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Articles of 2005

Why We Didn't See Foreman – Holmes circa 1975-77

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To most boxing historians and observers, the 1970s are often referred to as one of the best eras in heavyweight history. Some may try to dispute it, but the ‘70s heavyweights are on par with the heavyweights from any other decade in boxing history. For those who adamantly disagree, my only retort is that you're flat-out wrong and must have some sort of agenda.

From 1970 through 1979, four all-time greats held the heavyweight title. During the years 1970-79 there were three all-time greats who held the undisputed crown: Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. Larry Holmes held the WBC title and carried the torch as the heavyweight standard-bearer from mid-1978 through the end of the decade until 1985. Today the heavyweights from the ‘70s are best remembered for the Ali-Frazier trilogy and the awesome and devastating power of George Foreman.

This past Thursday, January 27, 55-year-old Larry Holmes issued a challenge to 56-year-old former champ George Foreman during a press conference for casinofortune.com, an online casino that just celebrated its two-millionth customer. The president of the company, Dennis Rose, said he's willing to bankroll a Foreman-Holmes fight, saying “We'll back our man [Holmes] all the way.”

Last month I wrote how the overwhelming accomplishments and persona of Muhammad Ali overshadow both Foreman and Holmes. Maybe, in the case of Holmes, Foreman also cast a shadow over him as well. It's quite obvious Holmes is obsessed with trying to prove to the public that he could have, and is still capable of, defeating Foreman. On top of that he continues to try and perpetuate the myth about how Foreman ducked him while both were active during the ‘70s. This, however, is not true, and I'm definitely not a Foreman apologist. Nothing more than a simple examination of their careers starting in June of 1969 through March of 1977 is required, along with a few other things that have been forgotten over the years to squash the myth Holmes is trying to rewrite as history. What becomes evident is that the window of opportunity to make Foreman-Holmes was very short-lived. The reality is: during the only six months the fight could have been realized, the obstacles came from the Holmes camp.

1969-72
It was in October of 1968 that 19-year-old George Foreman won the heavyweight Gold Medal at the Summer Olympics. Eight months later on June 23, 1969, Foreman knocked out Don Waldhelm in his pro debut on the undercard of the Joe Frazier-Jerry Quarry heavyweight title bout at Madison Square Garden. By the end of 1969 Foreman was 13-0 (11). From January 1970 through December 1972 Foreman went 24-0. During that two-year span the only fighter who went the distance with him was veteran Gregorio Peralta in a bout that was part of the Joe Frazier-Jimmy Ellis title fight undercard.

1973
On January 22, 1973, as a 3-1 underdog, 24-year-old George Foreman, with a record of 37-0 (34), stopped undisputed heavyweight champion Joe Frazier 29-0 (25) in two rounds to capture the title. Two months later, on March 21, Larry Holmes won a four round decision over Rodell Dupree in his pro debut. Before turning pro, Holmes was best known for being stopped by Duane Bobick in the finals at the 1972 Olympic Trials. In his last fight of 1973, Holmes was knocked down by Kevin Isaac in the second round. Holmes came back in the third to stop Isaac and finish the year at 7-0 (3).

1974
The year 1974 started quickly on January 28 with number one contender Muhammad Ali winning a 12-round unanimous decision over former champ Joe Frazier in their rematch to even them at 1-1. In March 1974, Foreman knocked out number two ranked Ken Norton in two rounds to make the second successful defense of his title. Foreman's win over Norton and Ali's win over the third-ranked Frazier cleared the way for a showdown between the world's top ranked heavyweight contender and the undefeated and undisputed heavyweight champion.

Back in October of 1974, many respected boxing historians and ex-world champions said that they believed that George Foreman was the strongest and hardest punching heavyweight champion in boxing history – something that is endorsed by many even to this day. Former heavyweight greats Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis, who both knew a thing or two about punching, agreed that Foreman was the most powerful heavyweight they had ever seen. The prevailing thought going into the Foreman-Ali fight wasn't if Foreman would win, but how much punishment would Ali endure before he was stopped? Many fighters who had been in the ring with both fighters either as a sparring partner or an opponent all agreed that if Ali tried to lay against the ropes to save his energy instead of using his legs to stay away, Foreman might beat him to death.

