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Articles of 2005

Jermain Taylor’s Undeclared War

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Jermain Taylor, undefeated middleweight contender, is proving to be what many have predicted he would become, the middleweight division’s gathering storm. But he’s not in much of a hurry; he’s not sounding off, decrying his being lost in the detailing of Bernard Hopkins’ late career dealings. Jermain Taylor doesn’t whine, wail or play the victim on camera. All the kid does is dynamite the career aspirations of his peers. Previously unbeaten Daniel Edouard was swept aside by J.T. inside of three rounds on the undercard of the Bernard Hopkins-Howard Eastman middleweight championship title fight in Los Angeles. The talk is brimming with hitting power and increasingly intricate displays of skill patterns. Taylor’s the one new generation fighter who looks a match for world champion Bernard Hopkins. There are whispers already that the Philadelphia Executioner might be tentatively planning his final career outings without including an inter-generational showdown with the young force of nature Taylor.

We must be sure to understand all of the elements here before we accuse the great Hopkins of self-preservation via evasion. In Hopkins’ defense, he did tell boxing fans last year he fully intended to face up to the challenge of Taylor before retiring. We do allow for the champion to have the right to change his mind, even as we would remind him and his faithful fans that he promised to fight Taylor. No one close to boxing would deny that Taylor has now reached the threshold of technical viability and legitimacy, a preening talent in a “Dark Age” of tedious mediocrity, a.k.a. “The Age of Hopkins.” Yet here’s where logistics and monetary calculation stand to get in the way of transitional logic.

Will Taylor be given his shot not just at “winning a belt” but in facing off with the champion of his generation at middleweight? That’s the operative question for all those who care about the legitimate continuity of championship boxing.

No reasonable onlooker begrudged the Philadelphia ring master his $10 million pay-per- view outing against boxing money mogul Oscar De La Hoya. Allowing longtime world-class contender Howard Eastman his shot at career fulfillment, staged as Hopkins’ 20th title defense, we also acknowledge as a defensible defense. Just as we do admit to disappointment in the champion from Philly for having opted to merely master an embarrassing set of challengers since his trouncing of Felix Trinidad in September 2001; thus, with the emergence of Taylor, we expect the showdown at middleweight sooner rather than later or too late. And here is where Hopkins’ rights to cash out his career are weighed against his claims of historical greatness. In other words, how can Taylor be denied his shot at a champion claiming the mantle of Ray Robinson, Carlos Monzon and Marvin Hagler?

No, Hopkins doesn’t need to fight Taylor for the sake of championship or historical validation, but perhaps if only to avoid appearing hypocritical. For no one over the last decade made more noise, cried foul more often, than did Hopkins concerning the specific matter of being denied the big fights, being systematically overlooked.

If there is to be a fight between Hopkins and Taylor, no question all the executive suits at HBO want to get the timing just right. They want Jermain Taylor to step into the ring to face down the mighty Hopkins before the expiration date becomes all too apparent on the career of the now 40-year-old middleweight legend. And Hopkins is currently fielding propositions in lieu of offers from Dan Goossen concerning a possible fight with light heavyweight champion and Hopkins’ victim Glen Johnson, as well as the winner of the forthcoming Felix Trinidad-Winky Wright battle royal.

To keep the pressure on all parties, Hopkins has floated the promise made to his mother that he would retire from the ring at age 40, i.e. no more fights past December 2005 or January 2006. So the expectation of probability oscillates between Hopkins leaving Johnson, Trinidad-Wright or Taylor out of his sweepstakes equation. Not that Trinidad needs Hopkins to make money. Trinidad does want Hopkins, though, for revenge is best served up iced with avenging passion.

