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Articles of 2004

Boxing’s Gifted One

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SPECIAL to TheSweetScience.com, this reprint from Jonathan Rendall strips away the boxing clichés, the usual set pieces. It tells the story of Kirkland Laing.

In the flesh I first saw Kirkland Laing in the mid-Eighties when, as a paying customer, I was watching a boxing card at the Albert Hall. His brother, Tony – a far less skilled, if still very tough, competitor – was boxing a bout on the bill that he was expected to lose. Kirkland wasn’t boxing that night. He was just watching his brother from the stalls. Kirkland was an elegant-looking man; lithe – unlike Tony, who was a stocky pressure-fighter – with an excitable and highly intelligent face.

I’d known about Kirkland Laing, of course. About a year earlier he’d beaten the great Roberto Duran, ‘Manos de Piedos’ (‘Hands of Stone’), one of the best fighters of all time, in a non-title fight in America. Laing was already nearing 30 by then. That upset sent reverberations round the boxing world – which was then still a major and almost-correct sporting world – that made the name ‘Kirkland Laing’ bigger in North and South America in a way that, for example, Prince Naseem Hamed never was.

For some reason he never cashed in. He was inactive for about a year, and then was brought back for a fight against a young, hungry and unbeaten fighter named Fred Hutchings – a totally unsuitable match, in my view, since if you have clawed your way to the serious money level, the last person you want is someone who can fight and is still poor. Hutchings blew Laing away in under three rounds.

This Albert Hall night was not long after that, and a frisson of embarrassed ‘I told you so’ hung over Kirkland’s presence. Talent always gets that. Plus, he’d never sold many tickets. I watched him watching Tony. He was wearing a lightweight suit and short dreadlocks. He was giving himself entirely to his brother’s fate – by that, I mean he wasn’t pretending to, like most people of fleeting fame, despite their better instincts, do.

I was about 19 then, and probably suggestible. But there are only a few people in life that you run across and – not necessarily for profound reasons – want to take something off, emulate if you like, and Kirkland Laing was one of them. He was a boxer, but he seemed to have that artist’s sensibility – of Wilde or Dylan Thomas, say – of living truly in the moment, and letting the chips fall where they may.

Anyway, Tony won, landing a haymaker when things were touch and go. Kirkland ran into the ring in his suit, ecstatic, and the referee told him to get out, wagging his finger at him. Kirkland obeyed, exiting sheepishly. The crowd found this exchange hilarious, joining in on the referee’s side. Yeah, get that Kirkland out. Look at him. Mad, he is.

About eight years later I interviewed him for a paper. He was having an unlikely resurgence at the age of 38. He’d become European champion, though he was soon to lose the title in Italy – another fight he shouldn’t have taken.  ‘The Gifted One’ moniker was invented then: it hadn’t existed before. I picked him up outside a pub in Dalston. He had a drink in his hand; a short.

We went back to his flat – a first-floor council flat, on a quite rough estate. His girlfriend was there, an Asiatic woman, about as old as him. She was not from his social milieu. She was a writer or artist, I think she said. I could tell she really loved him, and would look after him come what may, and I hoped he knew that, as he did like to cultivate the image of a ladies’ man. I think he did know, though. They were like John and Yoko without the money.

My piece ‘went down very well’. ‘You really got him.’ But now I’m not proud of it. It made fun of Kirkland, slightly. It was their type of piece. Mad, he is. And that wasn’t true.

The reason for this is that a few weeks ago Kirkland fell off that balcony in Dalston and is in intensive care. It was a filler in a newspaper, mentioning his partner, ‘Linda’.  I hoped she was Yoko.

Then there was a programme on the BBC that I thought disgusting – because they’d filmed most of it before the accident, and still screened it afterwards. They’d never have screened it if Kirkland had a few quid.

The premise was a ‘search for Kirkland Laing’ among the street-drinkers of Hackney, who cited him as ‘a lovely fella’, without convincing that they had actually met him, conducted by a boxing reporter with whom I have personally got legless on several occasions.

“So, Kirk,” the reporter said over-familiarly, as they sat together in the archly chosen venue of a park bench. “What about getting yourself together, cutting down on the drink?” Words to that effect.

Kirkland looked at him quizzically. He was sporting a Methusaleh-like beard which might have confused him as a derelict (and no doubt the close-ups of it were intended to). But, looking at his other garments, and the way he was relaxed, crossing his legs, I knew he wasn’t one. It was just his latest look. And very elegant too. Anyway, he wasn’t homeless. He had the flat, the flat from which he would fall. I can understand falling, if you are that gifted. It’s not that difficult to understand, how you might get ‘in a state’.

His reply was beautiful. “Some people mistake generosity for weakness,” he said, amused.

So us viewers were brought back to the studio set, where the reporter and his host, John Inverdale, pronounced solemnly and sanctimoniously. But by then it was clear Kirland Laing had gone way over their heads. Such had already been evident when the reporter asked Laing what he’d do next. Go back into the boxing game? Do a bit of training?

“No,” Kirkland said, with a wave of his hand. “I think I’ll write a book.”

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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