On October 29, 1974, as a 3-1 underdog, Ali stopped Foreman in the eighth round to regain the undisputed heavyweight title. But let's clear something up. Ali didn't beat Foreman by out-boxing him. He beat him because he had a cast-iron chin and took a punch to the body better than any other heavyweight in boxing history. Ali only really got to Foreman after enduring a terrific pounding. He has said many times over the years that
Foreman cut off the ring too effectively and if he tried boxing him he would have been totally spent after about eight rounds. To say that Foreman was defeated by Ali because he was out-boxed could not be more wrong. Unless someone else was in the ring with Ali during the fight, I'd say Ali has the best insight as to what was going on during the fight. It was Ali's toughness and durability that enabled him to survive Foreman's assault. Had Ali been just a little less resilient and physically strong, he would have been stopped.

After losing to Ali, Foreman was totally destroyed mentally. Unlike Mike Tyson, Foreman really did believe that he was unbeatable and would knockout every opponent he would ever face. Ali standing up to his power and being able to fight back and beat him is something he and his trainer Dick Saddler couldn't envision before he fought Ali. By the end of 1974 Foreman was an ex-champ sporting a record of 40-1 (37). Larry
Holmes completed his second year as a pro by stopping Joe Hathaway in the first round to bring his record to 10-0 (6).

1975
In 1975 Holmes increased his activity and fought nine times going 9-0 (8). For George Foreman, 1975 was the year the residual affects of losing to Ali began to surface. In his only ring appearance, in April, he took on five different opponents in an exhibition in Toronto, Canada. Foreman looked bad during the exhibition and was never sure how he wanted to fight. His instinct was to go for the early kill, but in the back of his mind it was obvious he was questioning his stamina, causing him to hold back. The purpose of the exhibition was to show the public he had staying power and could fight 15-rounds if he was forced to. However it failed miserably. What the Toronto-5 exhibition really showed was that Foreman left the city of Zaire a different fighter than the one who arrived.

At the conclusion of the third most significant heavyweight fight of the ‘70s and last major heavyweight fight of 1975, Muhammad Ali sat on his stool in his corner exhausted after defeating Joe Frazier in the “Thrilla in Manila.” During a ring interview with the late Don Dunphy, Ali was asked if George Foreman was next. Ali said that he heard Foreman wants a rematch, but nobody has seen him or knows where he's at. He followed that up saying he'd like to get out of boxing before he dies from a heart attack, but if Foreman is available and ready he would definitely fight him again. Ali said Foreman was the only big fight left out there for him and after that he would retire.

1976
Foreman must have heard what Ali told Dunphy and returned to the ring on January 24, 1976. In his first bout since losing the title to Ali fourteen months earlier, Foreman returned to the ring to fight the hard punching top contender Ron Lyle. This time around Foreman was trained by Gil Clancy, who replaced Dick Saddler who took over as Foreman's manager. Clancy tried to convert Foreman from a fighter who fought in a rage trying to end the fight with every punch to a more measured boxer-puncher. Foreman said he only came back to reclaim the title from Ali and wanted to fight the best available, so Ali had no one left to fight but him.

In Lyle's two bouts before taking on Foreman, he was stopped in the 11th round in his only title shot by Muhammad Ali. Lyle fought the hard punching Earnie Shavers after losing to Ali and stopped him in the sixth round. The Foreman-Lyle bout was a Pier-6 Brawl from the second round on. The fourth round was highlighted by three knockdowns, with Lyle going down once and Foreman twice. The fifth round picked up where the fourth left off and midway through the round Foreman trapped Lyle in a corner and stopped him after landing a barrage of unanswered bombs. It was obvious in his fight with Lyle that Foreman lacked stamina, and trying to fight a measured fight almost got him knocked out.

Five days after Foreman-Lyle, Larry Holmes fought for the first time in 1976 stopping Joe Gholston (15-9-2) to raise his record to 20-0 with 15 KOs. In his second fight back, Foreman fought a rematch with Joe Frazier on June 15th and stopped him in the fifth round to run his record to 42-1 (39). Larry Holmes fought twice after beating Gholston and decisioned Roy “Tiger” Williams in April in what turned out to be his last fight of 1976.

It was shortly after Foreman stopped Frazier in June of 1976 that Dick Saddler started accusing Ali of ducking Foreman and fighting wrestlers like Antonio Inoki. Saddler also said that he would like Foreman to fight the Ali wannabe, Larry Holmes, if they can't get the real thing. Saddler said Holmes, who at the time was 22-0 (16), would be a perfect opponent to help Foreman get ready for a rematch with Ali. However, Foreman-Holmes wasn't a draw at the time and there were a few obstacles pertaining to Holmes that quashed the fight.

