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Articles of 2005

Boxing Classic: Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns

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It might surprise some of the younger members of the boxing media, both print and mouth, to learn that there were other middleweights – even a good one or three – before Bernard Hopkins. Now I have long been an admirer of the greatest 160-pounder since, what, April 4, 1995. I’ve always enjoyed the brilliance of a boxing chess master, but I was never one to turn away in horror at the scene of a particularly nasty mugging, and Hopkins offers both, if always in carefully measured portions.

I like the way he fights to please himself, and not to cater to the bloodlust of the live audience. I like the way he deals out punishment in measured doses, while craftily measuring his opponent in the fashion of a coroner contemplating the current resident of the coldest of tables. I like the way he hoards his punches, expending them only when he is sure he will get full return for his efforts. I like the way he spends three or four rounds doing his homework and the remaining rounds acing the exam. I like the way he blends a dash of Willie Pep with a splash of Genghis Kahn with a full measure of patience, causing bored audiences to suddenly roar like lions.

He is good; lord, is he good, undefeated in his last 22 middleweight title fights good. He’s 40; if he were 10 years younger every 160-pounder in the world would be trying to gain or lose 13 pounds. They are waiting for him to get old. Howard Eastman, the loquacious Guyanese out of Battersea, England, waited for 36 minutes last Saturday night and it did not happen. They may be still waiting when he turns his back on the lot and walks away, pleased with himself.

That is when it will be time to consider his position among the middleweight immortals, not now, not while there are still a few young lions willing to test the latest in a long line of great Philadelphia 160-pounders.

As I watched Hopkins turn Eastman into vintage British whine on HBO, I heard—before hitting the mute button the first time Larry or Curly asked Moe how he had it scored—-almost as much discussion about where Hopkins should be placed in the mythical pantheon as I did about the fight. Roy Jones Jr. offered that he judged Hopkins no worse than fifth in the royal line; since Jones was the last man (and the only middleweight) to defeat Hopkins, I have to assume that means he has positioned himself somewhere in the top four.

Jones’ line of thinking, and I have read others recently that were as generous, leaves open only three slots for Ray Robinson, Harry Greb, Stanley Ketchel, Marvin Hagler, Mickey Walker, Charley Burley, Tiger Flowers, Freddie Steele, Tony Zale, Carmen Basilio, Fred Apostoli, Carlos Monzon, Emile Griffith, and, perhaps the greatest middleweight of them all, Ezzard Charles. OK, so I forgot a few.

I was thinking of that while watching the muted HBO telecast, during one of those lulls when you hoped someone would hit somebody, even if it was the referee. I thought how wonderful it would be if I could punch a remote button, there in Staples Center, and instead of Hopkins and Eastman in the 54th hour of a three day dance-a-thon there would be Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns.

You remember that one . . . Don’t you?

LAS VEGAS, Aug 15, 1985 -There was a strong North wind blowing through Las Vegas Monday night, but it failed to sweep away the smell of raw violence as Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns hammered each other with a fury that was spent only after Hearns was rescued by the protecting arms of referee Richard Steele. The fight in a ring set up on the tennis courts at Caesars Palace lasted only a second longer than eight minutes, but for those who were witnesses, the memory of the nonstop savagery will remain forever.

Hagler’s undisputed middleweight championship was the stake, and for the first time since he won it from Alan Minter in 1980, people were questioning his ability to retain it. In the weeks leading up to the fight, Hagler fumed as the odds tilted back and forth before settling on the champion by the thinnest of margins.

The champion is a proud man and his pride was sorely stung. It was with a deep burning anger that he wrote his battle plan.

His was a simple strategy, one that might have been taken from the playbook of Attila the Hun. Keep the swords swinging until there were no more heads to roll. Give no quarter; take no prisoners. For this fight, Hagler would use only one pace, all out; he would move only in one direction, forward.

The strategy was a gamble, for Hagler knew he would be exposing his 30-year-old body to the cannons that had knocked out 34 of the 41 men his 26-year-old challenger had faced. Hearns nickname The Hit Man was no idle nom-de-guerre.

“But he ain’t never hit Marvin Hagler,” the champion sneered. “I’ve taken the best shots of the biggest hitters in the middleweight division, and I’ve never been knocked off my feet.” Hagler refuses to concede that his knockdown by Juan Roldan was anything but a slip. “And this guy (Hearns) is a welterweight.”

As the challenger, Hearns entered the ring first. Tall and strikingly muscular at 159 3/4 pounds, he wore a red robe with yellow trim. He jumped up and down to limber up his leg muscles, and then he strolled about the ring smiling and nodding at the crowd. Then came Hagler, in a royal-blue robe over trunks of the same color. Most champions use their rank to keep challengers waiting, and, hopefully, nervous, but Halger had warmed up well in his dressing room and wanted to make an appearance while the sweat still oiled his hard body. As he entered the ring, the champion speared Hearns with a scowl that never wavered, not even during Doc Severinsen’s trumpet version of the National Anthem.

“I think Marvin may come out so fired up that we’ll just have Tommy stick and move,” said Emanuel Steward, Hearns’ manager-trainer. “Hagler will be so juiced up, after seven or eight rounds it will sap his strength. Then we’ll go for the knockout.”

But even the canny Steward underestimated just how juiced Hagler would be. From the opening bell, the champion gave Hearns little chance to do anything but fight for sheer survival. The 5'9½” champion swept over his 6'2″ opponent like a 159¼ pound tidal wave.

