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Articles of 2005

Panama Lewis Zone

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Boxing collects black eyes the way a philatelist collects stamps. Yet the world would have us believe that in the collective known as sport, boxing is a slut among pristine virgins. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Basketball has tattooed cross-dressers. Baseball has pathological gamblers. Football has murderers. They break necks in hockey.

In the midst of so much mayhem, boxing doesn’t look that bad.

One of the times boxing looked bad was on June 16, 1983. That was the night up-and-coming welterweight Billy Collins Jr. fought journeyman Luis Resto in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Collins was seconded by his father and trainer Billy Collins Sr. Resto had Panama Lewis in his corner.

To the surprise of almost everyone, Resto beat Collins to within an inch of his life. The formerly good-looking prospect was a ruined man. After the fight, a suspicious Billy Collins Sr. asked that Resto’s gloves be impounded as evidence. The NYPD determined that the gloves had been tampered with. Most of the horsehair padding had been removed before the fight.

Lewis and Resto were tried, convicted and sentenced for assault, conspiracy, and possession of a deadly weapon. Resto served two years. Lewis did one. Panama Lewis was banned for life from the sport of boxing in the United States. Billy Collins died a year after the fight, drunk and despondent behind the wheel of a speeding car.

The boxing trainer Panama Lewis was born Carlos Humberto Lewis in the Panama Canal Zone and has been fighting forever.

“I was an amateur fighter in Panama and then I turned pro,” Lewis tells me. “I started off boxing in 1960, 118 pounds, bantamweight. I had twenty amateur fights, only lost once. Then I went to professional and I only lost once there too. I went into the U.S. Army in 1969 and got out in ‘71. I’m a disabled veteran. I met Eddie Gregory, known as Eddie Mustafa, and I hooked up with his trainer, Chickie Ferrara, and he taught me a lot. I met Mr. Ray Arcel in 1971.”

Ray Arcel was to pugilists what Siegfried and Roy were to big cats.

“I went on with Mr. Ray Arcel and I went on with Mr. Freddie Brown, because they both used to work together and they was training Roberto Duran. I have to give all blessing to God,” Lewis declares. “And the next man I have to give blessing to is Roberto Duran, because if it wasn’t for Roberto Duran, there wouldn’t be no Panama Lewis. He gave me the opportunity to work in the corner as the fourth man, to translate, and with that I learned. Plus I’m gifted to see things and move on. I’m a fast thinker. I’m a good motivator. The only man who could top me with that was a man named, God bless him, Bundini Brown.”

Drew “Bundini” Brown was the mirror in Ali’s corner who cast his good spell on Ali and his bad spell on Ali’s opponents.

“I knew Roberto Duran in Panama. I was in the family,” continues Lewis. “I was part of Duran’s family.”

I mention that Roberto Duran, in my opinion, was one of the greatest lightweights in history.

“Not one of them,” Lewis says. “He’s the only great lightweight champion whoever put his foot on the planet.”

I ask if he thinks Duran was better than Benny Leonard.

Panama Lewis smiles. “You know greatness when you see it,” he says. “Like when I had Aaron Pryor. He was the best 140-pounder ever done it. So I’m blessed to work with good fighters. I work with Mike McCallum. I work with Livingstone Bramble. I work with Camacho Sr. I had a chance also to train Michael Nunn. I gave him four defenses. I made Vito Antuofermo world champion. I did that. I can go on and on today with you naming great fighters, but all that’s saying is that you have to have a blessing from God. I am blessed with boxing. Even though they took away what I’m supposed to have – you understand? – I’ll get it back because they can’t stop that.”

There’s an old adage which says a trainer is only as good as his fighter. I ask Panama Lewis if that is true.

“I’ll put it this way,” he replies. “The trainer gotta be a teacher, to teach the fighter to show his greatness. But if you work with that fighter and the fighter look bad, you can look bad at the trainer. So is a double-whammy here. The trainer makes the fighter and the fighter makes the trainer, in a sense.”

Although Panama was born in Panama, he was a classic New York gym rat.

“I started off in the 149th and Third Avenue, Bobby Gleason’s Gym. That’s where I really started off,” Lewis says. “Then I went by a little gym over here, got to Stillman’s, traveled around to get boxing. I’m from the old school. But what I do, I mix the old school with the new school. You cannot bring the old school without mixing it with the new school. I don’t believe in a fighter leaving everything up to lifting weight. I don’t wanna hear what his strengthening coach gotta say. Back in the old days you go and rake grass, you chop trees down, you work hard in the gym and you spar. That weightlifting thing don’t work for every fighter. It works for some fighter, but not a skillful fighter.”

