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Articles of 2005

Polarizing Fighters: Believing Isn’t Seeing – Part 2

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Yesterday – in Part 1 – I looked at fighters who, due to their popularity and fan base, cause reality and perception to be blurred. Today I’ll look at a few fights where the outcome has been over or understated as a result of an intense like or dislike for one of the fighters involved.

Spinks W-UD Holmes – First Fight: Right Decision

September 21 is a significant date in boxing history. It was on September 21, 1955 that heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano stopped light heavyweight champion Archie Moore in the ninth round. A few months after fighting Moore, Marciano retired as the only undefeated heavyweight champion in boxing history with a career record of 49-0 (43 KOs).

On September 21, 1985, thirty years to the day after Marciano-Moore, light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks won a 15 round unanimous decision over heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. With his victory over Holmes, Spinks became the first light heavyweight champion to defeat the reigning heavyweight champion. He also prevented Holmes, who entered the fight 48-0, from equaling one of boxing’s most notable achievements.

In the eyes of some, including Holmes, he was robbed and deserved the decision. Yes, it was a close fight, but Holmes, like any other fighter, doesn’t deserve a decision he didn’t rightfully earn in the ring. And in his first fight with Michael Spinks, Holmes legitimately fell a little short. It’s possible this fight may have come down to whoever won the fifteenth round won the fight. Being even after fourteen rounds was the absolute best case for Holmes, even if his relatives were scoring the bout. However, in the fifteenth round Holmes was tired and always a step behind Spinks, who beat him to the punch, scoring with some accurate flurries that clearly won him the round.

If Holmes wants to blame someone, he should look in the mirror. He fought a completely different style versus Spinks than in his previous 48 fights. Holmes thought because he was fighting a smaller fighter he could fight as the aggressor and go for the knockout instead of boxing him. Spinks proved Holmes picked the wrong night and the wrong opponent to change his style. Holmes was beaten to the punch and countered by Spinks throughout the fight. Although Spinks never hurt Holmes, he made him miss many of his punches, making him appear unsure on how to attack. Something he never experienced before in his career.

The bottom line is Michael Spinks outthought and outfought Larry Holmes – who at age 35 was not at his best – in their first fight. Again, a close fight, but definitely a Spinks win. Seven months later Holmes and Spinks fought again. Spinks won a split decision that really was an outright robbery. Holmes should have made history regaining the title. In their rematch, Holmes defeated Spinks more convincingly than Spinks beat him in their first fight.

Leonard W-SD Hagler: Right Decision

In one of the biggest and most anticipated non-heavyweight fights in history, Sugar Ray Leonard came out of retirement to challenge undisputed middleweight champion Marvin Hagler. Leonard had only fought once in the previous five years due to a detached retina and was a 4-1 underdog the night he fought Hagler. Hagler was the undisputed middleweight champ for the past seven years and hadn’t lost a fight in the last eleven. Although Hagler was the reigning champ, Leonard being the bigger star and presence made the title secondary. Throughout most of Hagler’s career he was overshadowed by Sugar Ray Leonard, and he wanted to fight Leonard before he retired.

Before consenting to the fight, Leonard made Hagler agree to a 12 round distance instead of 15 rounds, and a 20 foot ring instead of an 18 foot ring. Could there be any doubt Leonard wanted Hagler to have to cover the most distance in the shortest time allotted to catch him? There is simply no excuse for Hagler being surprised by Leonard’s fighting tactics or not being fully prepared for him moving and trying to use the ring. Forget the pre-fight concessions Hagler made. Hagler must have been so confident of beating Leonard that he didn’t think less rounds and a bigger ring would matter.

The boxing fans who dislike Leonard always talk about what he didn’t do, but they never mention what Hagler did. Hagler just happened to do slightly less than Leonard. Leonard haters constantly say his punches were nothing more than pity pat slaps. I don’t see it that way, but for argument sake I’ll accept that as reality for the moment. Marvin Hagler took a punch as good as any fighter I have seen. In 67 fights I never saw Hagler remotely close to being hurt. Murderous punchers like Cyclone Hart, Thomas Hearns and John Mugabi were able to find his chin during their fights with him, and nothing happened. If Leonard’s punches were nothing more than pity pat slaps, why didn’t Hagler just walk through them in order to get to Leonard and force him to fight? The reason is Leonard’s punches had enough on them to earn Hagler’s respect and to keep him from taking big risks in the most important fight of his career.

