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Articles of 2005

Bernard Hopkins – One of Boxing's Best in the Last 25 Years

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Bernard Hopkins goes for title defense number 20 Saturday. Who would have thought, watching “Ex” struggle with Segundo Mercado in December 1994, that the Philadelphia tough guy would go on to become perhaps the greatest middleweight in the history of boxing?

But Hopkins has chugged along with a combination of talent, punching power, guile, experience and intelligence. He has been a model of consistency for a decade, outlasting contemporaries Roy Jones Jr., Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley — all of which were considered better fighters for most of the last 10 years.

Now that Hopkins has made history and is attempting to extend his incredible reign six title defenses past 160-pound great Carlos Monzon and eight past Marvin Hagler, his place in history is secure.

But where does Hopkins rate among the greatest fighters of the last 25 years?

Let’s evaluate.

20. Wilfredo Gomez: Most remember his losses to Salvador Sanchez and Azumah Nelson. But he was fighting at uncomfortable weights and, against Nelson, was past his prime. As a 122-pounder, however, Gomez was simply awesome. Going into the Sanchez fight, he was 32-0 with 32 knockouts. He could box and, boy, could he punch. Signature fight: KO 5 Carlos Zarate (1980).

19. Lennox Lewis: Lewis wasn’t always fun to watch, and he often appeared mechanical and unimaginative. But he still unified the titles, and established himself as the best big-man of his era — an era that included Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. Signature fight: KO 8 Mike Tyson (2002).

18. Azumah Nelson: The Ghanaian superstar almost defeated the great Salvador Sanchez as an inexperienced novice in 1982. He went on to become a two-time champion and a dominant featherweight king. Nicknamed “The Professor” because of his boxing skills, Nelson could also bang. He is, in a word, underappreciated. Signature fight: KO 11 Wilfredo Gomez (1984).

17. Salvador Sanchez: Some may rate the Mexican higher, but the truth is Sanchez’ greatness was cut short by his untimely death. Consider that he only reigned as featherweight champ for a little over two years, and he often struggled against ordinary opposition like Patrick Ford. But when he was on, the slick counterpuncher was on. Signature fight: KO 8 Wilfredo Gomez (1981).

16. Alexis Arguello: Arguello’s prime years were actually before 1980, when he reigned as featherweight and junior lightweight champ. But he was a good enough lightweight to dominate the class in the early 1980s, defeating the likes of Jim Watt and Ray Mancini. He came close to winning a fourth world title, but was stopped by a raging Aaron Pryor. Signature fight: KO 14 Ray Mancini (1981).

15. Aaron Pryor: “The Hawk” wasn’t taken seriously until his 1982 knockout of Alexis Arguello. He repeated the knockout in 1983, and then sunk into a life of drugs. But in his prime, Pryor was the Arturo Gatti of his day. Consider he engaged in back-to-back fights of the year, against DuJuan Johnson and Arguello (1981/1982). Signature fight: KO 14 Alexis Arguello (1982).

14. Felix Trinidad: Perhaps the greatest Puerto Rican fighter of all time, “Tito” made a pretty impressive run at welterweight, notching 15 defenses of the IBF crown before moving up to junior middle in 2000. He was built like Thomas Hearns, and punched like him, too — with his left hook. Still one of the best fighters in the world. Signature fight: KO 12 Fernando Vargas (2000).

13. Michael Spinks: Let’s call Spinks the Lennox Lewis of the light heavyweight division. The St. Louis native didn’t always win impressively, but he always won, unifying the 175-pound title in 1983. He could out-punch the punchers and outbox the boxers. Never lost a fight at light heavyweight. Signature fight: W 15 Dwight Muhammad Qawi (1983).

12. Mike McCallum: How good was the “Body Snatcher”? The elite fighters of his day — Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran — avoided him like the plague. For good reason. He was a numbing body puncher and as technically sound as any fighter of the 1980s. Won the 154, 160 and 175-pound titles. Signature fight: KO 5 Donald Curry (1987).

11. Roy Jones Jr.: Difficult to rate Jones, since he destroyed all of his competition in his prime. And, like Ali, he did everything wrong. He never jabbed and usually displayed poor form. But what did it matter when he possessed perhaps the greatest combination of speed and reflexes the sport has ever seen? Ultimately won titles at middle, super middle and light heavy, and defeated James Toney and Bernard Hopkins. Signature fight: W 12 James Toney (1994).

10. Mike Tyson: His prime ended unexpectedly, but it was anything but short. He reigned for four years and made 10 title defenses — pretty lengthy for any fighter in any class, really. And when you consider he was a heavyweight, becoming boxing’s biggest star at age 20, you have to give “Iron Mike” his due. Known for his punching power, but his speed is what overwhelmed his foes. Signature fight: KO 1 Michael Spinks (1988).

