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Articles of 2004

Don’t Bleed For Me Bayonne

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There are lots of good films about the fight game, but I’m a Raging Bull kinda guy. Raging Bull has pride of place at one end of the spectrum. Rocky dominates the other. Rocky is the brainchild of Sylvester Stallone, actor, director, producer and whatnot extraordinaire. According to legend, Sly was a starving artist in a coldwater flat at a loss for words and at a loss in the world when he caught a fight on closed-circuit that changed his life. It was no ordinary fight. It was for the heavyweight championship of the world. Broadcast from Cleveland, Ohio on February 14, 1973, the bout featured the reigning champion, Muhammad Ali, defending the title against a challenger named Chuck Wepner.

According to the bookies, Wepner had a snowball’s chance in hell of beating the champ. Ali was the greatest heavyweight since Marciano, but he was something else, sui generis, in a class all his own. His ring intelligence evoked Joe Louis. His killer instinct echoed Jack Dempsey. He was suave in the squared circle like Jack Johnson. He was the pugilist’s pugilist, a religious leader, a peace activist in a time of war. Ali tore across the cutting edge of history, floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee.

By contrast, his opponent, Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner, was a liquor salesman by day who trained in a North Jersey gym by night. Wepner was a contender in the 1970s and earned his shot at the championship the hard way. He had more than 147 fights, amateur and pro, during his long career and it nearly all came together in Cleveland.

Chuck Wepner was born February 26, 1939 in New York City. He was raised and continues to live in Bayonne, in a spotless apartment with a water view. I was eager to know about Wepner’s fight with The Greatest, but thought it best to start from the beginning.

“I was into sports,” Wepner told me. “I boxed a little bit at the PAL when I was younger. I was nine, ten years old. Then I started playing a lot of basketball. And when I went into the Marine Corps I boxed, because there was extra liberty involved. You got the weekend off when you were on the boxing team. I was the military airbase champion. When I got out a couple of years later they talked me into going into the Golden Gloves in Bayonne. And I went to the New York Golden Gloves and won the heavyweight championship there and I turned pro and the rest is history.”

Wepner turned pro on August 5, 1964 against “Lightening” George Cooper and punched his way through the ranks. Chuck Wepner won some fights and lost others, but he could dish it out and suck it up like there was no tomorrow.

In 1966 he fought Buster Mathis Sr. in Madison Square Garden. “He was a pretty good fighter,” Wepner said. “He stopped me on eye cuts. He was a tough guy. He weighed 300 and something pounds and he had beaten Joe Frazier in the Olympic trials and he fought against Joe Frazier for the championship and he ran out of gas and got stopped in the late rounds.”

Wepner had six fights in ’66, three in ’67, six in ’68, and five in ’69, including a slugfest with a contender in the Caribbean. “I fought King Roman in Puerto Rico – beat him in Puerto Rico – and I got robbed,” said the champ. “I had him down once, chased him out of the joint, and they gave him a split decision. That’s what happens when you go to Puerto Rico and you fight Joe King Roman who’s from Puerto Rico.”

The next big name on Chuck Wepner’s dance card was Big George Foreman. “He stopped me on cuts,” Wepner said, repeating what was to become a refrain throughout his career. “He didn’t knock me out. They stopped the fight. George was a tough guy. He was right out of the Olympics, a tough kid, and he beat me. He surprised me actually. I didn’t think he’d be that tough and he was that tough and they stopped it in the third round.”

Speaking of tough, the next guy Wepner fought was former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston on May 29, 1970 in Jersey City. Liston and Foreman were two of the hardest hitters in heavyweight history.

“Yeah, they were,” agreed Wepner, “especially Sonny. George was sort of a roundhouse kid just coming up. That was before George retired and made his comeback. But with Liston everything was short and, you might say, right to the point – unfortunately. But with Liston I was in the fight early, but he closed both my eyes and they stopped it in the tenth round.”

Wepner was fighting the best heavyweights in the world in those days. He was in the mix. But Wepner, like most men in his line of work, was too resilient for his own good. And the Bayonne Bleeder bled.

“After that fight I seriously considered retiring,” Wepner recalled. “I got fucked up in there pretty bad and I thought maybe I should pack it in rather than sustain permanent injury or something that would disable me. I talked it over with my manager, we took some time off, and I decided to give it another shot. And things turned around for me. I learned a little more defense. I learned to slip punches. And a few years later I would up getting a shot at the title.”

That shot was against Ali.

“They call him The Greatest, and I think all-around as a boxer and a puncher and all-around fighter, Muhammad Ali was the best I fought,” Wepner said. “He was a very hard guy to hit with more than one good punch. I pressed him the whole fight. We thought he’d get tired. He did get tired, but unfortunately he had enough in his tank and by the thirteenth round I was pretty exhausted myself. And in the fifteenth round – from a punch that ordinarily wouldn’t have bothered me – he caught me with a glancing blow on the side of the neck and head. I went down and got up and Tony Perez asked me where I was and I told him and he stopped the fight. There was nineteen seconds left to go. He said he just didn’t want me to sustain permanent damage, because I looked pretty exhausted – which I was – but he could have let it go the last nineteen seconds.”

