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Articles of 2005

Johnny Persol Finally Gets His Belt

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When the Ring 8 Veteran Boxers Association in New York City honored Johnny Persol with an Uncrowned Light-Heavyweight Championship Belt at its annual Christmas luncheon on December 19, the 64-year-old former contender whose shoulders are as wide as his smile is large and welcoming, could barely contain his joy. He shook countless hands, accepted numerous accolades, and laughed and cried with equal intensity. The always vibrant and upbeat Persol, who is quick to point out that he has had a most rewarding and enjoyable life, said that day might have been one of his happiest of all.

“It was fantastic,” he proclaimed. “Getting that award was like being born again. Being in the same room with so many boxing people, people who were so important to me, brought back a lot of memories. I’ve been retired since 1969, and it was great to have people remember me and say, ‘Yeah, he could fight a little bit.’” Among the hundreds in attendance were Persol’s former trainer Gil Clancy, manager Howie Albert, fellow honorees Chuck Wepner and Vinny Paz, and Mike Silver, who is one of the official historians for Ring 8.

According to Silver, who has been fastidiously following boxing for more than 40 years, Persol’s assessment of himself is a gross understatement. He says Persol could do so much more than just fight a little bit. “From an aesthetic standpoint, there were very few boxers more pleasurable to watch,” said Silver. “He was a pure boxer, with a capital B. His speed, footwork and jabs had a ballet-like quality about them. He was born to box, born to be a champion. Unfortunately that never happened. He was too good too soon, and was fighting much more experienced fighters in main events at Madison Square Garden by his ninth pro fight.”

Persol campaigned as a professional from 1963-69, and was forced to retire after incurring a serious eye injury. But his final record of 22-5-1 (7 KOs) doesn’t begin to explain what a compelling fighter he really was. Growing up in the small town of New Bern, North Carolina, he remembers the entire town shutting down when Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson fought. He was awestruck by the effect those great champions had on his small community, and entertained the idea of becoming an amateur boxer. However, there were no pugilistic options available in New Bern. The only boxer he knew personally was a local man who boxed on the U.S. Army team and would teach eager youngsters the rudiments of hooking and jabbing on the rare occasions that he was home on leave.

In 1958, at the age of 18, Persol set out for Brooklyn, New York, with two ambitions: to get a job and to become a boxer. Within weeks he began working at a lingerie factory by day and took up boxing at the Bedford-Stuyvesant PAL at night. Although Persol had no experience, his trainer there, Ham Willoughby, knew that Persol was special the minute he laid eyes on him. Within months, Persol became a novice PAL champion and over the next few years won several Golden Gloves titles and the Eastern and National Championships. Thinking he had accomplished all that he set out to, Persol, who was undefeated in 85 fights, sat out 1962.

He had no plans to turn pro, but after seeing so many fighters he had already beaten making a living by boxing professionally in the vibrant New York scene, he turned pro at Madison Square Garden in January 1963. His opponent was Don Turner, a veteran of seven fights who would later gain renown as the trainer of several world champions, including Evander Holyfield.

“He was really awkward, hard to hit, a Roy Jones-Pernell Whitaker type,” recounts Persol. “I won the decision, but it was an ugly fight and I felt miserable. But everyone said I did great, that I beat a good fighter in my pro debut.”

In his ninth fight, which he accepted on just a few days notice, Persol took on Allen Thomas, who was 20-2-1, at the Garden. Persol says matchmaker Teddy Brenner told Clancy that he was crazy to put his 23-year-old protégé in with such a hot prospect, but Clancy, at Persol’s urging, convinced Brenner to do so. Persol outpointed Thomas before a packed crowd and was on his way. In his next fight, again at the Garden, Persol survived a sixth round knockdown to beat the formidable Eddie Cotton, who was 50-14-1. However, a month later he was stopped in four rounds in a rematch with the tricky veteran, which caused some people to believe he was being moved too quickly.

“It was the last years of a television era,” Silver said, “and television was desperate for fights. Persol was made for television. But I always thought that he should never have been put back in with Cotton so soon after beating him. Cotton was old school, and knew all the tricks. He was savvy enough to figure out the young guy’s style and beat him the second time around.”

