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Articles of 2004

Of Heroes and Humility



Fighters aren't the only people in boxing with a lot of heart.

There is one week of my life I can guarantee you I'll never forget. It involved the period of time just after my father passed away from cancer in 1991. We had traveled from South Florida to my native New Jersey, where he was to be buried, and on the last day of viewing some of the members of my family got together and more or less drafted me to write the eulogy, then deliver it at the funeral the next morning.

I didn't really want to do it – for one thing, I was in no emotional condition to collect thoughts and put them down on paper in a coherent manner. To compound matters, I was going through a lot of physical pain. I had just come down with a toothache, and with no time to make an appointment with a dentist, I had to rely on a prescription of Percocet to deal with a level of physical discomfort that was rapidly becoming worse.

But there was no one else who could handle it, so here I was at about 2 AM, just eight hours before a funeral, with no sleep, completely drained, and incredibly drowsy from taking the pain-killers, but at the same time obligated to stay awake long enough to write, from scratch, a speech that was worthy of my father's memory.

Somehow I made it through all that, and considering the circumstances, it was probably the best thing I've ever written.

It was also, without question, the most difficult thing I've ever had to do.

Having said that, and as hard as the whole process was, it might pale in comparison to what other people have had to endure.

These days, my heart goes out to a friend who is one of those people.

Chris Middendorf is one of the best matchmakers in boxing, and justifiably one of the busiest. His clients include Gary Shaw, Scott Wagner at Ballroom Boxing, PJ Augustine of Philadelphia, and a handful of other promoters across the country. For the past several years he's been operating under a level of strain most of us are probably unfamiliar with, and which few of his colleagues even knew about.

Middendorf is an anomaly in boxing, to be sure – certainly I have not met any other matchmakers in my twenty-odd years around the game who are former art dealers, much less Harvard graduates.

His wife was unusual as well. A woman of many talents, she had been an actress, activist, stuntwoman, and most recently, a documentary film maker of considerable prowess. She did a lot of great work, including a documentary featuring one of our good friends, Senator John McCain. And her series on the Learning Channel, “Junkyard Wars”, received widespread critical acclaim.

On June 29, Alexandra Middendorf succumbed to that most indomitable of opponents – Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS, or “Lou Gehrig's Disease”.

ALS is debilitating, and mysterious. Affecting about as many people as multiple sclerosis, it's a disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Early symptoms include weakening of the muscles and slurred speech. Eventually the ability to dictate and control motor functions is lost. Inevitably paralysis sets in. Speaking is gradually more and more difficult. Breathing becomes impossible without the help of a ventilator.

Some of the symptoms can be relieved with treatment, but there is no cure.

In the latter stages, the patient requires constant personal care. And the expenses can be astronomical.

Most people can live three years or more after the diagnosis, but only 10% live more than a decade. Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist and author, has survived for over 40 years with ALS, but he is the extreme exception, not the rule.

The most famous person who has contracted ALS is, of course, Gehrig.

Losing power in his swing during the 1938 season, many people around the New York Yankees' Hall of Famer could sense something a little out of sorts. And when he got off to an especially slow start the next year, Gehrig knew enough to take himself out of the lineup and end his streak of 2130 consecutive games played.

Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with ALS.

Gehrig's heroic battle with the disease that eventually bore his name is well-documented, and in fact celebrated. The “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech at his tribute ceremony on July 4, 1939 will live forever in baseball legend.

Alex Middendorf's own heroic battle with ALS is not well-known, at least among her husband's colleagues in boxing. It just wasn't Chris' style to say very much about it.

And as a result, perhaps we'll never grasp the depth of what he's been through.

But in the way of offering some perspective, I want to take a moment and explain how hard it is to be a successful matchmaker in the boxing business. Most people think that fights just “come together”. Obviously, such is not the case. Making matches involves the execution of a multitude of tasks. Besides needing to have an ability to deal on a one-on-one basis with many people and an encyclopedic knowledge of fighters and their styles, the matchmaker has to secure travel arrangements, coordinate purses and contracts, make sure everybody has taken the required medical tests, continually stay up to date with those fights he has produced, preside over weigh-ins, and follow through all the way until the end of the promotion, when the fighters get paid.

Along the way, he has to be ready at any given moment for the time when he gets that dreaded phone call – the one where he finds out a fighter has pulled off the card and he needs to get a substitute within 24 hours or else the show is in jeopardy. He has to be willing, if necessary, to stay up all hours of the night finding a four-round opponent for a hometown favorite who sells a load of tickets. And he has to hope and pray that on the day of the fight, everybody shows up.

Families can suffer. Relationships can suffer.

But for one relationship in particular, the aforementioned commitment is especially critical, for no promoter can survive without a dependable matchmaker.

It's probably the hardest job in the boxing industry. And maybe the most thankless.

A few years ago, I wrote extensively on the “Art of Matchmaking”. The material is part of “Operation Cleanup: A Blueprint for Boxing Reform”, if you care to go and find it. Usually when I write a story that offers an insight to boxing that is not customarily available anywhere else, I get quite a bit of e-mail, mostly from people in the industry, thanking me for pointing out the subtleties and complexities of what they do. After writing the matchmaking pieces, the most passionate, thought-provoking response I received came from Chris Middendorf, who I really didn't know at the time, but who wrote so eloquently that I kick myself to this day for having somehow lost it.

He seemed to understand it so well. And his passion, commitment, and work ethic were clearly evident.

The point is, when I was making matches it was all I could handle to keep up with one or two shows a month. Middendorf routinely does anywhere from four to six shows a month. All the while he's had to simultaneously take care of the needs of his ailing wife, not to mention his children, one of whom is a promising athlete who is just entering college on scholarship, a process that mandated Chris accompany her on several college visits. This, in addition to everything else human beings have to worry about on a daily basis.

That's a huge burden.

And Chris' conscious decision has been not to bring that burden upon anyone else, even though many of us would have been all too willing to listen and/or help. Never once did his personal difficulties enter into a phone conversation.

It's not that Chris wants to be as mysterious as the disease that has taken his loved one. It's just that, I guess, some people feel it's absolutely necessary that you hear their life story, some do not.

I've known people with whom I could not speak for more than three minutes without hearing their entire list of accomplishments.

Incredibly, I had to go through extensive research for this story to find out stuff that Middendorf never told me, but knew I'd probably be interested in – for one thing, that in 1974, he was a member of the Harvard sailing team which won the national championship; that he was named an All-American; that he was later inducted into the Harvard Varsity Club Hall of Fame, right alongside the likes of Bobby Jones (of golfing fame) and Dwight Davis (as in “Davis Cup”).

There's a level of humility in all that, which, in its own way, lays a foundation for a certain kind of heroism.

While knowingly fighting a losing battle with a fatal disease must represent the ultimate in bravery, the person who keeps the family together, and does what has to be done to support it, no matter what happens, can also be a hero.

I don't know; maybe I'm telling you this story because heroes seem to be in short supply. Or maybe everyone has some hero in them, just waiting for the right moment to present itself.

At any rate, these words mean something to me:

“…..a man who carried himself with a certain dignity which brought respect among his peers and more importantly, the kind of self-respect a man needs to live with himself and among those around him….”

That's part of what I wrote for my father on the day of his funeral service.

I could probably apply it to my friend as well.

Articles of 2004

2004 Boxing Pound for Pound List



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




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




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 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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