9. Evander Holyfield: Considered an ordinary light heavyweight, Holyfield won and unified the cruiserweight titles, then won and unified the heavyweight titles. The classic overachiever, the “Real Deal” was strong, heavy-handed and skilled, but his most impressive attribute was his heart. Only fighter he couldn’t defeat was the much bigger Lennox Lewis. Signature fight: KO 11 Mike Tyson (1996).

8. Roberto Duran: Probably one of the top five fighters to ever lace on the gloves, Duran was already great by the time he challenged Sugar Ray Leonard for the welterweight title in 1980. That he went on to win three more titles is nothing short of amazing. Used his smarts and savvy to beat guys who were bigger and years younger. Signature fight: W 15 Sugar Ray Leonard (1980).

7. Larry Holmes: Holmes, like Hopkins, wasn’t considered anything special when he won the WBC heavyweight title from Ken Norton in 1978. But he went on to become the best heavyweight of the 1980s, notching 20 title defenses over seven years. Possessed perhaps the best jab in heavyweight history, a good right hand and a great heart. Signature fight: KO 13 Gerry Cooney (1982).

6. Bernard Hopkins: How can you deny 20 title defenses in perhaps the toughest division in boxing? It is obvious that Hopkins could have hung with any middleweight in history, including Sugar Ray Robinson, Carlos Monzon and Marvin Hagler. Not the most talented fighter, Hopkins made up for it with superior conditioning, smarts and a big punch. And, of course, a ton of confidence. Only blotch was a decision loss to Roy Jones Jr. in his first world title shot. Signature fight: KO 12 Felix Trinidad (2001).

5. Thomas Hearns: What separates Hopkins from Hearns? Quality of opposition. Consider that Hearns defeated Pipino Cuevas, Roberto Duran and Wilfred Benitez — three of the greatest fighters in history. And his knockouts of Cuevas and Duran were spectacular. He also won the light heavyweight title by defeating a prime Virgil HIll when he was well past his best days. Hearns won titles in five weight classes and was never defeated by anything but boxing’s best. Also possessed one of the sport’s great right hands. Signature fight: KO 2 Pipino Cuevas (1980).

4. Marvin Hagler: Hagler made 12 defenses of his middleweight title, and all 12 came as “Marvelous Marvin” reigned as undisputed champion. He defeated the best 160-pounders of his day, but made his name against smaller guys coming up in weight — as Hopkins has. Hagler outpointed the great Duran, and blew out Hearns in perhaps the greatest fight of all time. And a lot of people think he was robbed in a decision loss to Sugar Ray Leonard. Was probably the world’s best middleweight as much as two years before he won the title. Signature fight: KO 3 Thomas Hearns (1985).

3. Julio Cesar Chavez: How can you argue with a guy who went 90-0 before suffering his first loss? In his prime, Chavez was the closest thing to perfection as his era ever saw. A brutal body puncher, Chavez wore his opponents down with hard, deadly-accurate punches and an unyielding will to win. And, before he was knocked down by Frankie Randall in 1994, was hardly even hurt. Was handed a few gift decisions, but what great fighter wasn’t? Capable of defeating any 130 to 140-pound fighter in history. Signature fight: KO 12 Meldrick Taylor (1990).

2. Pernell Whitaker: “Sweet Pea” wasn’t always appreciated in his prime, and his safety-first style turned off the purists. But when you defeat the likes of Azumah Nelson, Buddy McGirt and Julio Cesar Chavez (yes, it was a win) and grab titles in four different weight classes without hardly losing a round, you can’t be denied. Whitaker was untouchable as a lightweight, and was out of his weight class at welterweight and junior middleweight. But he still made guys swing at air. The epitome of the classic southpaw stylist. Signature fight: D 12 Julio Cesar Chavez (1993).

1. Sugar Ray Leonard: Speed. Power. Smarts. Heart. Endurance. Sugar Ray had it all, and served the nickname well. He defeated Wilfred Benitez in 1979 for his first world title, then lost to Roberto Duran via decision. He came back and wasn’t humbled again for another nine years. Along the way, he defeated an awesome array of skilled fighters: Duran in the rematch, Ayub Kalule, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler. He won titles in five weight divisions (with an asterisk, because he won two in one night), and wasn’t dominated until he met a much younger Terry Norris in 1991. He made Duran quit, the first Hearns fight was legendary and the Hagler victory was perhaps the greatest comeback in boxing history. Whether you loved him or hated him, you can’t deny Sugar Ray’s greatness. Signature fight: KO 14 Thomas Hearns (1981).

So there you have it. Hopkins stands as the sixth-best fighter over the last 25 years. It would have been hard to imagine that in his loss to Jones, or his draw with Mercado, or even during his early title reign, when he was one of boxing's more invisible, underappreciated champions.

Now, he is visible, and very appreciated.

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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