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Articles of 2004

Jimmy McLarnin – a Champion in Boxing and in Life

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A few days ago, I heard of the passing of former welterweight champion Jimmy McLarnin at the age of 96.  I was terribly disappointed when most newspapers had nothing more than a throwaway line on this Hall-of-Famer who was a terrific boxer and a great, great person.

McLarnin was born in Ireland on December 19, 1906.  To earn extra money for his family, he began boxing professionally as a flyweight at the age of 16.  His first 10 fights, all won on decision, took place in Ireland.  By the end of that first year, he realized that pro boxing was his calling, and he set sail for America.  He just knew that, if he was going to become a champion, it would have to be in the United States, where boxing flourished in the Roaring Twenties.

He settled in California, which he grew to love.  In his first full year in America, McLarnin fought 18 times, including three bouts in less than three months against the 1924 Olympic flyweight gold medalist and future world flyweight champion, Fidel LaBarba.  McLarnin was 2-0-1 in those bouts.

The trio of bouts against LaBarba showed that McLarnin could box with the best fighters in the world in his weight class.  With just two years of pro experience under his belt, at the age of  18 and with a record of 26-0-2 (a draw against Pa Moore followed the draw against LaBarba), McLarnin was ready for the world.

He suffered his first loss against future world bantamweight champion “Bud” Taylor in 1925, but rebounded with victories that same year against world flyweight champion Pancho Villa in a non-title fight and future welterweight king Jackie Fields, as well as with a win on a foul against Taylor in a rematch.

By the time he was 20, McLarnin had outgrown the bantamweight and featherweight divisions, and set his sights on the lightweight division.  A strong year in 1927, in which he went unbeaten in nine bouts, plus a first-round knockout of Sid Terris in February 1928, put McLarnin—who by now was being called “Baby Face”—in line for a shot at the lightweight title, held by smooth-boxing Sammy Mandell.  On May 21, 1928, McLarnin lost a close decision to the champion in New York City.  One month later, McLarnin was back in the ring, knocking out Phil McGraw in the first round.

McLarnin suffered a minor setback when he was stopped in the eighth-round by Ray Miller on November 30, 1928.  Today, a loss like that can be devastating.  Back then, however, it was dust-yourself off and get back in the ring.  And that’s exactly what McLarnin did.  Six weeks later, he pounded out a 10-round decision against Joe Glick.  He did even better against Glick less than two months later, knocking him out in round two.

Twenty days later, McLarnin got a chance to redeem himself against Miller, the man who had stopped him just under four months earlier.  This time, it wasn’t close.  McLarnin gave Miller the boxing lesson of his life in New York City, winning a 10-round decision.  The New York crowd fell in love with McLarnin.  New York became his boxing home.

 It was there, on May 29, 1933, at the age of 26, that Jimmy McLarnin became welterweight champion of the world when he starched rock-jawed Young Corbett III in the first round.

One day short of a year later, McLarnin lost the crown to Barney Ross via 15-round decision in Long Island City, N.Y.  It was the first of three successive title bouts

McLarnin had, all against Ross.  In their next meeting, on September 17, 1933, McLarnin reversed the table with a 15-round decision against Ross.  Then, on the anniversary of their first fight, Ross took the title back with another 15-round decision.

McLarnin ended his career in 1936 with three bouts, first losing on points, then winning a rematch against Tony Canzoneri.  He walked away from boxing shortly before his 30th birthday by outpointing world lightweight champion Lou Ambers in a non-title match.

McLarnin hung up his gloves with a record of 63-11-3, including  20 knockouts.

He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1956.

I was lucky enough to have spent time with him when I traveled to the West Coast with the USA Network and ESPN in the 1980’s, and I consider every moment of that time precious. Many others, including singer/songwriter/actor Frank Stallone could go on all day and tell you one fantastic story after another about McLarnin.

During McLarnin’s rise to stardom until the end of his career, fans would wait outside the arena for him so they could see him, talk to him, touch him and get his autograph.  He never wanted to see a fan go away empty-handed or sad, and he’d stay for hours at a stretch to make sure each and every one of them went home happy.  He visited hospitals, schools and shelters, giving them not only money, but much of his valuable time, as well.  He cared not for publicity, but only for humanity.

Jimmy McLarnin was, in every sense of the word, a champion.  He deserves more than having a throwaway line written about his death.

It’s the way he lived I’ll remember, not about how he died.

PUNCHES IN BUNCHES

The antithesis of McLarnin outside the arena is baseball Hall-of-Famers Johnny Bench and Tom Seaver, who are as nasty to their still-adoring public as McLarnin was nice to his.  Seaver and Bench recently appeared at a $500-a-plate dinner in New York City.  The money went to benefit Major League Baseball’s fund for its oldtimers who didn’t make the money Seaver and Bench did.  Throughout the night, they both wore their Leave-Me-Alone face and scowled at anyone who dared asked them for their autograph, of all things.  Some of the more pleasant former players, such as pitcher Jerry Koosman and legendary third-baseman Brooks Robinson, were actually embarrassed at the way Seaver and Bench treated the evening’s high-paying guests.  Seaver and Bench may be Hall-of-Famers, world champions and all-time greats, but neither has as much class in his entire body as Jimmy McLarnin had in his little finger.  It’s men like Seaver and Bench, and other conceited, full-of-themselves ex-athletes, who deserve throwaway lines.

I’m looking forward to Don King’s heavyweight card at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.  These fights are sure to shake up the heavyweight ratings…I wish all of you readers out there on the Left Coast and down South could make it into New York on December 18.  On that day, Ring 8 is having its annual Holiday Party in Long Island City’s Waterfront Crabhouse and is honoring four of the finest men I have known in my years in boxing.  They are:  Former world champion Vinny Pazienza, one-time heavyweight contender and all-around nice-guy Chuck Wepner, former light heavyweight contender Johnny Persol and manager/trainer Al Certo.

How’s This For Strange: As mentioned above, McLarnin beat world flyweight champion Pancho Villa in a non-title fight on July 4, 1925.  The day before the bout, Villa mentioned having a slight toothache.  Ten days after the fight, Villa died of a severe abcess in the tooth.

Hmm.  Gotta’ run.  I think it’s  time to make an appointment with the dentist!

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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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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