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Articles of 2004

A George Foreman Christmas Past

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‘Twas a week until Christmas,
So Santa went to Reno,
To see Foreman fight,
And play a little keno.
But when he saw the fight poster,
He knew something was not right,
He roared: “Oh, my God,
This Jimmy Ellis is White.”
~ Pat Putnam, December 2004


Reno, Nevada. December 1991.
Old George Foreman, the Pied Piper of Boxing, spent the last two weeks in Reno, much to the relief of the people who run the gambling halls, which were expected to stand empty while customers stayed home to prepare for the holidays. The long Christmas season is for tinsel and toys, turkey and togetherness, not for the turn of a card or the roll of dice. “Our great adage is that you don't fight Santa Claus,” says Gary Carano, general manager of the Eldorado Hotel and Casino.

Ho, ho, help! Against the jolly 257-pound ex-heavyweight champion with the charismatic personality, Santa, weight unannounced, never had a chance. Foreman came to town for his first fight after a 12-round loss to heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield last April 19, and not even the anemic credentials of his novice opponent, a 27-year-old Caucasoid ex-linebacker out of Boise State named Jimmy Ellis, could diminish his magnetic appeal. People poured in to see Foreman's wholesome lounge act.

“Well, it's not really a fight, but an event,” said Mark Neebling of Harrah's Reno, which ordered $30,000 worth of tickets, called for more, and finally wound up doubling its original allotment. Another 200 Harrah's guests were on standby. “We are damned pleased. This is an invitee event, with tickets going to our premium guests. Our list was expanded well beyond our normal boxing fans. They want to see George more than they want to see a fight.”

That was fortunate for the high rollers, because Santa would have stood a better chance against Foreman.  With no amateur experience, Ellis came in with 16 knockouts and a draw, all against people who should be driving a cab for a living. His last 10 opponents, average age 31, had lost a combined 128 fights, 64 of them by knockouts. One of them, Darrell Young, had a pro career that lasted less than one round. Another, 278-pound Jerry Duke, had three fights, was knocked out three times, and then quit. Ellis would have had a harder time if all his opponents had been found in a Brooklyn saloon.

“I think I am definitely qualified to fight George Foreman,” said a confident Ellis, whose entire pro career spanned less than 35 rounds. In contrast to Ellis's round count, Foreman had more than twice as many fights. Only two of Ellis's fights lasted more than two rounds, and only one, a draw with 33-year-old club fighter Greg Gorrell, went as long as eight. His biggest purse was $4,000, which he made in his last outing, a two-round knockout of 38-year-old Dwain Bonds, a professional sparring partner who had not won a fight in four years.

“I just want to get lucky,” said Dan Goossen, Ellis's promoter who somehow persuaded the HBO suits to pay $325,000 for his 228-pound toothless tiger. “I have had skilled fighters and they haven't worked out.” Goossen could sell sand to a Bedouin.

The afternoon of the fight, one HBO executive was overheard talking to a friend by telephone from his suite. “No, not that Jimmy Ellis. Can he fight? Jesus Christ, he’s white.” After watching Ellis workout for about five minutes, the embarrassed HBO suits went to a non-denominational chapel and prayed that Foreman would knock out his inept opponent in the first round.

For Foreman, paid $5 million by the cable network for his 73rd professional fight, it was less a fight and more of a test of his right knee, which had undergone arthroscopy surgery twice since his loss to Holyfield. One operation should have corrected the problem. Foreman re-injured the knee while on assignment as a boxing color commentator for HBO last August. During a basketball game in Palm Springs, he twisted the knee while falling on Akbar Muhammad, one of promoter Bob Arum's boxing people. Foreman was not happy. Akbar was not too pleased, either.

The injury changed Foreman's training regime, which is considerably less demanding that workouts at a fat farm for senior citizens. Rather than doing roadwork while training for Ellis, he rode a stationary bike in his suite. A bottle of painkillers was kept handy just in case. In “secret” morning sessions at the Eldorado, which purchased $100,000 worth of tickets for the privilege of hosting the former heavyweight champion, he pounded the heavy bag slowly. far beyond the normal three-minute time periods. It works for him.

Foreman's two-hour afternoon sessions, where he walked through sparring sessions between self-deprecating jokes, belonged to the public that began lining up two hours before the doors opened. The room held 1200 people, and as quickly as one body left another filled the vacated space.

“One day we had 1500 in there. I was worried until I saw that it was the fire marshal letting them in,” said Carano. “That day we had to turn away another 500.”

Many in the crowds were woman queuing up to have their photos taking with Foreman. Some just wanted to touch him. “He's not just another superstar,” said Kate Warner of Caesar’s Tahoe, which wound up nearly doubling its original order of 98 tickets. “He is very real to the people. The public looks at him like just another one of the guys. He never keeps them at a distance and he talks to them for hours on end.”

Foreman gave the courageous Ellis just seven minutes and 36 seconds, which is about twice as long as the fight should have lasted. With a nose that has been badly broken and an unshaven jutting jaw bristling black, Ellis at least looks like a fighter. It is only at the opening bell that the image quickly fades. Behind a punishing jab and ponderous one-at-a-time sledge-hammering punches, Foreman pounded him almost disdainfully.

Early in the second round, a short, cruel hook turned Ellis's legs to rubber and he reeled drunkenly about the ring. Still, Ellis refused to quit. He has the heart of a lion; he just cannot fight like one. After a searching glance at referee Richard Steele, Foreman continued his heavy-handed assault. At the end of the round, as Ellis lurched about looking for his corner, his handlers hurried out and got him.

Shockingly, the same comer men sent him out for the third round. Ellis should have called a cop; instead, he tried to fight. A minute and thirty six seconds into the round, after an apparently annoyed Foreman had hammered home 40 of 49 punches, Steele had seen enough. Ignoring Ellis’ protests, the referee waved a ceasefire.

The nearly capacity crowd of 6,284 filed out happy. “He could have shadow boxed and they would have come,” said Greg Fine of the Sparks Reno Convention Center.

Said Bally's spokesman Brian Lawson: “After his fight with Holyfield, everybody just fell in love with the old guy. It's the damnedest thing I have ever seen. We committed to buy $50,000 worth of tickets and wound up buying $65,000 worth. When Larry Holmes defended his heavyweight title against Carl Williams here the fight didn't do this well.”

“You've got to love him,” said Chuck Miller of the Peppermill Hotel, which bought $50,000 worth of tickets for its A-list customers, the ones with six-figure credit lines. “The only attraction equal to him is New Year's Eve, our biggest night of the year.”

OK, Santa, you can come out now. The Big Guy has gone home to Texas.

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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