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Articles of 2005

“Million Dollar Baby” (Clint Eastwood’s Boxing Movie)

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There’s nothing new about women’s boxing. Flipping though my copy of Boxiana: Sketches of Pugilism, a collection of Pierce Egan’s boxing journalism from the years 1812-1824, I came upon this morsel about ladies who fight:


FEMALE PUGILISM

“To shew the nationality of BOXING, and that it was not confined to heroes, we have extracted the following copy of an advertisement, which appeared in a diurnal print, in June, 1722, upwards of ninety years since, when even HEROINES panted for the honours of pugilistic glory!

CHALLENGE.

I, ELIZABETH WILKINSON, of Clerkenwell, having had some words with HANNAH HYFIELD, and requiring satisfaction, do invite her to meet me upon the stage, and box me for three guineas ; each woman holding half-a-crown in each hand, and the first woman that drops the money to lose the battle.

ANSWER.

I, HANNAH HYFIELD, of Newgate Market, hearing of the resoluteness of ELIZABETH WILKINSON, will not fail, God willing, to give her more blows than words—desiring home blows, and from her, no favor : she may expect a good thumping !”

Clint Eastwood’s new movie is about a woman boxer and is called “Million Dollar Baby.” The screenplay by Paul Haggis is based on a book of short stories called Rope Burns (2000) by F.X. Toole. Toole was the pen name for the late cutman and fight manager Jerry Boyd. Although the book is fantastical in a literary sort of way, it is full of gritty integrity, has a lived-in feel, an uncompromising character which seems right up Eastwood’s alley. And the film, like all major minor films, has a fine story to tell.

“I liked the story very much,” Eastwood said in a recent interview. “Al Ruddy sent me the book Rope Burns about three and a half to four years ago and I read all six stories and this particular story was the one that I and everybody thought had potential. Then I didn’t hear from him for a while. And then all of the sudden he came back with a finished script on it. The script was really good, so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do this.’”

Eastwood described what “Million Dollar Baby” is about.

“On the surface, it’s about a woman who wants to become a boxer. But below that it becomes about people with dreams and aspirations that are a real long shot to come through. It’s also about searching for family, and deep regrets with prior relationships, and forming relationships: a surrogate father-daughter love story. It’s a love thing.”

Clint plays a crusty old gym owner/trainer in the film.

“It was just very appealing,” Eastwood said of the role of Frankie Dunn. “In the first place it’s in my age bracket. It’s a subject I knew a little bit about. I was on my way to retirement, as far as being in front of the camera. On ‘Mystic River,’ I felt just very comfortable being behind the camera and watching younger people out there performing, and it was a very satisfying experience. So I thought, that will be the end of that. But then this thing came along and I said ‘Well, this is a good role.’ I don’t know whether I was inspired by the enthusiasm all those people had on ‘Mystic River,’ but I just thought maybe I’ll just jump back in the fray here. So I did this role, but I figured I’d also direct it. It wasn’t a hard picture to do technically, and it wasn’t hard in the sense that I had Morgan Freeman, who is solid as a rock. We worked together once before and I was always thinking about a project where we could work together again. And then (there was) Hilary Swank, who I’ve always admired, but never worked with.”

Hilary Swank plays the boxer in the film and the demands on her were huge.

“There was always a question in my mind as to whether she – or any actress – would be able to put forth this kind of thing,” Eastwood said. “It’s a tremendous job, because you really have to dedicate yourself to it. You always hear stories about people training for physical roles, but they go in and run around the block and say ‘I’m trained up.’ But we needed to bulk her up a little bit . . . and we also needed to train her boxing and teach her about boxing.”

About a year ago I heard through the grapevine that Hilary Swank was training at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. I asked the gym’s owner, Bruce Silverglade, in his office, when Hilary Swank was working out. There’s no one in boxing less starry-eyed than Silverglade, so he waved his hand in the direction of the gym and said “I think she’s out there somewhere. You can’t miss her. She’s a skinny girl in black tights.”

I thanked him and walked into the gym, looking for Hilary Swank. There were, as usual, dozens of fighters hard at work. People were hitting speed bags and pounding heavy bags. They were skipping rope, doing calisthenics, sparring, grunting, snorting and spitting. Cornermen were imploring and shouting instructions. It was pandemonium. I looked for a skinny girl in black tights and noticed that there were several of them. With gloves on their hands, headgear covering their heads, with mouthpieces distorting their faces, I couldn’t tell which of the skinny girls in black tights, or if any of the skinny girls in black tights, was Hilary Swank.