I ask Lewis to elaborate.

“You may have muscles,” the trainer says, “but muscles don’t win fights. The brain wins fights. That’s why a lot of fighter’s careers end up quick, because they’re not thinking fighters. Then you be talking with your tongue heavy. Know what I’m saying? This thing kills. But boxing is an art. Once you learn the art, you can go places. And you have to live clean. In a sense, that’s why George Foreman could a came back and did what he did. A lot of these fighters trying to do that, and they’re gonna get hurt, because they didn’t live the life George Foreman lived. I don’t think Holyfield is finished. I think he could fight still, but he can’t beat no great fighter or no young guy. He’s gotta look for somebody old like himself. I can’t speak for him, but if I was him, in his shoes, with the money he made, I wouldn’t be in the game today.”

Everyone agrees – everyone, that is, except Evander – that Holyfield should call it a day. I ask Lewis why he thinks the Real Deal – or any other fighter, for that matter, who fights past his prime – resists hanging ‘em up.

“What they miss is when they cross the street and people say: Here comes the champion. When you retire you don’t hear that. They miss that spotlight. They miss that crowd. They live for that. That is a big high for them.”

That may be a big high for them, but it can be a big low for the rest of us.

“He shouldn’t have fought no Larry Donald. I wouldn’t fight Larry Donald,” Panama Lewis says, “because he’s a stinker. He runs. He grabs. And if you beat Larry Donald you’re going nowhere. All you do is look stupid, like he did in the fight. So he fought the wrong fighter.”

Is there a top-ten fighter Holyfield can beat? What about WBO champ Lamon Brewster?

Panama Lewis makes a face: “Brewster is a champion because Wladimir Klitschko got no heart.”

Team Klitschko had several explanations for Wlad’s poor performance that night, blaming it on everything from Vaseline on the legs to poison in the water bottle.

“No, no, listen to me,” Lewis says excitedly. “Excuses. You’ve gotta bring heart to the game. He’s in condition, but he can’t take it, and he quit, gave up. There ain’t no excuses. So he should get out before he gets hurt. But he ain’t going to do it, because of the money they’re giving him. The brother, Vitali, at least comes to fight.”

Vitali Klitschko’s last fight was his demolition of Danny Williams.

“Danny Williams became famous because Mr. Mike Tyson’s leg got messed up. Trust me, if it weren’t for the leg, you wouldn’t be hearing no Danny Williams fighting no Klitschko. But things happen in the game when you’re thirty-eight. You leave the dressing room good, you try in that ring, and all the sudden your body go ‘whoop’ because of your age. I don’t wanna dog his victory,” Lewis says. “He beat Tyson because Tyson wasn’t Tyson that night. If the leg was good – you seen the fight – you know Williams wasn’t going no three, four rounds with Tyson.”

Panama Lewis has done it all, the good, the bad and the ugly. Under the circumstances, I wonder if he has mixed feelings about the sweet science.

“I’ve been in it for the last thirty-eight years and it’s all I know to do,” he says. “This is a blessing God gave me. That’s why nobody can take away what God gave me: the knowledge of the game. And I’m blessed in motivation. I could take a bad fighter and make him a good fighter, because I’m a teacher. There are few teachers left in the game, very few teachers left in the game, and I’m fortunate to be one of them.”

Panama Lewis, despite the odds, is standing at the final bell.

“You know what keep me grounded?” he asks. “That keep me going? A man named Jesus Christ. God keep me going. The bible keep me strong. Everybody in this world, except God, commits sins – understand? – Even the President of the United States. So who am I to talk? When they talk about me, I feel good because I’m still important. ‘Oh, Panama Lewis, he’s the one . . . ’ That make me famous still. When I don’t hear about Panama Lewis, then I worry. God gave me the gift to motivate. God gave me the gift to be a teacher in boxing. Not a trainer, a teacher. So that’s why good fighters come to me – because they want to learn how to fight. Being a trainer is more than putting on a towel and tell a man to give me three rounds, give me four rounds, give me five rounds. No. You got to teach your fighters. That’s what I’m gifted with. They can’t take that away from me.”

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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