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Articles of 2005

Boxing Hall's Selection Sweet as Sugar

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“Congratulations on your selection to the Boxing Hall of Fame,” I said to the voice on the other end of the telephone.

“Why are they going to take an impression of my fist?” asked the voice. “I never hit anybody?”

I laughed.  The answer from the voice—who will be inducted as a non-participant on June 16—on the other end of the phone was funny. It was funnier than he intended it to be.

“You never hit anybody?” I said/asked incredulously. “You’ve got to be kidding!  You’ve probably thrown more punches at guys than all the other inductees combined.”

The voice—which belonged to Bert Sugar—roared with laughter.

“You’ve got a point there,” Bert said. “I guess I have.”

I was there for many of what might be termed “Bert’s Brawls,” which were really more adolescent pranks and antics than brawls. But they were all understandable, excusable and, for the most part, harmless. After all, Bert is truly the world’s oldest teenager.

***        ***        ***

“Hey, kid, I put away copies of the new issues of B.I. and The Ring for you,” said Lou, owner of the candy store/card store/soda shop down the block. “B.I.” was short for Boxing Illustrated.

While working as a disc jockey on the all-night shift at Top-40 radio station WGBB on Long Island during my college years, I would make the slow nights go faster by reading B.I. and The Ring whenever I played some of the longer songs (“Hey Jude,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “MacArthur Park”).  For years I enjoyed The Ring, but I found them growing stale, colorless and tired, especially after the death of its founder and soul—Nat Fleisher—in 1972. In addition, their insistence in calling Muhammad Ali by the name he had left behind—Cassius Clay—annoyed me. I took to reading the more alive and vibrant B.I.  The magazine carried the charisma and flamboyance of its outspoken editor, who had no problem in doing what sportscaster Howard Cosell called “telling it like it is.”

The editor was Bert Sugar. Bert Randolph Sugar.

One warm Spring night in 1979, I was sitting at home, editing stories for Stanley Weston’s boxing magazines—World/International Boxing—for which I had been an Assistant Editor since 1974. The phone rang. My wife answered it.

“There’s someone on the phone named Sugar Randolph, or something like that,” she said.

My eyes opened wide in amazement.

“What did you say his name was?” I asked.

“Sugar Randolph,” she repeated.

I thought for a moment, then asked her, “Could his name be Bert Randolph Sugar?”

“Yes, that’s it! Who is he?” she asked.

“He’s just the best boxing writer in the world,” I replied.

I rushed to the phone.

“Hello, Randy,” said the man who would soon become my boss, my mentor and one of my closest friends.

“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I recently purchased Ring Magazine.I’ll be taking over the editorial reigns in June. What I’d like to know is do you have any interest in becoming my Associate Editor?”

I had to think Sugar’s question over…for about a second!

“Yes! Definitely yes!” I told him.

The Ring magazine, once known as “The Bible of Boxing,” had been to purgatory in the past few years, getting itself mired in a ratings scandal in the ill-fated “U.S. Boxing Championships” in 1976-1977. During the last half of the seventies, The Ring put out magazines with covers and content which ranged from pathetic to childish to scandalous and embarrassing.

“You’re the guy I want to help restore The Ring’s luster and respect,” Sugar told me.  “I want The Ring that we publish to be, quite simply, the best boxing magazine ever put out.”

Quite frankly, from the moment our first issue (Oct. ‘79) hit the stands, it was that, and more. That’s not something I believe. That’s something the sales figures showed us.  That’s something fans the world over told us: young fans, middle-aged fans, older fans – ones who started reading The Ring 45 years earlier.

The magazine quickly went from being tired and old to being young and sleek. It was one of the greatest transformations in the history of magazine publishing.  From cover to content, The Ring looked different. It was different.

The world of boxing magazines and boxing publishing would never be the same again.

***        ***        ***

Ring Magazine was always noted throughout the publishing world for its logo, in which the capital “R” and its right “leg” flowed to the right and upwards in an egg-shaped tail.  Inside the egg were smaller capital letters, “ING.” Above the “ING” and part of the end of the tail was the word “The.”  Two small boxing gloves sat at the bottom of the left “leg” of the “R.” Boxing Illustrated was still an outstanding magazine. So were the magazines of Stanley Weston. But The Ring was unparalleled.

Its covers were once as respected as the covers of Time and Newsweek. During the last half of the seventies, The Ring put out magazines with covers and content which ranged from pathetic to childish to scandalous and embarrassing. When you talked about boxing, you wanted to know who was on the cover. But then came the scandal of the “U.S. Championships.” Fingers were pointed at ABC-TV, which televised the series. Fingers were pointed at Don King, who promoted it. But most of the fingers were rightfully pointed at The Ring.