The first was that Holmes’ trainer at the time, Richie Giachetti, wanted no part of matching his fighter with Foreman. In August 1976, Foreman stopped Scott LeDoux on CBS in a bout that was called by Jerry Quarry and Tom Brookshier. Quarry passed along to Brookshier that he spoke to Giachetti a couple days before Foreman fought LeDoux and asked him what he thought about shutting up Saddler and matching Holmes with Foreman. According to Brookshier, Quarry said Giachetti told him “There's no way I'm putting Larry in there with that Friggin’ Animal Foreman.”

The other problem was Don King, who was promoting both Foreman and Holmes. Because of Ali's manager Herbert Muhammad, who was not a Don King fan, to say the least, King only promoted a couple of Ali's fights and had no multi-fight contract. King's involvement with Ali was on a fight to fight basis, simply because Herbert Muhammad wanted to pit all three major television networks against each other to bid for Ali's title defenses. King didn't want to risk the fighter he was banking on to pick up the torch after Ali and Foreman were out of the picture possibly getting knocked off before he could line him up for a title shot.

On top of that, Holmes had no following at all and only those who were involved in boxing thought he had potential to one day win the title. And King was also very frustrated by Holmes not making much of an impression with the networks and fans. He could see Holmes being stopped in a high profile bout. That is why he held his own heavyweight box-off called the U.S. Tournament, which turned out to be a total farce.

During 1976, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali made four title defenses. In the two most high profile defenses of the year, Ali won a disputed decision over Jimmy Young and, in his last defense of ’76, he won a unanimous decision over Ken Norton. Some thought he lost to Norton, but I don't agree. Two weeks after Ali defeated Norton, Foreman stopped Dino Dennis in his fourth bout since losing the title to Ali and finished the year as the top ranked heavyweight in the world. 1976 ended with the top three contenders for Ali's title being Foreman, Norton and Young.

Although Holmes boasted a good record at 22-0 (16), he was not even an afterthought in the title picture at the end of 1976. Despite his claims of being cheated out of some big fights at the time, he had not looked impressive up to that point and questions about his heart, chin and punch hovered over him. His best wins were over the likes of Rodney Bobick, on the undercard of the “Thrilla in Manila,” and Roy Williams. Williams was a great gym fighter but froze in the big bouts and lost to just about every good fighter he fought.

Talk of a Foreman-Holmes bout ceased by the end of 1976. It was obvious that Don King thought the fight was not a good one to make. He was frustrated because the fighters he felt comfortable risking Holmes against were fighters nobody cared about and brought him no attention. And he believed the fighters who could bring him notoriety were too risky for Holmes.

Foreman would have been a huge favorite over Holmes and was too dangerous. The Holmes of mid-1978 had his hands full with Norton. In 1976 Norton was better than he was in 1978 and would have been able to wear down the 1976 Holmes. That left Jimmy Young and Ali. In 1976 there were too many big fights out there to warrant Ali fighting Holmes, not to mention that Holmes wasn't ready. And King wasn't foolish enough to risk Holmes against Jimmy Young, who was great at making his opponents look bad and beating fighters who were supposed to beat him.

1977
Larry Holmes kicked off 1977 by winning an eight-round decision over Tom Prater to win King's U.S. Tournament. Six days later Foreman stopped journeyman Pedro Agosto to go 5-0 (5) in his march to an Ali rematch. Since Saddler couldn't convince King or the Holmes camp to make Foreman-Holmes, they settled for another slick boxer to prep Foreman for a pending rematch with Ali. On March 17, 1977, George Foreman and Larry Holmes fought on the same card for the only time in their career. In an undercard bout at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Holmes (23-0 17 KOs) stopped Horace Robinson (5-2) in the fifth round. In the main event, number one contender George Foreman (45-1 42 KOs) fought number three ranked Jimmy Young in a title elimination bout to determine who would be the mandatory challenger for Ali's title.

For the first six rounds against Young, Foreman never fought so passively or looked so out of it. In the seventh round Foreman finally threw a couple bombs at Young and almost knocked him out with a big left hook. Young got through the round and Foreman tired badly as the fight wore on. In the twelfth round Foreman was so exhausted that a Young flurry made him stumble to a knee for a brief second. It was ruled a knockdown. In what was voted Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year, Foreman lost a unanimous decision to Young and retired in his dressing room after the fight.