Ali may have been The Greatest, but he was no textbook fighter.

“The big thing with Ali was his jab,” observed Wepner. “He had the crisp combinations. He would move around and stick that jab and get off a one-, two- or three-punch combination and then move. That’s why Ali was never knocked out. He didn’t stand and trade too much. He would move and then hit you with a combination and move on. He was very fast and very quick. And what people didn’t realize is that Muhammad Ali had a great ability to absorb punishment and slip punches. Even when you landed them, he was moving away, to the left, to the right, so you weren’t really landing the punches solidly. He was never knocked out. He was stopped by Larry Holmes and lost some decisions. But he was never knocked out.”

The fight with Ali was Wepner’s Rocky moment and small fries everywhere rejoiced. Among them was an unknown named Stallone. Because of Chuck Wepner’s gutsy performance, Sly found his inspiration, wrote a boxing screenplay, and became a star.

And now, many years and many films and many hundreds of millions of dollars later, Chuck Wepner’s attorney, Anthony Mango, is suing Stallone on behalf of the Bayonne Bleeder.

I spoke with Wepner’s lawyer and he told me that “the suit is based upon the fact that Stallone uses Chuck’s name in a promotional manner. For example, two years ago they came out with a Rocky 25th anniversary DVD that was repackaged and boxed as a 5-disc set which contained Rocky 1 through Rocky 5. And Chuck’s name figured prominently on the packaging of those DVDs. That was something that was done without Chuck’s consent – and of course without compensating Chuck. That gives rise to what is called the right of publicity action, which basically means that a person’s name cannot be used for commercial purposes without their consent. That’s what Stallone is doing.”

Sly has been sly a long time. “He wrote a part into Rocky 2 for me and I went to Philadelphia and read for it twice in front of them. Ching Webber,” Chuck Wepner said. “Thirty-two lines in the script of Rocky 2. And nineteen days before final casting he cut me out.”

The two men will settle their differences in a court of law. Wepner is a heavyweight. Stallone is a lightweight. May the best man win.

Articles of 2004

The Best in Chicago Boxing Returns

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Dominic Pesoli's 8 Count Productions and Bob Arum's Top Rank Incorporated along with Miller Lite presents SOLO BOXEO DE MILLER, THE ARAGON RUMBLE, another installment of The Best in Chicago Boxing on Friday, January 14th, broadcast live internationally as part of Telefutura's Friday night professional boxing series.

The newly remodeled Aragon Ballroom is located at 1106 W. Lawrence Ave. near the corner of Lawrence and Broadway in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood and is easily accessible, just 4 blocks west of Lake Shore Drive and just 4 miles east of the Kennedy expressway. There are three large parking lots located within a 1/2 block of the Aragon Ballroom. Additionally, the Howard Street Blue Line stops just across the street. Doors will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

Headlining the action packed card is the American debut of super-bantamweight Ricardo “PIOLO” Castillo, 12-2 (6KO's) of Mexicali, Mexico as he squares off in a scheduled ten rounder against WBO Latino Champion, Edel Ruiz, 24-12-3 (13KO's) of Los Mochis, SI, Mexico. Castillo will be accompanied to the ring by his brother, World Lightweight Champion Jose Luis Castillo.

In the co-main event of the evening, one of Chicago's most popular fighters, middleweight “MACHO” Miguel Hernandez, 14-1 (9KO's), battles hard swinging local veteran “MARVELOUS” Shay Mobley, 7-4-1 (2KO's), of One In a Million Inc.in a scheduled eight rounder.

The huge undercard bouts include;

Carlos Molina vs TBA, six rounds, junior middleweights
Frankie Tafoya vs TBA, four rounds, featherweights
Ottu Holified vs. Allen Medina, four rounds, middleweights
Francisco Rodriguez vs. LaShaun Blair, four rounds, bantamweights
Rita Figueroa vs. Sarina Hayden, four rounds, junior welterweights

Said Dominic Pesoli, President of 8 Count Productions, “it was a terrific evening last month and our fans were thrilled to be at the Aragon to watch David, Speedy and Luciano. David Diaz's fight against Jaime Rangel was a fight people will talk about for a long time. Our commitment to our fans is to make every event of ours better than the last one. This main event is terrific, both guys are very tough Mexicans who won't take a step back.

The fans love Miguel and Mobley figures to be a very tough opponent. Him and David Estrada had a six round war last June at our show. And the undercard showcases a lot of new, younger talent that is coming out of Chicago right now. Tafoya and Holifield have both had very successful beginnings to their careers and Francisco Rodriguez comes with fantastic amateur credentials and David Diaz says he has all the talent to be a great pro.”

“We've got big plans for 2005 and this show should take up right where last months show left off. The huge crowd loved the action last time and I'm sure they'll say the same thing this time.”

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Articles of 2004

2004 Boxing Pound for Pound List

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The final boxing pound-for-pound list of the year for 2004.