That was all I needed to know and left the gym.

In “Million Dollar Baby” Hilary Swank plays Maggie Fitzgerald, a thirty-one-year woman boxer from Missouri who is in LA looking for a trainer. (“I want a trainer,” she says. “I don’t want pity. And I don’t want favors.”) An ill wind blew her into the Hit Pit Gym, a rundown place owned and run by curmudgeonly Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) and his best friend Eddie Durpis, aka Scamp, played by Morgan Freeman. Those two go way back, all the way back to Scamp’s fighting days, all the way back to that night when Scamp lost his right eye during a bout . . . while Frankie was in his corner.

Maggie’s country girl enthusiasm, her plucky underdog-ism, lightens up the joint, but she doesn’t know the first thing about boxing, so she pesters Frankie to take her on. Frankie has seen and done it all and doesn’t have time for Maggie’s nonsense. “I don’t train girls,” he tells her. Maggie won’t take no for an answer and tries to persuade Frankie by telling him she’s tough. “Girly,” he replies with a raspy voice, “tough ain’t enough.” He asks how old she is. Maggie says “I’m 32, Mr. Dunn . . . my brother’s in jail, my sister cheats on welfare by pretending one of her babies is still alive, my daddy’s dead, and my momma weighs 312 pounds. If I was thinking straight I’d go back home and buy a used trailer and get a deep fryer and some Oreos. Probably this (boxing) is the only thing I ever felt good doing. If I’m too old for this, then I got nothing.”

It’s a beautiful appeal, genuine and real, but Frankie is not impressed.

Scamp has also seen and done it all, but his heart, unlike Frankie’s, is still open. “She grew up knowing one thing,” Scamp says about Maggie in the narration. “That she was trash.” Scamp takes Maggie under his wing and begins secretly tutoring her on the fundamentals at night. Frankie sees what’s going on and has doubts about women’s boxing – “It’s the latest freak show out there” – but even he starts pitching in.

Maggie becomes Frankie’s pet project. Maggie’s dream becomes Frankie’s dream. Her belief in herself ignites something genuine in Frankie which was shut down for years. Frankie’s hard exterior melts away as Maggie starts winning her bouts on her way to a shot at the title.

Unbeknownst to Maggie and Frankie, Fate is setting them up to knock them down.

Frankie Dunn is a man of contradictions. He is wizened old gym rat who reads Yeats in the original Gaelic, a good man pockmarked by original sin, someone who grapples with God and the value of faith in a world of broken noses. He is, in other words, like many men in and around the fight game, where brutality and humanity, ignorance and intelligence, damnation and salvation go hand in hand.

Dunn is latest in a long line of Eastwood antiheros. Independent freethinkers beholden to no one and nothing, these men are as distrustful of authority as they are of their own feelings. They find comfort in isolation, solace in solitude, peace in flawed awareness. They come to terms, such as those terms are, on their own terms, without compromise or conceit.

Eastwood’s film is a sympathetic, compassionate, benign meditation on mentor-student/father-daughter/trainer-boxer relationships. This is chamber cinema by an old master.

Despite the accolades being heaped on Eastwood, which seem less for this film than for his lifetime of achievement, “Million Dollar Baby” is not a perfect movie. The archetypal main characters flirt with cliché. The transitions between scenes are sometimes awkward, due more to the source material – the shorthand of a short story, as opposed to the intricacies of a novel – than to the director’s limitations. And boxing is revealed, at least in the last third of the film, in the worst possible light – however plausible, however dramatic, that light might be.

“In the case of ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ these people are all living on the periphery of society,” Eastwood said. “A lot of people don’t get to meet these kinds of people. But there are a lot of people like this. You go down to some of the gyms – and I’ve done this when I was doing the film – you meet an awful lot of people – you go in those gyms and there are a lot of young kids in there. They all have these dreams and aspirations of becoming something. And you know the odds are tremendous that it’s not going to happen. But they’re people with dreams. And you don’t know where their life is at. A lot of them are minorities or people who’ve come from economic backgrounds that they never have a chance, or educational backgrounds where they really don’t have a good shot at it – and here’s the shot to be something.”

Clint Eastwood, seconded by F.X. Toole, aka Jerry Boyd, reveals something essential about boxing, something essential about the human spirit, in his new film “Million Dollar Baby.”

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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