There were no knockdowns in the first round, but only because both men were superbly conditioned and courageous athletes. Surely each hit the other with mighty blows that would have felled lesser men. In the first furious three minutes, Hagler threw 82 punches, just one less than Hearns.

Startled by the intensity of Hagler’s assault, Hearns responded in kind. Normally he is a sharpshooter who prefers to fight on the outside, setting up his powerful right with a full quiver of cruel jabs. But because of the intensity of Halger’s assault, Hearns’ normal tactics were quickly discarded: only 22 of his first 83 punches were jabs. As he attacked Hearns’ slender middle, Hagler threw none. Fury rewrote boxing’s textbook.

“I started slugging because I had to,” Hearns unnecessarily explained later. “Marvin started running in at me and I had to protect myself.”

For those who enjoy pure violence, it was a classic first round. Both fighters were rocked during ferocious toe-to-toe exchanges. Midway through the round, Hagler’s forehead was ripped open over his right eye, either by a Hearns’ right hand or an elbow. With Hagler distaining any sort of a defense, and fueled by the sight of blood, Hearns went for the quick kill. His gloves became a red blur as he rained punch after punch against the champion’s head; it would prove his undoing.

“He fought 12 rounds in the first three minutes,” Steward said later.

When Hearns returned to his corner, he wore the drained look of a man who had already fought for 36 minutes.

“What are you doing?” Steward screamed at him. “Don’t fight him. Stick and move. Use your jab. Use your legs.”

Over in the champion’s corner, Dr. Donald Romeo, the chief physician of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, studied the cut on Hagler’s forehead. There was another abrasion under the right eye. Deciding that the cut was not that serious, at least for the moment, Dr. Romeo returned to his seat.

“Don’t change a thing,” trainer Goody Petronelli told the champion. “Just keep your hands up a little higher. Don’t worry about the cut. Just keep charging and keep up the pressure.”

“I’m not worried about the cut,” Hagler said. “If you go to war, you are going to get wounded.”

Hagler’s pace in the second round was only slightly less relentless. “When I see blood, even mine,” said the champion, “I become a bull.” Snorting, he came out angry. Although rocked by a hard right hand midway through the second round, never for an instant did Hagler eased off on the pressure.

Later he said: “All that right hand did was make me even madder.”

A veteran of 64 pro fights (all but two of them victories), near the end of the round Hagler could sense the strength seeping from Hearns’ body. As he returned to his corner, the champion knew the fight was just about over.

“He’s ready to go,” said Hagler, spitting a mouthful of water into a pail. “He’s not going to hurt me with that right hand. I took his best and now I am going to knock him out.”

“The cut isn’t bad, but it is starting to bleed a lot,” Petronelli said, casting an anxious eye at Dr. Romeo, who remained in his seat. “Let’s not take any chances. Take him out this round.”

As he had in the first two rounds, Hagler came out fast and hard. Forcing himself up on his toes, Hearns tried to hold off the champion with his jab, but he had little left. Pressing forward, always punching, Hagler did not try to avoid Hearns’ jabs; he just ignored them. When one Hearns’ left hand widened the cut on the champion’s forehead, sending blood splashing across both fighters, Steele singled time-out. The referee led Hagler back to his corner, where Dr. Romeo waited.

“Can you see all right?” the physician questioned Hagler over the screams of 15,088 outraged fans.

“No problem,” said Hagler. “I ain’t missing him with any punches, am I?”

Deciding that Hagler hadn’t missed Hearns with many, Dr. Romeo motioned for Steele to let the fight continue.

Deciding that he did not want anyone but himself to determine the fight’s outcome, Hagler shifted his attack into a higher gear. He followed a short left with a smashing right to Hearns’ head. Dazed, the challenger staggered backward across the ring.

The pursuing champion unloaded a classic right hand-left hook combination, then leaped in with an overhand right that crashed thunderously against Hearns’ head. On instinct alone, the badly dazed challenger tried to clinch, failed, and toppled down in parts seemingly disconnected.

As Steele picked up the count, Hearns lay on his back, his long arms stretched out, his eyes open but unseeing. With a great will, Hearns managed to roll over and rise by the count of nine. But Steele, after a careful study of the challenger’s glazed eyes, wisely signaled a ceasefire. The time was 2:01 of the third round.

Ignoring the blood still streaming down his face onto his chest, Hagler leaped into the air, still champion and at least $5.7 million richer. It was his 11th successful defense, leaving him on track in his drive to surpass Carlos Monzon’s middleweight record of 14.

Hearns had to be carried back to his corner. Several minutes passed before he was able to stand. Later, still the WBC junior middleweight champion and with $5.4 million more in his pocket, he made his way to Hagler’s dressing room.

“We made a lot of money and we gave them a good show,” Hearns said. “Tell you what. You move up and fight as a light-heavyweight, and I’ll stay and clean up the rest of the middleweights.”

Hagler laughed. “I like it here. You move up.”

After receiving four stitches for the cut in his forehead, Hagler went to a party in the Augustus Room at Caesars Palace. There he spoke briefly to the celebrators. Then with his wife, Bertha, he watched a video replay of the fight. After seeing the knockout for the fourth time, he finally smiled and applauded. He looked at his watch; it was midnight. “Let’s go,” he said to Bertha.

His work was done, at least for one more night.

(Special to TheSweetScience.com from the Pat Putnam Classic Series. Portions of this article originally appeared in Sports Illustrated.)

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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