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Articles of 2005

What IF: Sonny Liston vs. Mike Tyson

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What IF former heavyweight champions Sonny Liston and Mike Tyson faced each other on their best night? Imagine Liston and Tyson staring each other down seconds before the first round. Other than possibly former heavyweight champ George Foreman, Liston and Tyson were the masters at psyching out their opponents before the fight. Ironically, it was Liston's lead that Foreman and Tyson both emulated when it came to playing the intimidation game.

In recent years Sonny Liston and Mike Tyson have often been compared to each other. They both were tremendous two-handed punchers, and both demonstrated a sturdy chin. They also had their share of run-ins with the law, and both served time in prison. It seemed the safest place for them was in the ring, with its legalized mayhem. However, there were also several differences in how they were brought along and how they were perceived by the public.

The fanfare was night and day different for Liston and Tyson when they turned pro. Liston didn't have the PR machine behind him that Tyson had. In fact, Liston was the anti-Tyson of his era. Liston had to fight all the top fighters of his era one by one before finally getting a shot at heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson, and the title shot was still three years overdue. Whereas Tyson had an image manufactured by millionaires and marketing companies. Tyson could pick and choose opponents he could look impressive beating. Thus, the Tyson marketing machine had him in position to fight for the title a little over a year and a half after he turned pro.

Sonny Liston fought at a time when fighters could fight every month and still not garner much exposure. Tyson had the benefit of having HBO and Don King promote and show all of his fights shortly before he won the title, and then during his title tenure. Liston's career was handled by the mob. When Liston was coming up – and even after he reached the top – the media and the fans were hoping he'd lose. On the other hand, Tyson was the crowd’s darling just about his entire career. Tyson was always hyped to be bigger than life, whereas Liston was just feared because of what he did to the top heavyweights of his era.

Charles “Sonny” Liston took up boxing in prison. When Liston was paroled in 1952 after an armed robbery conviction, he started fighting competitively as an amateur. In 1953 he won the National Golden Gloves. Sonny turned pro in late 1953 and won his first 7 fights before losing a decision to Marty Marshall in his 8th fight, a fight in which he suffered a broken jaw. Liston would go on to fight Marshall two more times, stopping him and decisioning him. After doing a couple more prison stints over the next few years, Liston was the top-ranked and most feared heavyweight in the world by 1958.

For the next four years Liston was avoided by heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson. During that time Liston was going through all the top heavyweights – opponents who Patterson's management team had kept their fighter away from. After Liston chased Patterson for over three years, they finally met in September of 1962. After two minutes of the first round Liston did to Patterson what many thought was inevitable – he destroyed him and took his title. Ten months later Liston defended the title against Patterson and needed only two more seconds to repeat his title winning effort.

Seven months later Sonny would lose the title to Cassius Clay as a 7-1 favorite when he didn’t emerge from his corner for the seventh round. In the rematch 15 months later, Clay – who had changed his name to Muhammad Ali – defeated Liston, stopping him in the first round of a bizarre fight. A fight in which Liston never was given a count, yet was declared a knockout loser?

After losing to Ali, Liston would fight for five more years, going 15-1 (14). His lone loss would be a KO defeat to contender Leotis Martin in his next to last fight. Seven months after defeating Chuck Wepner in his final fight, Liston was found dead in his Las Vegas home due to a drug overdose. The two defeats by Muhammad Ali tarnished Liston's legacy forever as an all-time great heavyweight champ. However, his skill and fighting ability will never be in question.

Mike Tyson’s path into boxing was similar to Liston and many other fighters who went on to become champions. He was a troubled youth who found his way into trouble by hanging out and fighting in the streets. Like Liston and Foreman before him, Tyson was a man-child who had no trouble bettering grown men in street fights as a young teenager. Tyson was eventually brought to legendary trainer Cus D' Amato to be evaluated as a fighter. D' Amato was best known for managing and training former heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson. Under the tutelage of D' Amato, Patterson became the youngest champ in heavyweight history at 21. Although D' Amato died a year before it happened, 30 years later Tyson captured the title at age 20, eclipsing Patterson's record.

After losing in the finals of the 1984 Olympic trials to Henry Tillman twice, Tyson turned pro in March of 1985. Tyson blew through the heavyweight division, demonstrating a combination of speed and punching power never seen before. On November 22nd, 1986, Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champ in history when he stopped WBC Champion Trevor Berbick in two rounds. Nine months after beating Berbick, Tyson became the unified champ when he won a 12 round decision over IBF Champion Tony Tucker. After making six defenses of the unified title, Tyson was upset by 42-1 underdog Buster Douglas in Tokyo Japan. When Douglas knocked out Tyson in the 10th round in February of 1990, he forever shattered the aura of invincibility that surrounded Tyson.