The Hagler-Leonard bout was a close fight. But a fight that ends in a close decision can still be a clean win for one fighter. I have respect for both fighters and consider them all-time greats. I was kind of pulling for Hagler because I thought a loss would hurt his career more than it would Leonard’s. So I tried to con myself that Hagler won, but couldn’t do it. In a simple recap of the fight, Leonard clearly and without question won no less than three of the first four rounds. And in all probability, he probably took the first four. The fact is Hagler couldn’t do anything until Leonard started to slow down. Plus Hagler did a terrible job cutting off the ring. He basically followed Leonard instead of staying in front of him. After the third round Leonard was up 3-0, at the least, with nine rounds left. I don’t care if you are Marvin Hagler’s twin brother, there’s no way he won six of the last nine rounds. The absolute best scenario is Hagler won five of the last nine rounds, which would make the fight 7-5 or 115-113 Leonard.

The other thing generally overlooked is Leonard’s rounds were more clear-cut than Hagler’s. There were only a few rounds where Hagler took it to Leonard. And there were times during the ninth, tenth and eleventh rounds that Hagler had Leonard pinned against the ropes and landed some big punches, yet Leonard was never close to being in trouble. Remember, it was Hagler who was the presumed puncher in this fight. If he didn’t dominate Leonard when he was stationary and right in front of him, how did he better him when Leonard wasn’t cornered or against the ropes?

I know it hurts some Leonard haters, but against Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard won the boxing match he planned and Marvin Hagler never made the bout the fight he wanted it to become. Leonard beat Hagler in a very close fight the night they fought. Did he prove he was the better fighter? Only on that night.

Trinidad W-MD De La Hoya: Wrong Decision

The welterweight unification bout between champions Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns took place on September 16, 1981. The Showdown, as it was called, was the biggest and most anticipated welterweight title bout in boxing history. Today it is regarded as a classic between two all-time great fighters in their prime.

Eighteen years later, champions Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad met for the undisputed welterweight title on September 18, 1999. The De La Hoya-Trinidad unification bout is only eclipsed by Leonard-Hearns in terms of the coverage and hype surrounding a welterweight championship fight. Unlike Leonard-Hearns, which exceeded expectation as a great fight, De La Hoya-Trinidad was nothing close to a great fight and didn’t live up to expectation. Another contrast between these two historic fights is De La Hoya-Trinidad ended in controversy, something that cannot be said about Leonard-Hearns.

The most memorable thing about the fight was the decision in favor of Trinidad. Like most close De La Hoya bouts that go to the judges, the media and fans are split as to who won. Those who like De La Hoya can’t see how he didn’t get the decision, and those who disdain him think Trinidad won going away. This was another big fight where there wasn’t much speculation on what each fighter had to do to win. De La Hoya had to use the ring and box, while avoiding toe-to-toe exchanges if possible. For Trinidad it was simple – keep De La Hoya in front of him and take away his space and force him to fight.

The way the fight unfolded, it was obvious that Trinidad missed the segment authored by Joe Frazier and Roberto Duran on how to cut off the ring, in the tape they should produce titled “How To Force A Mover/Boxer To Fight.” Trinidad followed De La Hoya instead of getting in front of him, which allowed Oscar the room he needed to box. During the first nine rounds De La Hoya did exactly what he wanted. He moved and kept Felix from getting set to punch, which was key. Trinidad, despite always forcing the fight and applying pressure, he has to have his feet set to punch with power. By Trinidad following instead of taking away De La Hoya’s escape routes, he was vulnerable for his quick offensive scoring spurts during rounds one through nine.

I’m tired of hearing some fans/writers/commentators say Fighter X ran and only threw pity pat punches. Go back and review every fight where that was said afterwards. I’ll bet anything that it was widely assumed that the fighter who is accused of running was thought to have no chance if he fought stationary and traded. And just as Hagler had to know with Leonard, Trinidad had to know De La Hoya wasn’t going to make it easy for him by taking him on at center ring and trading.

After ten rounds De La Hoya had to be up 7-3 in rounds at the worst. During the last two rounds De La Hoya did all he could not have to fight Trinidad. However, while De La Hoya was running and not fighting, what did Trinidad do? He didn’t stagger De La Hoya or hurt him. De La Hoya at least fought the fight he planned on fighting and Trinidad didn’t make him fight his fight.

During the first nine rounds De La Hoya beat Trinidad to the punch and won many of the exchanges, sometimes making Trinidad miss badly. No, he didn’t shake him or put him down, but he scored with clean punches and combinations. In Boxing 101 it says if Fighter A is scoring with clean punches and Fighter B is only moving forward but not landing, the round goes to the Fighter A. Landing punches, even if they are not damaging blows, counts more than not landing or missing. Just because a fighter is moving forward, it doesn’t automatically mean he’s the effective aggressor. Effective aggression is how Frazier fought Ali all three times or how Duran fought Leonard in their first fight.

Oscar De La Hoya out-boxed Felix Trinidad when they fought. He won the fight 7-5 or 115-113. The simple fact is Trinidad didn’t make De La Hoya fight. Trinidad didn’t become effective moving forward until De La Hoya tried to sit on what should’ve been a significant lead. De La Hoya looked bad fighting not to lose during the last three rounds, but he absolutely won more rounds than Trinidad.

