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Articles of 2005

Don't Forget the 'Smoke' – Joe Frazier

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Today on his sixty-first birthday, and thirty-four years after “The Fight of The Century”, it is my opinion that former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier gets lost in the overall picture of history’s greatest heavyweight champions. The way I see it, Joe Frazier can lay claim to something no other fighter in boxing history can: that is he was the winner of the biggest and most celebrated fight in boxing history. And it's definitely not a reach to say that the first fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali was the biggest sporting event of all time.

In what was his career defining fight, Joe Frazier was better prepared mentally, physically and strategically for Ali, more so than any other fighter I have ever seen for an opponent. Only because of the Herculean effort of Frazier was Ali the loser in the most anticipated fight in history. Only Ali could recover from losing such an event and go on to be bigger than he would have been than if he won. However, what continues to mystify me is how Frazier is often overlooked and underappreciated, not to mention underrated. That’s unbelievable in today's sporting world where everything is usually overrated based on one great fight or game. Yet Frazier, who won the fight that mattered most, is overlooked. Talk about being born at the wrong time. I thought that only applied to Jerry Quarry.

Maybe the Frazier who defeated Quarry twice should be linked to him for another reason: being victim to the calendar and having a lifetime to think about it. Many boxing aficionados have remarked that it was Quarry's misfortune to be in his prime at the same time that Ali and Frazier were at or close to theirs. I think it can just as easily be said that Frazier had the misfortune of being champion when Ali was larger than life and George Foreman was at his physical peak. If you compare Frazier and Ali strictly as fighters, there isn't much separating them. All three fights between them were close and went down to the wire with some seeing both of them as being the winner in their first two bouts. In terms of fighting styles, Ali's strengths were Frazier's weakness and vice-versa, which is why their fights were so grueling and took so much out of each man.

When comparing Frazier and Foreman as fighters, Frazier was actually the better fighter. However, he didn't match up with Foreman from a style vantage point. George Foreman and Joe Louis were the two most difficult opponents in heavyweight history to fight while employing a pressure style. Unfortunately, Frazier, just like Dempsey, Marciano, and Tyson, could only fight effectively moving forward forcing the fight. Foreman was the one fighter that when Joe coming out “Smokin’”, it proved hazardous to Frazier’s health. Frazier's loss to Foreman no doubt damaged his image as a great fighter. I would love to have seen how Dempsey, Marciano, and Tyson, who in their careers combined never fought a fighter anywhere near the puncher that Foreman was, would have done against the one that made Frazier an ex-champ. I have a hard time envisioning the results being any different.

Over the years I've had to continually remind some that Joe Frazier was the ultimate catch and kill fighter. What I mean by that is nobody applied more pressure and cut off the ring better than he did. It was Joe Frazier, not Dempsey, Marciano and Tyson, who developed the blueprint on how to make a mover/boxer fight flatfooted and on the inside because the ring space they needed to move and box evaporated. And Frazier did this successfully versus the best escape artist who has ever lived, Muhammad Ali. And I believe he would've been successful cutting off the ring on any version of Ali.

Remember, during the sixties Ali never faced a fighter who could get past his jab and take it to him inside. Had Marvin Hagler been able to cut off the ring against Sugar Ray Leonard half as effectively as Frazier did against Ali, Leonard would have retired forever after their bout.

Against Ali, Frazier forced him to either fight, hold, or use his legs to try and stay away. When Ali tried moving against Frazier, he paid a price with his stamina and eventually had to fight Joe inside, which played to Frazier's strength. On the inside, Frazier's hands were very fast, something that has always been overlooked. Something else that seems to have been forgotten was his foot speed. Sure, his legs didn't appear to move fast, but he got on top of his opponents right away. And with all the hard punches he was throwing, he was damn near impossible to move off. If you managed to slip away – and only Ali had enough movement to succeed with that tactic – he was right back on you again within seconds. Frazier had very deceptive hand and foot speed.

Muhammad Ali's jab was his security blanket and defense. No fighter made him miss with so many jabs as Frazier did over the course of 41 rounds. Sure he landed and scored with plenty of them, but when compared to how many he was forced to throw to land what he did, I'll bet the connect percentage would surprise many fans and fight observers. Frazier's bobbing and weaving was also much more effective in taking away a good jab than Marciano fighting out of a low crouch or Tyson's overrated and basic hands up, side-to-side, peek-a-boo movement. And it also required much more skill to execute without getting your head knocked off in the process.

If you doubt that, try holding your hands up and moving side-to-side, and then try bobbing and weaving using your waist and legs to get under and inside of punches. I've done both and it's no contest as to which is harder and more effective. Roberto Duran in his prime is the only other fighter I've seen do it as fluidly and effectively as Frazier did. Maybe that should tell you something about why we don't see many swarmers today adopting that tactic. It's too hard and requires endless stamina and conditioning.

Not only did Frazier make Ali miss with the fastest jab in heavyweight history, he made him pay – scoring with massive left hooks to his head and body when he missed. Ali says to this day Frazier was hard as hell to find and hit. The problem is that all anyone ever remembers is Frazier's puffed and bruised face after their fights. As if Ali came out of their fights unmarked.