At the time, a young, rebel writer out of Sunnyside, Queens, New York, named Malcolm “Flash” Gordon put out a sizzling-hot underground newspaper called “Tonight’s Boxing Program.” His publication was must reading for everyone in the business. He sold them by subscription, but mainly sold them at arenas on fight night. Incredibly, he attended fight card after fight card up and down the east coast, from New York to New Jersey, from Maine to Massachusetts, from Pennsylvania to Virginia, Washington D.C. and beyond. Tonight’s Boxing Program was the first to expose the tournament and its ratings scandal.

Flash Gordon began blasting ABC-TV for allowing such a tainted tournament to be aired.  A young ABC producer picked up on Flash’s weekly exposes and brought his information to ABC’s Executive Producer, Roone Arledge, and to ABC’s top sportscaster, Howard Cosell. That young producer was quickly elevated in the ranks at ABC, became their on-air boxing analyst and today, Alex Wallau is President of ABC Sports.

Flash Gordon didn’t stop at ABC. His publication continually referred to Don King as “Dung King.” As for Ring Magazine, Flash began calling it “Wrong Magazine.”  Its #2 man, Johnny Ort, was constantly called Ort/Bought/Caught in Tonight’s Boxing Program. The “U.S. Boxing Championships” eventually imploded.

ABC survived the stench of the tournament. So did Don King. The Ring did not. Its ratings, once revered and respected in the industry, now were scorned and laughed at.  The magazine, under the guidance of founder Nat Fleischer’s son-in-law, Nat Loubet, went down for the count.

That’s where Bert Sugar comes in. Along with three business partners, Bert purchased the magazine, along with The Ring Publishing Corporation. When I told him over the phone that I’d love to work for him, I did so in the total belief that if anybody could resurrect the dead Ring Magazine, it was him. I was right.

***        ***        ***

One of the many changes and innovations Sugar brought to The Ring was “Democratic Ratings.” An international panel of up to 100 boxing writers and personalities voted for their choice of the top-10 contenders in every division. Their ballots were tabulated and the results shown in the next month’s issue. The ratings were far from perfect, but they were better and certainly more honest than the ratings of any of the sanctioning bodies.

Ah, yes, the sanctioning bodies. Almost monthly in his editorials, Bert took on each of the sanctioning bodies. None of the “Alphabet Soup” organizations escaped his wrath and venom. His journalistic attacks paved the way for other boxing writers to begin questioning the ratings and business ethics of the sanctioning bodies.

In one of his columns, Sugar called the Vice-Chairman of one of the sanctioning bodies the “Chairman of Vice.” Confronted by the man in Las Vegas, Sugar nearly threw his drink in the man’s face. But after thinking twice, Sugar decided “not to waste a perfectly good glass of scotch.” He downed the drink and threw his fists instead.

But Bert Sugar didn’t fight others nearly as much as he fought those who attacked boxing.

The American Medical Association (AMA) was one of Sugar’s favorite targets. The AMA frequently called for boxing’s abolition through its own publication, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  Sugar pointed out how JAMA used boxing as a whipping boy. He told the world how JAMA heaped lavish praise and accolades on a certain pharmaceutical company while putting another pharmaceutical company down.

“Normally, there would be nothing wrong with doing that,” wrote Sugar, “except that the company JAMA was putting down had just pulled its advertising from them and the company they were building up had become one of JAMA’s top advertisers. Let those who live in glass houses not throw stones.”

And talk about prophetic. While attacking many of the do-nothing state athletic commissions in the June 1981 issue of The Ring, Sugar wrote, “…if the commissions don’t do something—and soon—to clean up boxing’s act, somebody will have to clean up their act.”  This, nearly two decades before Sen. John McCain began hammering on the doors of Congress and the White House to pass a Federal Boxing Bill.

Sugar attacked incompetent and dishonest officials, executives, promoters, matchmakers, managers and even journalists.  His list of detractors was long and extensive. Yet his list of admirers was even longer. 

I am among the latter.

Boxing is an incredibly exciting sport to watch…to write about…to read about.

Sugar’s prose over the years only emphasized this fact. When he sat down at his typewriter (I believe he still uses a typewriter!) it was like a concert pianist about to perform (minus the cigar).

***        ***        ***             

As Sugar’s sidekick for the better part of five years, I can tell you that the internet doesn’t have enough megabytes to handle all the outrageous and funny stories I can tell you about Bert.

Here are but a few.

At a press conference in New York City in the summer of 1980, New York Daily News columnist Dick Young came up to me and asked, “Randy, does Bert Sugar always wear that hat?  I know you room with him on the road, and that question has been gnawing away at me.”

“Yes,” I told him.  “Bert always wears his hat.  He takes it off only when he changes hats.  Otherwise, he always has it on.”

“Even when he sleeps?” inquired Young.

“Even when he sleeps,” I told him.

Young soon found out for himself.

I informed Bert of my conversation with Young, and he said he’d play along if Young ever asked him about the hat.