1. Bernard Hopkins: The top guy from beginning to end, Hopkins took care of Oscar De La Hoya with a body shot in the biggest fight of 2004. Now, he'll wait for Jermain Taylor to progress a little further, or he'll go the rematch route with Felix Trinidad. Either way, Hopkins stands to earn a lot of money in 2005 and extend that all-time middleweight reign.

2. Floyd Mayweather: How long has it been since we've seen Mayweather in a meaningful fight? Certainly not in 2004, when he outpointed the difficult DeMarcus Corley. He's slated for a January outing against a no-name. Enough stalling, already, “Pretty Boy”. Fight someone we care about (preferably Kostya Tszyu), or you'll lose your #2 position sometime in 2005.

3. Felix Trinidad: “Tito” stormed back with a magnificent knockout of Ricardo Mayorga in 2004, and now hopes to capitalize on it with big money fights. He'd like nothing more than a rematch with his only conqueror, Hopkins, but he may also opt for old nemesis Oscar De La Hoya. Either way, Trinidad is sure to fight a big fight sometime in the coming year.

4. Kostya Tszyu: What a difference one fight makes. As recently as late October, the boxing world was wondering whether Tszyu was even serious about the sport anymore. We found out with a second round demolition of Sharmba Mitchell. And that made the junior welterweight division very attractive. Tszyu has several options now, including Arturo Gatti and Mayweather or even a hop up to welterweight to challenge Cory Spinks. Let's hope one of them happens in 2005.

5. Manny Pacquiao: Pacquiao fought twice in 2004, and what a fight the first one was. His thrilling war with Juan Manuel Marquez was the best brawl of the year, and there is a chance that the two rivals will go at it again in 2005. If not, Pacquiao has a list full of options: Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, etc. Pacquiao will fight one of them in the next year.

6. Marco Antonio Barrera: Another guy thought to be washed up when the year started, Barrera resurrected his career for the second time with a masterful victory over Paulie Ayala and a close decision over rival Erik Morales in another great fight. Barrera is obviously shooting for a return with Pacquiao, who decimated him in November 2003. Barrera says it was an off-night. Hopefully, we'll find out if that was the case.

7. Winky Wright: Winky entered the “superstar” realm in 2004 with a pair of decision victories over Shane Mosley. The first was very impressive, as Wright practically shut Mosley out. The second was closer, but proved once again that Winky was the superior fighter. He'd like a shot at Trinidad or Oscar De La Hoya, but neither will happen. He'd probably be best off shooting for a name like Fernando Vargas or Ricardo Mayorga.

8. Juan Manuel Marquez: After several years on the outside looking in, Marquez is finally in a position to make some money after his courageous performance against Pacquiao. He rose from three first-round knockdowns to wage the fight of his life in a fight that was ruled a draw. It would also be interesting to see Marquez against countrymen Barrera and Erik Morales.

9. Erik Morales: “El Terrible” fought another great fight against Barrera, but, again, it was in a losing cause. He has now lost two of three to his fierce rival, and probably wants nothing to do with him anymore. But, eventually, talk of Barrera-Morales 4 will come up again. In the meantime, Morales could shoot for Pacquiao or Marquez.

10. Glencoffe Johnson: The newest entry, Johnson pumped some life into boxing in 2004 with a pair of upsets of Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver. Now, he's set to make some really big money in rematches with either, or a shot at old conqueror Hopkins. Either way, Johnson is better than anyone imagined.

11. Jose Luis Castillo: Castillo made some comeback noise of his own in 2004, beating Juan Lazcano for his old vacant title and decisioning Joel Casamayor for another big win. He says he wants Kostya Tszyu next, and if that materializes, boxing fans will be in for a treat. If not, Castillo vs. Diego Corrales is a great fight.

12. Oscar De La Hoya: Hard to erase that picture of De La Hoya grimacing in agony courtesy of a Hopkins shot to the ribs, but the “Golden Boy” had no business fighting at 160 pounds. He should drop down to junior middle or even welterweight again if he has any hope of regaining his past form. But 2005 could be the final year for one of boxing's all-time great attractions.

On the brink: Antonio Tarver, Diego Corrales, James Toney

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Articles of 2004

Heavyweight Joe Mesi Bringing Lawsuit

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As reported by the Buffalo News, Joe Mesi is suing the New York State Athletic Commission and the MRI center that conducted tests on the heavyweight boxer after his bout with Vassiliy Jirov. Mesi reportedly suffered brain injuries in the Jirov bout, which has left his boxing status uncertain.

The lawsuit alleges Mesi's medical records were improperly released to the NYSAC. The records, the lawsuit goes on to allege, were then released to the media, prejudicing Mesi's right to have his status reviewed by the appropriate boxing authorities.

The lawsuit does not seek specific monetary damages, as the extent of damages will be affected by whether Mesi is able to resume his career as a leading heavyweight contender.

Mesi hopes to have his status reviewed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission within the coming month. The ruling of the NSAC promises to be key in whether Mesi will be able to resume his boxing career.

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