Holmes fought twice more in 1977, stopping Fred Houpe and Ibar Arrington to finish the year with a record of 26-0 (19). It wasn't until March 25, 1978, one year after Foreman lost to Young, that Holmes showed he had the pedigree of a future heavyweight champ. It wasn't until his 27th fight, against perennial heavyweight contender Earnie Shavers, that Holmes had finally arrived. Shavers was seven months removed from losing a 15-round unanimous decision to Muhammad Ali in what was his first of two title shots. In his bout against Shavers, Holmes won all twelve rounds and never looked better or more complete. Three months later Holmes won a 15-round split decision over Ken Norton to win the WBC heavyweight title. And the rest is fistic history.

The fact is there was only about a six-month window during 1976 that a Foreman-Holmes bout could realistically be made. From June through December of 1976 there was some talk of matching them. I believe Holmes was willing and would have agreed to the fight, but at the same time I have no doubt Foreman would have jumped at the opportunity had it been offered. But Holmes showed nothing through December of 1976 indicating he had the potential to be a special fighter, let alone the great one he went on to become.

The reason Foreman-Holmes never happened is because at the time when it could have been made, Holmes management and promoter Don King wanted no part of Foreman. They just weren't confident Holmes at that time could have stood up to Foreman long enough for him to tire. And guess what? Nobody else thought so either. Holmes was still two years away from blossoming into a special heavyweight fighter.

If you need a goat to blame for never seeing Foreman-Holmes, blame Holmes’ management and Don King for doing the right thing by Holmes, because Larry Holmes was nowhere close to being ready for George Foreman in 1976, despite Clancy messing Foreman up. You can also blame Jimmy Young. In fact, you can also blame Young for being the reason why we never saw Ali-Foreman II. Had Foreman defeated Young, we would have seen him fight Ali in September of 1977, instead of Ali fighting Shavers.

Today Larry Holmes is campaigning to fight George Foreman. His selling point is that Foreman ducked him in the ‘70s and is ducking him now. That statement is only half true. It was Holmes and his management who looked the other way when Foreman and Saddler viewed the fight as a tune-up for a rematch with Ali. So the blame is on the Holmes faction as to why it didn't happen over 25 years ago.

Today, however, I believe Foreman has no interest in fighting Holmes for a few significant reasons. First of all, he knows beating Holmes does nothing for him at this stage of the game – which is the opposite for Holmes. Holmes beating Foreman somewhat justifies him as the number two heavyweight of the Golden Era.

Holmes knows that he cannot overtake Ali in the pantheon of all-time heavyweight greats. That leaves Frazier and Foreman.

In a head to head matchup between Frazier and Holmes at their peak, most observers are split on who would have won. Holmes is usually ranked above Frazier because of the 20 consecutive title defenses he made over his seven year reign as champ. That leaves Foreman. Because of the power Foreman still possessed during his comeback, which resulted in some impressive knockouts, not to mention that he won the title from the lineal champ and Holmes didn't, Foreman's comeback is viewed as being more successful than Holmes’ was. That’s why Holmes wants the Foreman name on his record. He believes since Foreman is only 11 months older than he is, beating him now means he would have beat him when both were at their peak.

The other reason Foreman has no interest in fighting Holmes, besides there not being an upside regarding career stature, is there isn't enough money in it. One thing Foreman and Holmes both crave is dead Presidents, but in that tale of the tape, Foreman is the champ and money is his passion, even more than it is for Holmes. No way is Foreman going to give Holmes the chance to gain career stature without getting paid for it. Added to that, Holmes has the strategic style advantage. No way Foreman goes for it unless the money is so monumental that even he can't walk away from it.

Writer's Note
Who would have won had they fought at their best? The best Foreman was the one who fought from late 1972 through October 1974 when he lost to Ali. The best Holmes fought during the years 1979-82. In my opinion, the undefeated Foreman of ‘73-‘74 would have beaten the undefeated Holmes of ‘80-‘82. I don't believe Holmes could have survived the Foreman that Muhammad Ali survived.

Remember, Ali didn't beat Foreman by boxing him, and I don't think Holmes could have either. Ali had to endure a helluva beating to the head and body before he could take advantage of a spent George Foreman. After losing to Ali, Foreman doubted his stamina and was finished emotionally. This led to the measured style he fought under the tutelage of Gil Clancy. And that's why he lost to Jimmy Young. Had the Zaire version of Foreman fought Young, Foreman would have won inside three rounds.

So from my perspective, the very best Foreman I ever saw would have defeated the very best Holmes I ever saw. However, I think the post-Ali version of Foreman would have been decisioned by Holmes. I know that both are among the top six or seven greatest heavyweight champions of all-time. That being said, George Foreman of 2005, who has not fought in almost eight years, has no interest in fighting Larry Holmes of 2005 who last fought in 2002.

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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