’s top female heavyweight in Sonya Lamonakis (7-0-2, 1 KO).
The undercard will feature Hayward junior middleweight Aaron Coley (4-0, 2 KOs), Sacramento middleweight Michael Ortega (2-0-1, 1 KO), and Vacaville lightweight Adam Fiel, a former Philippine national team member who will make his pro debut. All of their opponents have not yet been finalized.
• MILLER, SALAZAR ON TEAM USA: A pair of amateurs from Region 11, the area encompassing Northern and Central California, will represent the United States at the Independence Cup in Santiago, Dominican Republic, from Feb. 4-7.
Fresh off his strong showing at the Youth World Championships, Fresno’s Gary Salazar will compete in the 123-pound men’s bantamweight division. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s Raquel Miller, who won silver in last year’s Women’s World Championships as a 152-pound welterweight, will ascend to the middleweight limit of 165 pounds for this trip.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to be a part of Team USA again,” Miller told CSNBayArea.com. “I moved back up to middleweight because right now the Rio Olympics [in 2016] doesn’t have a welterweight category yet. This camp so far as been different, especially with a new coaching staff, but it’s been a great experience and I’m ready to go.”
• EARLY SILVER GLOVES RESULTS: The National Silver Gloves are under way in Independence, Mo. In Thursday’s opening night of action, Region 11 amateurs went 2-1.
12-13 age division, 85 lbs.: Marc Castro (Fresno PAL) dec. Isayah Rolandson (Duluth, MN)
12-13 age division, 85 lbs.: Gabriel Flores (Los Gallos, Stockton) dec. Khalid Johnson (Greenville, SC)
14-15 age division, 95 lbs.: Basil Nasser (Detroit, MI) dec. Fernando Venegas (Golden State Bloodhounds, Sacramento)
On Friday’s docket, the promising duo of 176-pounder Suray Mahmutovic (415 Boxing Club, San Francisco) and 114-pounder Ruben “Dracula” Villa (Backyard Boxing Club, Salinas) are among the local boxers who are slated to fight.
Follow my blog at Norcalboxing.net for updated results each night.
• VOTE FOR NORCAL BOXER OF THE WEEK: Our candidates for Northern California Boxer of the Week are Ava Knight and Demetrius Andrade.
OPTION #1: Knight successfully defended her IBF women’s flyweight title with a 10-round unanimous decision over Susana Vazquez.
OPTION #2: Andrade defeated Freddy Hernandez by 10-round unanimous decision in a junior middleweight bout.
Tell us who you think is more deserving of the award in the comments section. The boxer with the most fan votes by next Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. PT will be named the winner.
CSN Bay Area Boxing Insider Ryan Maquiñana is a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and panelist for Ring Magazine’s Ratings Board. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.