During his career, Joe Frazier fought every fighter out there. As early as his 11th pro fight he took on Oscar Bonavena, who had close to 30 fights under his belt. Frazier was dropped twice in the second round against Bonavena. When he got up from the second knockdown there was a minute left in the round and he was never close to going down or being stopped the rest of the round or fight. So in reality only George Foreman stopped him, with no other fighter coming close, until Ali shut his eyes in Manila.

Frazier's two wins over Bonavena and early stoppages over Chuvalo, Quarry twice, Ellis twice, and Foster once, rank close to the level of opposition that many other greats faced. However, his convincing win over an undefeated Muhammad Ali two months after his 29th birthday clearly puts him on par or slightly ahead of any other heavyweight great except Ali. And Joe fought him three times, which is equal to the best three fights of any other past great. After clearly defeating Ali in their first meeting, the second fight was close, probably 7-5 in rounds. It wasn't a cakewalk for Ali like some think, and 7-5 is more realistic than 8-4. And their third fight, “The Thrilla in Manila,” was three fights in one. Ali had control in rounds one through five, Frazier had control in rounds six through eleven, and Ali took over in rounds twelve through fourteen.

Over the years I've had to continually remind some that Joe Frazier was a better two-handed fighter than given credit for. Although he didn't have a very good conventional straight right hand to the head, his right hand to the body was dynamite. Frazier also carried his punch from round one to fifteen, something only Louis and Marciano shared. And only Marciano got better and stronger like Frazier did as the fight progressed.

Over the years I've had to point out that only two fighters ever defeated Joe Frazier. Muhammad Ali usually ranks number one or at worst number two behind Joe Louis among history’s greatest heavyweights, and in three fights against Ali, Frazier gave him a life and death struggle and won the biggest of the three bouts.

The other fighter to beat Frazier is George Foreman and he did it twice, stopping him both times. Foreman is probably the strongest and hardest punching heavyweight champ of all time. If he punched with the proper technique, it would have been illegal to allow him to fight mortal fighters. After a ten year retirement he came back and beat the man who beat the man to win the title. And Foreman wasn't anywhere close to the physical fighter in the 1990s that he was in the 1970s. And in a head-to-head match up, the ‘70s Foreman would stop the ‘90s version.

I have often thought about how other past greats would have fared had they fought the same Muhammad Ali and George Foreman that Frazier did in five fights. I haven't a morsel of doubt that their career image and perception just might have been a little more tarnished than is the case.

Some remember Frazier's career because he lost to Foreman in two rounds. Yet a 41-year old Foreman had a prime Evander Holyfield holding on at the end of their title fight in 1991. During the years of his return to the ring, 1989 to 1991, Foreman constantly used the media to challenge Mike Tyson. Some fans try to ignore this or say Tyson didn't want to hurt Foreman and that's why he never fought him. How far does one have to go to convince them to believe that? The fact is Mike Tyson wanted no part of fighting the same 41-year old Foreman who Holyfield fought. I know this because I heard Bobby Goodman say it in front of me to George Benton and Lou Duva after a press conference in Atlantic City for the Evander Holyfield-Seamus McDonagh fight in June of 1990. Tyson himself said it in Ring Magazine in 1991.

Larry Holmes lost his heavyweight title to light heavyweight champ Michael Spinks, all be it at the end of his career, and it didn't hurt his standing as a great fighter. Mike Tyson's legacy is based on knocking out that same light heavyweight champ seven years after he won the light heavyweight title. Yet Frazier's two round mutilation of light heavyweight champion Bob Foster – who is at least on a par with Spinks – two years after he won the title, is considered no big deal.

Joe Frazier never lost to a Michael Moorer or was never knocked out by the likes of Buster Douglas or Hasim Rahman. Over the last hundred years, only Jeffries, Tunney, Marciano and Frazier never lost to a fighter they should have beaten. Not once. Frazier was also never counted out, something that cannot be said about Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Sonny Liston, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis.

For years the main highlights of Frazier’s career that have aired on boxing specials and documentaries are Foreman lifting him up with a monstrous right uppercut and Ali hammering him with combinations during the fourteenth round in Manila. That's not the only Joe Frazier I remember.

If this writing is too soft on Joe Frazier for anyone’s liking, I’ll accept that. However, anyone who believes this to be the case should recognize that many writers, historians and fans have slighted the career and accomplishments of Joe Frazier. And in an era that every supposed great is over-hyped and overrated, Joe Frazier is consistently underrated.

I was told something by someone who was involved with The Cloverlay Corporation that managed Joe Frazier. I will paraphrase it since I cannot quote the exact words. When Frazier was about to begin his first training session after signing the contract on December 30, 1970 to agree to fight Muhammad Ali on March 8th 1971, Yank Durham, Joe’s manager, trainer and some say father figure, said: “Joe, if you beat this guy, the road the rest of your life will be paved forever no matter what you do. But if he beats you, you'll never get the respect you deserve as heavyweight champion. History will look at you as a caretaker champion who just held the title for him until he got straightened out with the government. And remember, Joe, Clay doesn't want to just beat you. He wants to humiliate you and embarrass you. Beat this guy Joe and they can never take it away from you.”

I haven't heard anyone try to take Frazier's monumental victory away from him, but too many have forgotten about it. Only one fighter won the biggest fight in boxing history. And his name was Smokin’ Joe Frazier.

Boxing fans should never forget it.

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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