Persol vehemently discounts any assertions that he was mismanaged, and said it was he who insisted on fighting the best fighters available. He came down with a cold just prior to the Cotton rematch, and says Clancy pleaded with him to pull out. Persol wouldn’t hear of it. “I think I was making $42 a week, and the fight paid $8,000 or $10,000. I was a fighter, so it never occurred to me not to fight. That was my livelihood. Sometimes you had to go to work sick, so it was no different than going in the ring a little sick. I took great pride in what I did. I learned how to fight on the job, by fighting the best guys out there, so I thought nothing of it. I feel as if my career was managed just fine.”

Three months after suffering his first loss, to Cotton, Persol beat former champion Carl “Bobo” Olson” by decision, again at the Garden where he was by now a house favorite. After a draw with the durable Henry Hank, Persol traveled to Montana, where he was stopped in one round by Roger Rouse, who former light heavyweight champion Bob Foster once said hit him the hardest of anyone he ever fought – Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier included. Persol says Rouse blasted him with a right hand that caused immediate unbearable pain in his left eye. Persol was taken to a local hospital, where he says a doctor told him to take a few months off and all would be fine. Little did he know at the time, said Persol, he had severely damaged his orbital bone, an injury that would be a portent of worse things to come.

Returning to the ring five months later, Persol outpointed another beautiful boxer in Harold Johnson, and then went after the bigger money in the heavyweight division. “I learned more from my fight with Johnson than I learned in all of my years in the gym,” said Persol. “He was cagey, and that fight really brought me into my own. I’m very proud of beating Johnson. He was a tough, tough guy to beat. After beating him, I thought I could beat anybody.”

Now campaigning as a heavyweight, he outpointed the previously undefeated James J. Woody and veteran Amos “Big Train” Lincoln. Then he was shockingly stopped in one round by future champion Jimmy Ellis on the undercard of Muhammad-Ali-Zora Folley in March 1967. “Jimmy Ellis was the biggest fight of my life,” asserts Persol. “That was around the time they were going to strip Muhammad Ali of his title [for draft evasion] and have a tournament to find a new champion. I trained to the best of my ability, and was warming up in the dressing room when they told me I was about to go on. Then we got held up about ten minutes and I got cold. I suddenly felt flat. It wasn’t nerves, because I wasn’t afraid of him. I knew something was wrong, but I kept telling myself, ‘you’re a fighter, you’ve got to fight.’ The bell rings and I’m ready to roll. Then, bam, I’m down! Bang, I’m down again and the fight’s over. It was a helluva setback.”

Persol is refreshingly candid when discussing his career, and never makes excuses for his misfortunes or aggrandizes his successes. But, he concedes, “Looking back, I honestly believe I beat myself in all the fights I lost. Something didn’t click, something wasn’t right. I wish I had an excuse, but I don’t believe in them. In life, you take the good with the bad, and in the end you hope it all sorts out.”

A few fights later, in March 1968, Persol suffered a detached retina in a Garden bout with unheralded Angel Oquendo. It was then, he says, that the severity of the earlier damage done by Rouse was discovered. Persol became one of the first boxers ever to undergo newly discovered laser treatment, and fought twice more. But the damage to his left eye was more than minimal, and with perpetually blurred and hazy vision he lost much of his defensive and offensive arsenal. In his last fight, he was stopped in seven by Jimmy Dupree, whom he had already beaten four years earlier.

Thirty-six years ago Persol went to work as a longshoreman and eventually became a shop steward, a position he holds to this day. Although he is eligible for Social Security, the divorced father of five grown children has no plans of retiring. A resident of Elizabeth, New Jersey, he loves training young amateurs and pros several nights a week at the Lopez Boxing Club in Newark. His star pupil, 20-year-old super featherweight Mike Torres, 3-0 (1 KO), has been with him since he was 13, and is scheduled to lace them up at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut on November 4.

“I see a lot of me in him,” said Persol, whose training partner for the last 14 years has been Juan Lopez. “Sometimes it’s kind of frightening. Mike is a good kid with a great future ahead of him. I never won a title, but I consider myself a very lucky man. I hope Mike wins a title, and I’m pretty certain he will. But even if he doesn’t, if he has as good a life as I’ve had, he’ll be a success.”

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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