Connect with us

Articles of 2005

The Joke That Almost Ended Ali’s Career

Published

on

The 1970s were full of overblown, hyped affairs that may have seemed like a good idea on paper but turned out to be absolute disasters when brought to life: the Star Wars Holiday Special, the Billy Jean King/Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match, and, of course, the Muhammad Ali/Antonio Inoki “Boxer verses Wrestler” exhibition match in 1976. However, in this bout Ali’s wounds went deeper than his pride. The Greatest took punches from seven Hall of Famers (it will be eight when Larry Holmes is inducted) but only a few of them hurt Ali’s career as badly as Inoki.

Ali came into 1976 on the heels of the most brutal fight of his career, the Thrilla in Manilla, his third bout with Joe Frazier. Many said it at the time, and now you will find that the majority of boxing writers and fans think it: Ali should have retired after the fight. “The measure of attrition, of brain tissue, of kidney tissue; everything that went with that fight was as close to death as you can get in the ring,” says Ali’s longtime fight doctor Ferdie Pacheco.

Nevertheless, after the hematomas on his hips healed, Ali continued. In February of 1976, he easily knocked out handpicked Belgian Jean Pierre Coopman in five rounds, following that with a bloated, lackluster decision over the slick but light-punching Jimmy Young. Less than a month later, Ali scored a fifth round knockout over Richard Dunn. His next bout would be the June 25th exhibition with Inoki.

“Now Herbert [Muhammad, Ali’s manager] came to me and he said these Japanese people have come to him with all kinds of money to go over and fight this wrestler, Inoki, in Japan,” says Bob Arum, who promoted the exhibition. While Arum has promoted some of the biggest fights in boxing history, he has also promoted other extravaganzas, most notably Evel Knievel’s attempt to jump the Snake Canyon in a rocket car.

Ali’s handlers began putting the fight together in April of 1975, when Ali met Ichiro Yada, the then-president of the Japan Amateur Wrestling Association, at a party in the United States. Ali asked Yada, “Isn’t there any Oriental fighter to challenge me? I’ll give him one million dollars if he wins.” Ali was probably joking but Yada brought his comment back to the Japanese press. When Inoki read Ali’s words, he relentlessly pursued a match, finally getting him to sign a deal in March of 1976.

The money was without a doubt great: $6 million for Ali, $4 million for Inoki. And the bout seemed like it would be nothing more than fun, entertaining fare. As Arum put it, “Professional wrestlers are performers. The thing is a fraud.”

However, Inoki had not planned to put on a show. To him and his manager, it was a serious fight between a boxer and a wrestler. According to Pacheco, “Ali’s fight in Tokyo was basically a Bob Arum thought up scam that was going to be ‘ha-ha, ho-ho. We’re going to go over there. It’s going to be orchestrated. It’s going to be a lot of fun and it’s just a joke.’ And when we got over there, we found out no one was laughing.”

Ali arrived in Tokyo on June 16th. The first media event with both athletes took place at a lunch party. The Greatest, showman that he is, went on one of his usual verbal tirades with Inoki. In response, Inoki presented Ali with a crutch.

In America, the match was the final part of a closed circuit television event dreamed up by WWF owners Vince McMahon Sr. and Jr. A match earlier that evening was held in Shea Stadium between Chuck Wepner and Andre the Giant. Wepner’s knockdown of Ali in 1975 inspired Sylvester Stallone to write Rocky. Wepner’s match with Andre probably inspired the Rocky/Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan) fight in Rocky III.

After that match ended with Wepner being tossed out of the ring, the telecast went to Tokyo’s Budokan Hall. Ali came into the ring escorted by his usual ringside crew. For this match, he also had a legendary wrestling personality, the late “Classy” Freddie Blassie, acting as his manager.

When Ali realized the event was not going to be orchestrated, there was a substantial debate over the rules. Obviously, Ali did not want to jeopardize his future by being tossed around the ring by a professional wrestler, so it was decided that suplexes would not be allowed. Head-butts, knee blows below the belt, and open handed eye attacks were banned as well. Finally, Inoki would not be allowed to kick Ali above the waist either.

Inoki handled these rules with a very boring but damaging approach. When the bell rang for round one, Inoki ran out and slid at the legs of Ali, who dodged the Japanese wrestler by stepping back. Inoki stayed on the ground for 2:46 of the first round, kicking at Ali and landing one clean hit to Ali’s right leg.

Inoki spent much of the fight on the ground trying to damage Ali’s legs. Ali spent most of the fight dodging the kicks by stepping out of the way or staying on the ropes. Occasionally, Inoki’s boot would connect. By the third round, a wound had appeared on Ali’s left knee.

Ali threw his first punch in the seventh round. In the eighth, Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer, demanded that Inoki tape the tips of his shoelaces because one of the eyelets came loose and was cutting Ali’s legs. In the tenth, Ali threw his second punch. He only threw six punches in all during the fight.

The match went the fifteen round distance and was declared a draw. Inoki would have actually won the match had he not lost three points on a foul. The exhibition is considered by boxing writers and fans as one of the most embarrassing moments in Ali’s career. Unfortunately, Ali suffered much more than a blemish on his outstanding career.

“Finally at the end of the 15th round, the referee calls it a draw. So fine, okay. It was terrible, it was embarrassing. But Ali is bleeding from the legs. He gets an infection in his legs; almost has to have an amputation. Not only the [Ken] Norton fight would’ve been not happening, but Ali could’ve been a cripple for the rest of his life,” said Arum.

Ali suffered two blood clots in his legs as well. His handlers had also scheduled exhibition bouts in South Korea and the Philippines. As Ali lay in bed with icepacks surrounding his legs, Pacheco told him that he should check into a hospital because clots could form in his brain, heart, or lungs and kill him. Ali went against Pacheco’s advice and did the bouts. “But,” as Pacheco said, “Ali’s luck held, and all he had to do was spend a few weeks in an L.A. hospital.”

But Ali never knocked out anyone again, and his fight with Norton in September of 1976 is when sports writers and fans began to insist that he retire. Norton’s style had always troubled Ali. The two split a pair of close decisions in 1973.

When it came time to fight the rubber match in Yankee Stadium, Norton brought the fight to a game but not completely recovered Ali. “Ali was still feeling the effects of the leg injury, and his mobility was not what it had been,” said Pacheco. Throughout the fight, Ali tried to keep his distance with Norton, but the challenger would close in and batter the champ on the ropes.

Ali managed to win the last round and squeak out a unanimous decision. “The vote was very close,” said Pacheco. “Ali won, but the public booed. The feeling was that Ali’s popularity had influenced the judges.”

Ali went through a series of saddening performances over the next five years. In 1978, he lost and won the title back from Leon Spinks. He finally retired in 1981.

Inoki went on to wrestle for the next two decades, battling such greats as Andre the Giant, Stan Hansen, and Sting. However, his biggest claim to fame was the Ali match. In 1977 he used a song from Ali’s film The Greatest for his introduction. In 1986 he pinned Ali-conqueror Spinks in an exhibition match. When he retired in 1998, Ali, ever so gracious to his opponents, flew to Tokyo to watch his final match.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

Published

on

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)

Continue Reading

Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

Published

on

By

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

Continue Reading

Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Trending