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Articles of 2004

The Death of a Fabled Fight Factory: The 5th St. Gym

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Special to TheSweetScience.com, from the Pat Putnam Classic Series, this article originally appeared in Sports Illustrated.

I just finished reading Mitch Abramson’s essay of the sad demise of Sunnyside Gardens and it reminded me of the death of another fabled fight factory, the 5th St. Gym in Miami Beach, where I spent seven happy years in the ‘60s and a couple of unhappy hours early in the ‘90s. It may seem unnatural to remember an old beat up old building as a friend, but this one was.

April 1992. Miami  Beach, Florida. They have put a big Master padlock on Muhammad Ali’s door. Soon even the ghosts will be razed. The world weary old 5th St. Gym is about to be reduced to rubble by the wrecker’s iron ball. No more will Ali’s spirit dance across the sagging wooden floor. The ring that vibrated under the feet of Joe Louis and Carmen Basilio and Ezzard Charles, of Willie Pep and Carlos Ortiz and Sugar Ray Robinson is down. Gone, too, are the heavy bags that withstood the hammers of Rocky Marciano and Sonny Liston. The speed bags which Kid Gavilan and Archie Moore made sing departed silently. The world’s second most storied boxing sweatshop is to become a parking lot, or an apartment complex. I feel like I have been to the wake of an old friend.

Chris Dundee’s gym on Miami Beach’s southern tip was nine years old when Ali and I arrived for the first time on nearly the same day in 1960, he from the Rome Olympics and me from The Miami Herald. As students with vastly different curriculums, we climbed the 15 stairs to the second floor loft a few thousand times. Willie Pastrano, who left the gym a 20 1 underdog and returned with the light heavyweight championship in 1963, despised those wide linoleum covered steps. “I’m on my way to hell,” he’d grumble, as he’d shuffle heavily upward each day at noon.

Others, like Luis Rodriguez, who began cutting sugar cane in Cuba at the age of five, never forgot a harder life and found fighting a pleasurable way to earn a dollar. A tall skeleton of a man with a nose that looked like it had been torn from a banana stalk, Rodriguez also left the gym in 1963; he returned with the welterweight championship.

They were the home boy stars, they and the irrepressible Ali, but the gym was always thick with hungry kids from faraway places drawn like moths to the gym’s legendary flame, looking to fulfill a dream in a cavernous place where Chinese waiters once sold fortune cookies. The champions and top contenders came, too – Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Dick Tiger, Bob Foster, Johnny Saxton, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Ken Buchanan, an endless parade of the great and near great.

Some, like Joey Giardello and Jake LaMotta, came there to train for fights in Miami or Miami Beach, while others, mostly fighters from Europe, came just because it was the 5th St. Gym. Many who came had trained at Stillman’s Gym on 8th Avenue in New York, which had been the world’s most famous gym before that Spartan retreat was replaced by an apartment building in 1961. Now with a sense of history, boxing’s aristocracy wanted only to break a sweat in another legendary labor camp.

Drawn like gold prospectors to Johan Sutter’s Mill, the big time writers – the likes of Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon, Budd Shulberg, Doc Green – descended regularly upon the gym, usually in the spring when baseball brought them south, detached and cynical, but certainly in their own fashion to pay homage. Angelo Dundee, Chris’s younger and more famous brother, always hosted the visiting newsmen for lunch at Puerto Saqua, a short stroll north to 7th and Collins, where, like the conversation, the meal of Cuban steak, black beans and rice, and banana pie never varied.

The two story building stood two blocks west of where the Atlantic Ocean washes up on pristine beaches, but for the citizens of the gym it might as well have been planted in an Iowa cornfield. The modest entrance to the gym was a narrow rectangular cut in a concrete block background of pale pink. Inside a blackboard in a tiny alcove listed in chalk the boxers training that day.

Optimistically, as though their careers would go on forever, the names of the local stars were painted. As you ascended the stairs, three hand lettered signs warned that entry would cost you fifty cents. Over the double doors at the top, another sign said: “Stop and Pay Fifty Cents, No Dead Beats.” Until 1979 another sign read: “No Girls Allowed.” At the door Dundee always stationed a senior citizen with no nonsense eyes to collect the access tax.

Inside was usually given over to smoke filled bedlam. The solitary ring was seldom empty. Twin heavy bags and two speed bags groaned and chattered constantly, except when Ali sparred and everyone stopped to watch. A large dust covered, fly specked mirror rested at a tilt against a rear wall, next to a door which led to tiny dressing quarters which boasted badly dented lockers, a blistered wooden bench, and two showers which were nozzles on the end of bare gray pipes over concrete squares. When the showers clogged, the runoff often spilled into the drug store downstairs. No one went to the gym for comfort.

All that is gone now. Dundee gave up the gym when he stopped promoting in 1982, after free televised bouts and the rise of gambling casino boxing all but killed small club fights. Name fighters trained elsewhere. Roosevelt Ivory who took over the gym has surrendered to the decay. Termites have chewed the floor into a quilt of plywood patches. The walls once covered with colorful posters and old fight pictures and yellowed clippings of battles long ago fought are now bare and chipped and holed. Some windows are cracked; others are missing. The only equipment that works is the large padlock securing the grill across the entrance.

Nothing remains; nothing but the smell of sweat and rubbing alcohol and, hauntingly, of chicken soup; and the ghosts, who weep. Soon even they will be gone. But somewhere Willie Pastrano is laughing. He is the last fighter to have a dream about the 5th St. Gym come true.

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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