Going over Hopkins’ options, Team Taylor’s apprehensions are manifold indeed if we correctly deduce their true desire: beating Hopkins for the championship. For there’s no question that at light heavyweight, should Hopkins actually go up and fight for the unified 175lb title and not force a catch-weight showdown, Hopkins would be in for a frightening struggle to once more best the rock solid and rejuvenated Glen Johnson. Not to mention Trinidad has fully acclimatized to middleweight and will be ready to fight the fight of his life to beat the only man to have beaten him. Winky Wright would present a technical problem for Hopkins and offer an opponent who has many of his own weaponry. For all the fanfare of the champ’s seemingly Dorian Gray youthfulness, Hopkins’ declining punch per round output and defensive first tactical tendencies are the initial signs of ring diminishment.

Still, the general proposition holds true. Hopkins continues to defy the general logic of athletic entropy. Why? Because no one is beating him, let alone challenging his legendary bullishness and psychological gamesmanship, even though the wear is beginning to show through his work ethic proofed physique.

What those in the know at HBO do not want is another missed opportunity to spectacularly transition from one epic era into another, as happened between (failed to happen between) old lion heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and the good doctor Vitali Klitschko. Taylor looks like a walking Nike commercial in the making and he needs a showdown with Hopkins to maximize his coming of age ascension to superstardom. Blistering Bernard Hopkins would at least give him the opportunity at a transcendent, telegenic moment. And yet 26-year-old Taylor – promoted by Lou DiBella, trained by Pat Burns and managed by Mark Vaz – seems to have settled on a strategy of stealth and incremental progression. They want to insinuate themselves into the title picture, perhaps rightly understanding it’s theirs for the taking, demanding, asking. Well, HBO may have money to control most things, but one should never forget all this depends on Hopkins, a man, a champion, known as much a legend for his managerial idiosyncratic hiccups as for his relentless hunger to win. 

Don’t expect Hopkins to feel compelled to do any particular thing. He says he’s a man who has no strings attached. If he’s thought to be predictable because he’ll always take the money, you had better review the last five years of his career. No fighter in boxing talked and thought himself out of more green than B-Hop over that timeframe. Team Taylor may have to declare war after all, make a public assertion of their desires and rights and expectations. If there’s a short list, they had better try and make their case. Can Hopkins’ hand be forced? Can his ego and manhood be called into question over the issue of fighting or not fighting Jermain Taylor? Could Hopkins be taken to task over the issue of Taylor’s legitimacy? Relying on a forced mandatory would be a waste of time and money.

Perhaps Hopkins can finally be as good as his word. Perhaps he’s really a man who loves all challenges, not just marginal challengers; he’s intimated it often enough over the years. Odd the art of leveraging should begin to apply friction against the man who wielded that lever for so long. One wonders if Hopkins is still listening to the voices of consternation and injustice, his old namesakes. Now he’s the guy who has to make the choices of decreeing who rates and who will be passed by. Because Bernard Hopkins is not just a guy with a middleweight belt any longer; he’s not just a guy with an attitude and a leather mask hustling in front of 8,000 fans. He’s the axis point of his time in boxing and the last selections of his career become more than a statistical endgame of a fighter.

Because for the first time in years Bernard Hopkins has a real challenger, primed and ready to take his throne, his more than metaphorical place at the top of middleweight boxing.

Let’s assume that Little Rock, Arkansas’ Jermain Taylor has every bad intention of being the next middleweight champion of the world. And to do that, Taylor fully understands that he must take down the great Bernard Hopkins. This task has become his daunting mission of professional necessity. Outlasting him and just acquiring one of the middleweight belts won’t be the same thing as ascending the Hopkins throne by defeating him in the ring. Sometimes regicide is the necessary act for one who designs to become the rightful king. Then again how acute is Taylor’s knowledge of all those who have gone before him, those twenty that have failed and failed most miserably?

Let’s just say if he still truly needs the opportunity to face down the great Hopkins and he’s as good as his deeds make forecast, he’s probably the man to do the unthinkable, defile a king. He did say he’s not content being the prince and wants to be the king. Of course, words divorced from valid action are mere shadows.

Let’s just hope that Taylor gets his chance to play the strong silent type and gets his just due, his chance to make war against a legend.

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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