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Articles of 2005

Bat Masterson: Boxing Columnist

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You have probably heard Bat Masterson’s name mentioned in stories of Wyatt Earp and the Old West. Dime-store novels were written about him. Gene Barry played him in a television show based on his Old West exploits. And he has been portrayed on the silver screen as well. Yet he was never immortalized like Earp, Wild Bill Hickok and other Old West icons. If he were, it would be common knowledge that after his Wild West career, Masterson worked as a boxing columnist in New York City for almost twenty years, covering the bouts of fighters like Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey.

Born William Barclay Masterson in Illinois in 1855, he was one of six children, three brothers and two sisters. The Masterson family eventually moved to Kansas and built a farm in Sedgewick. This was where Bat spent most of his youth.

In his late teens, Masterson worked as a buffalo hunter. At the age of 20 he found himself in the middle of one of the Old West’s most famous skirmishes, the second battle of Adobe Walls. In June 1874, hundreds of Comanche braves surrounded Masterson and 27 other hunters in the community of Adobe Walls. He and his fellow sharp-shooting hunters barricaded themselves and after several hours managed to drive the braves away. Only four hunters were killed, compared to about thirty Comanches. Masterson is noted for running out of the building under fire to bring water to a dying friend.

Masterson once said, “Always shoot first, and never miss,” and in 1875, he killed his first man in Sweetwater, Texas. The death occurred when he defended a woman from an attack by her jealous ex-lover, Melvin King. King ended up wounding Masterson in the shootout.

After recovering, Masterson left Texas for Dodge City, Kansas, where he served as Sheriff Wyatt Earp’s deputy marshal. Masterson wrote of Earp, “I think it was the distinguishing trait of Wyatt Earp, the leader of the Earp brothers, that more than any man I have ever known, he was devoid of physical fear. He feared the opinion of no one but himself and his self respect was his creed.”

During his tenure in Dodge City, Masterson consorted with a Who’s Who of the Old West, including the Earp brothers, Doc Holliday, Luke Short, Dave Rudabaugh, Bill Tilghman and Mysterious Dave Mather. In 1877, Masterson was elected sheriff and kept the peace with the same vigor as Earp. However, tragedy struck in April 1878, when Masterson’s brother, Ed, also a deputy marshal, was killed in shootout with Jack Wagner. Masterson killed Wagner later that night.

After losing reelection in 1879, Masterson took up poker because, as he put it, “Gambling was not only the principal and best-paying industry of the time, but it was also reckoned among its most respectable.” In 1880 he played cards in the boomtown of Leadville, Colorado. After that he gambled in Tombstone, Arizona, but left town shortly before the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

During the 1880s Masterson played cards and faro in towns like Trinidad, Colorado; Reno, Nevada; and Las Vegas, New Mexico. Along the way he developed an interest in pugilism. Masterson never boxed but frequently served as a referee, as did Wyatt Earp. In the 1890s Masterson wrote his first boxing columns for a Denver newspaper called George’s Weekly. He also promoted boxing through his Olympic Avenue Club.

In 1896 Masterson helped move a heavyweight championship bout between Bob Fitzsimmons and Peter Maher to Mexico. The fight was originally supposed to be held in El Paso, Texas, where prizefighting was illegal. Governor Charles Culberson sent in the Texas Rangers to stop the fight. Masterson shuttled the bout to the border town of Langtry, Texas, which was Judge Roy Bean’s jurisdiction. A ring was built a few hundred yards inside the Mexican territory. For all their trouble, all those involved were not rewarded with much of a fight, as Fitzsimmons retained his title by knocking out Maher in less than two minutes. Masterson made sure Fitzsimmons got his money and then went home to Denver to write about it in his weekly column.

Masterson later found himself in a conflict with Otto Floto, sports editor of the Denver Post, over a boxing promotion partnership gone sour. The two often traded literary shots in their respective columns, but the verbal sparring turned into a street brawl in July 1900. Masterson whipped Floto with his cane, causing the editor to hire the notorious gunman “Whispering Jim” Smith to deal with Masterson. The two gunfighters, however, never met. Masterson sold his interest in the Olympic and left for New York City in 1902.

When he arrived, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Masterson U.S. Deputy Marshal of New York. Masterson’s second job was as sports editor of The Morning Telegraph, which allowed him to publish a column three times a week. When President William Howard Taft took office in 1909, he abolished Masterson’s position. This allowed him to devote his full attention to covering boxing.