After the loss to Douglas, Tyson had his ups and downs in and out of the ring. Out of the ring he was convicted of rape and spent three years in prison from 1992-95. When Tyson was released from prison he returned to the ring and captured the WBA and WBC titles a little over a year later. In his first defense of the WBA/WBC titles, he was stopped by long time rival Evander Holyfield in 11 rounds. In the rematch seven months later, Tyson would lose to Holyfield via disqualification when he bit both of Holyfield’s ears. Tyson said after the fight that he bit Holyfield's ears in retaliation for Holyfield head-butting him during the fight. After losing to Holyfield, Tyson would challenge for the heavyweight title once more. In June of 2002 Tyson was stopped by heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis in eight rounds. Since losing to Lewis, Tyson has been a non-factor in the heavyweight title picture.

The Style Match up
A Liston-Tyson confrontation is fascinating from a style vantage point. Both Liston and Tyson sought the knockout exclusively to win their fights. They both had to be moving forward to be most effective, although it was less of an issue for Liston. Liston moved forward behind a ram-rod, left jab. Tyson moved in with his hands held up to his chin with side-to-side head movement. Liston fought at a more measured pace, looking to set everything up off of his powerful jab. Tyson fought in spurts. Sometimes he would rush in behind a two handed assault, and other times he would work his way in underneath his opponent’s jab.

Both Liston and Tyson had knockout power in both hands. Their power was pretty close, but the difference was Tyson had the faster hands and was a little more accurate with his punch placement. However, Liston had the better inside-outside game. Tyson had to be on his opponent’s chest to be effective. On the other hand, Liston could neutralize movers and boxers with his jab and reach. Liston was also effective inside throwing short hooks and uppercuts. Although they were both considered sluggers, both Sonny and Mike were better boxers than generally given credit for by most writers and fans.

It's safe to say that neither fighter faced a fighter like the other. The closest fighter Liston fought to Tyson was Floyd Patterson. Although Patterson wasn't as big or powerful as Tyson, he did have the speed and fought out of the peek-a-boo style like Tyson, and was least effective when forced back, like Tyson. On the other hand, the only fighter Tyson fought who was somewhat close to Liston was Lennox Lewis. Both Lewis and Liston could fight at a distance or inside. Lewis was bigger than Liston, but wasn't as tough mentally and didn't have a jab in quite the same league as Liston's. As far as styles go, Liston was vulnerable to fast-footed boxers with lateral movement, and was at his best if his opponents came to him, which not too many tried. Tyson was most effective versus fighters that moved away or ran from him, but was at a disadvantage when facing a fighter who could force him back.

Who Would've Won
A Liston-Tyson confrontation comes down to two things: who would've backed up, and who would've been the least intimidated by the other. I know this may not be popular, but I just can't envision Liston being intimidated by Tyson. Liston had no fear of Clay/Ali, and on top of that he kept going after a hard puncher like Cleveland Williams, who was in his prime at the time, even after having been nailed by bombs from Williams. Liston also chased down Marty Marshall despite having a broken jaw for the majority of the fight. This is in contrast to Tyson, who would go into long defensive shells and stop throwing punches when faced with an opponent who attacked him with big shots. I believe in a battle of wills, Sonny convinces Mike that he's not going to win easier than Mike convinces Sonny that it's not his night.

The fact that I think Liston wins the psychological warfare translates into the physical fight and how it plays out. I think Tyson may try to jump on Liston like he did Holyfield and Lewis at the onset. The first round or two would be incredible. Tyson would probably come on very quickly, almost recklessly, and his movement and fast hands might provide him with a measure of success. But then he'd face his first problem, Liston wouldn't fall. And, of course, Liston always fired back.

All it would take would be a few of those telephone pole jabs to take all the starch out of Tyson mentally. I also doubt he'd have the nerve to pull any ear-biting, arm-breaking crap with Liston. Once Tyson gets second thoughts about coming in with impunity and starts to think his way through the fight, he's in trouble. The moment Liston senses that Tyson has some reservations, he'd pick up the pace and apply even more mental and physical pressure.

The way I see it, Liston stops Tyson. He had the jab reach and power, along with the style, to neutralize Tyson and his greater hand speed. On top of that, Sonny takes away Tyson's biggest weapon, the intimidation factor. It says here that Tyson is the one who harbors self-doubt, and it is Tyson who would be unsure of himself during the stare down as he faced Liston in the center of the ring before the bell for round one.

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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