Young soon got the answer he was looking for up close and personal.

It was October 1, 1980.  Bert and I were in Las Vegas, Nevada, along with a gazillion other journalists for the Larry Holmes-Muhammad Ali heavyweight championship bout.

I was watching television in our room when I heard a knock at the door.  I looked through the peephole. It was Dick Young.

Bert was in the shower. I pushed open the bathroom door. “Bert.  Psst!  Bert!” I called to him in a hushed voice.

He looked out from behind the shower curtain.

“Dick Young is at the door,” I said, pointing to the door. “Wanna’ do something?  Put your hat on.”

Bert smiled a devilish smile.

“Get me my hat and cigar,” he said.  Then he yelled, “I’ll be right there.”

I ran to the dresser and grabbed his black fedora and a new, unlit cigar. I handed them to Sugar, who had stepped out of the shower and walked to the door. He put on the hat and stuck the cigar in his mouth.

“Who’s there?” he asked.

“It’s Dick Young, Bert.”

Sugar opened the door.

Young’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. Standing in front of him, wearing only his trademark hat and his birthday suit, along with a cigar, was Bert Sugar.

“I don’t believe it!” he said. “I just don’t believe it!” Looking stunned, he turned and headed toward the elevator.

The next day came Young’s column, called “Young Ideas.”  It was all about the heavyweight fight which would take place hours later. Three-quarters of the way into the column came Young’s dot-dot-dot items in “Fight Camp Confidential,” with tidbits of boxing camp info.

Then came the last line of his column. Since none of the readers saw what we saw, few could really appreciate the line and Young’s humor.

The line read, “And yes, Bert Sugar always wears his hat!”

On another night in Las Vegas, I was having dinner in an expensive restaurant with Bert.  I pointed across the room to the door. Don King had just walked in. Sugar decided to attract King’s attention. Rather than raise his hands and wave at King, Sugar picked up a large dinner roll from our table.

“Bert, what are you gonna’ do?” I asked. He smiled. Then he let the roll fly. I watched its flight. Like a long field goal, it seemed to have the height and distance. Then it went wide right . . . – and directly into a man’s filled soup bowl.  Like a meteor from outer space slamming into the ocean, there was a soup tsunami all over the unsuspecting, shocked man and his dinner partner.

“Woops!” Bert exclaimed. “Sorry, I was aiming at him,” he said, pointing to Don King.  “Missed.” King and Bert roared with laughter. Then Bert offered to pay for the man’s dinner, but the guy didn’t have Sugar’s sense of humor, and rejected the offer.

Bert liked throwing food. In 1982, there was speculation that Sugar Ray Leonard was going to make an announcement that he wanted to fight middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Some reports said he was going to offer a fight to Hagler—who desperately wanted the fight—while other reports said he was going to retire.  Leonard’s announcement was turned into one of the biggest press conferences of all time.  With over 15,000 fans piled into the Civic Center in Landover, Maryland, Leonard stood in mid-ring and teased the fans, media and Hagler before making his announcement.

“A fight between me and Marvin would be a great fight,” said the once-beaten superstar.  The crowd roared. Hagler smiled. Leonard paused, before continuing.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “it’ll never happen.”

Leonard made headlines by announcing that a fight would not happen. Following the press conference, I headed to a bar with Bert.

Bert saw a friend of ours, boxing writer George Kimball, on the other side of the bar.  Bert picked a peanut out of the finger-snack bowl and tossed it at Kimball. This time, unlike the Las Vegas roll-tossing incident, Bert’s food missile was on target. The peanut hit Kimball. Kimball quickly returned the fire with several peanuts of his own.

Not to be outdone, Bert took a handful of peanuts, let them, and they pelted Kimball like buckshot. Sugar laughed loud.  Then Kimball took his entire bowl of peanuts and heaved it. Peanuts landed in both of our beers.

Bert jumped up and grabbed a large potted palm from the floor. He then ran after Kimball with it. Kimball jumped off his stool as Sugar chased him around the bar.

Minutes later Bert was explaining to the Landover Police Department why he was chasing a man around a local establishment with a potted plant. Somehow he talked his way out of a summons.

Bert Sugar has spent more than the last half of his life in and around boxing. He has given the sport his unconditional love, constantly fighting to mend the ills which ail it.

Prior to entering the world of boxing, Sugar attended law school. He was a top advertising executive. He had his choice and pick of careers. I, for one, am glad he chose boxing. We all should be glad he did so.

Bert once told me that boxing is a great sport to watch, to read about and talk about. But he said the best thing of all was to write about it. He said there is nothing better in the world of sports than great boxing writing.

Over the decades, Bert Sugar has proven – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that he is not just a great boxing writer, but one of the best to ever come along.

Boxing is lucky to have him.

The International Boxing Hall of Fame welcomes him with open arms . . . and a plaster mold exclusively for his fists!

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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