As a writer, Masterson had no flair whatsoever. The ex-lawman spent his whole life bluntly dealing with Old West dregs and his prose reflected that. As he put it, “A sports writer who is not willing to stand by his honest judgment ought to chuck his job and try something else.” The lengthy columns were not pretty, but they packed a powerful punch. Damon Runyon wrote in 1933, “I dare and double dare any sports writer of today to say some of the things about managers and boxers that old Bat Masterson used to say in almost every column he produced. Bat had no literary style, but he had plenty of moxie.”

Masterson’s sports columns accounted for more than 4 million words over his career, so he managed to get some witty lines in now and then:

“Every dog, we are told, has his day, unless there are more dogs than days.”

“When a man is at the racetrack he roars longer and louder over the twenty-five cents he loses through the hole in the bottom of his pocket than he does over the $25 he loses through the hole in the top of his pocket.”

“There are many in this old world of ours who hold that things break about even for all of us. I have observed for example that we all get about the same amount of ice. The rich get it in the summertime and the poor get it in the winter.”

Masterson’s major accomplishment in sports journalism was railing against boxing’s bureaucracy. For instance, when Joe Dragons killed George “Young Ducy” Nuessem with a body shot in July 1912, Dragons was taken into custody, along with his trainers and the fight’s referee. Masterson said the arrests were ridiculous. He pointed out the fact that Nuessem was in a weak condition at the time of the fight. Masterson went on to say that the New York Boxing Commission was responsible for Nuessem’s death because it allowed him to get in the ring in the first place.

Masterson often attacked the Commission during his career. When a new commissioner named Walter Hooke was appointed in 1921, Masterson wrote that he was unqualified. A few nights later at Madison Square Garden, the angry commissioner berated him. In the West, Masterson would have responded with his fists or pistol, but in the East his deadliest weapon was his pen. Masterson wrote about the commissioner’s unprofessional display of behavior and Hooke was removed from his position.

Bureaucrats were not the only ones who felt the sting of Masterson’s column. When describing Al Palzer, an Iowan heavyweight who could have served as a Great White Hope for African-American champ Jack Johnson had it not been for his laziness, Masterson showed him no kindness. He wrote, “Palzer is a dead rabbit so far as his drawing abilities are concerned. He’s just where he belongs – in the muck.”

Masterson was also critical of Johnson’s ring performances, but remained silent about his conviction May of 1913. Johnson fled the country in June of that year but continued to fight in Europe. When Johnson lost his title to gargantuan heavyweight Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba, on April 5, 1915, Masterson was there. His recap of the bout began: “The white race, after a hard pull for the last seven years, recovered the heavyweight championship of the world . . .” Of course those words sadly reflected that era’s view of Johnson. He went on to explain that years of hard living had taken its toll on the “Negro pugilist” and led to his loss.

Masterson did not cut newly crowned champ Willard any slack either, saying he was “a very lazy man” and that it was “only natural to presume that he [Willard] is fat and flabby.” The public was also not too fond of Willard. Americans were still waiting for a heavyweight champion in the vein of the Great John L. Sullivan and they got one when the “Manassa Mauler” Jack Dempsey knocked out Willard in three rounds on July 4, 1919.

While sportswriters and boxing fans lauded Dempsey, Masterson was not too impressed. Throughout Dempsey’s career, Masterson did not give him a great deal of praise, even when he scored first round knockouts.

While those who saw the Willard fight thought Dempsey’s hands were made of cement, Masterson implied that Dempsey could have taped his hands with concrete-lined electrical tape. Masterson also said something must have been askew with the fight because Dempsey had looked pitiful in some of his previous bouts and could not have destroyed Willard the way he did.

But Masterson’s reason for his wariness of Dempsey is not because boxing fans and historians missed the mark. It goes back to a conflict out west. Dempsey was born in the town Manassa, Colorado, and Masterson learned that Dempsey was once managed by his old nemesis Otto Floto. He also heard rumors that Floto still owned a piece of the champ. Contempt for the man who tried to have him killed led Masterson to underestimate one of boxing’s all-time greats.

Had Masterson been able to cover Dempsey’s entire prolific career throughout the 1920s, he might have been able to get past his disdain for Floto and appreciate the champ’s remarkable abilities. Unfortunately he was not given that chance, as Masterson died of a sudden heart attack on October 25, 1921 . . . while typing his column. Masterson slumped over his desk and passed on without a sound, a quiet end to a colorful life.

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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