Against Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya was able to box and keep the bout from turning into a fight. While Trinidad wanted it to be a fight, he was unable to make it one. And that’s why De La Hoya won. Notice that I didn’t say he proved he was the better fighter. But he was a little better the night they fought. In Trinidad’s defense, I think getting down to 147 affected him and possibly prevented him from being at his best. At 147 De La Hoya had the advantage, but I doubt I’d bet on him fighting Trinidad above 147.

Lewis W-6 TKO Klitschko: Legitimate Lewis Win, No Controversy

The 2003 heavyweight title fight between champion Lennox Lewis and top challenger Vitali Klitschko is the most recent bout where fan bias has completely blinded some boxing fans. Lewis retained his title when the fight was stopped after the sixth round due to a terrible eye cut suffered by Klitschko during the fight. Countless championship fights have ended under the exact same circumstances throughout boxing history. However, because Klitschko was leading 58-56 or 4-2 on all three judges’ cards when the fight ended, many Klitschko fans assume that he was on his way to certain victory. How scary is that? I would be willing to bet many title fights were won by the fighter who was slightly behind at the halfway point in the fight.

When fighters climb through the ropes, their intent is to hit and incapacitate or injure their opponent resulting in a stoppage win. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t believe Vitali Klitschko enter the ring with a cut eye when he challenged Lennox Lewis. Klitschko’s cut was the result of a punch landed by Lewis. End of story. I’ll bet Thomas Hearns’ wishes the cut he opened over Marvin Hagler’s eye in their 1985 war was a little more severe and led to the fight being stopped.

That’s boxing!

The fact that Klitschko was ahead in the fight means nothing when all is said and done. What matters is he couldn’t finish the fight because of the damage done by Lewis’ gloved fist. Tell me about the scoring if the fight goes to the distance. Meldrick Taylor was two seconds away from beating Chavez when he was stopped. What could have been a Hall of Fame career ended right then and there. “Big” John Tate was less than a minute away from a showdown with WBC champ Larry Holmes. In his title defense against Mike Weaver, Tate won almost every minute of the fight. Unfortunately, Weaver landed a big left hook in the last minute of the fifteenth round that won him the title and ruined Tate’s career.

That’s boxing too!

Sure, Klitschko won more of the six rounds he and Lewis fought. But does that prove he was the better fighter or that he wins if the fight continues? If I need to answer that, you ended up at the wrong website. This is boxing, better than Google hunting and fishing. Ask yourself two questions. (1) Who prepares for a fight with more urgency, a fighter who has yet to fight for a world title, but is on the verge of fighting for it, or a fighter who has held a piece of the title for the better part of ten years, not to mention contemplating retirement after scoring what he believes is the victory that solidifies his legacy? Google is just a click away if you’re unsure. (2) Who would you as a fighter rather be? The fighter who was down two points half way through the fight, but won because a punch you landed injured your opponent and he couldn’t continue, resulting in you winning the bout? Or the fighter who was leading halfway through, but lost because your opponent landed a punch that resulted in you not being able to continue? I know what line I’d be in: that long one. Wonder how many Klitschko fans would say he wasn’t the champ if he won the title in the exact fashion he lost the fight.

Instead of some fans beating the “what if” to death, how about asking how Klitschko could hit Lewis with more power punches than any other fighter ever did in his career, and still couldn’t drop him, let alone knock him out. It’s not like Lewis has never been knocked out in his career. And this was a fight in which Lewis weighed a career high and obviously underestimated Klitschko and overestimated himself. The names McCall and Rahman indicate that Klitschko wasn’t the first fighter Lewis ever played cheap.

If some fans want to say Lewis didn’t prove he was the better fighter during the bout – not that Klitschko did – that’s a fair point. However, don’t even joke that Lewis’ victory over Klitschko is the least bit tainted, because it’s not. On June 21, 2003, Lewis stopped Klitschko by TKO in the sixth. Again, a punch thrown by Lewis is the reason why Klitschko couldn’t continue and the fight had to be stopped. Lewis won. End of Story!

There is nothing in sports or much else better than a great fight. True boxing fans are a rare breed. Most follow it intently and are loyal almost to a fault regarding some of their favorite fighters. But I would just once love to hear an Ali fan admit that he was flawed as a pure boxer, or a Tyson fan admit that Holyfield was more eroded and washed up when they fought. How about a Roy Jones fan considering that maybe his chin is suspect, because nothing else makes sense regarding how his last two fights ended.

Does it really hurt a Hagler fan to admit that Leonard was a little sharper when they fought? Is a De La Hoya-hater so blinded by his dislike that he can’t see Oscar fought the fight he wanted against Trinidad and in return Trinidad didn’t? And I would just love to hear one Vitali Klitschko fan either admit Lewis won, or say if Vitali won the way Lewis did, they wouldn’t consider him the champ.

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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