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Articles of 2005

Boxing History From Round One

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Men have been hitting each other in the face for as long as there have been faces to hit, and if it wasn’t over this bone or that, then it was just for the fun of it.

Six-thousand year old hieroglyphs from ancient Egypt profile men engaged in the manly art. According to Scholiast on Pindar, in 900 B.C. Theseus, son the Greek monarch Aegeus, introduced boxing to his soldiers as a way to kill time. The men would wrap their hands in leather, sit on large stones in the hot sun, and pound each other to death.

The classical Greeks, who honored athleticism along with art and intellect, brought boxing into the big-time at the XXIII Greek Olympiad in 688 B.C. The Olympics were founded by Oxylos a hundred years earlier, in 776 B.C., as an athletic festival to honor Zeus, king of the gods. The festivities lasted five days and were held at Olympia in the Peloponnesos every four years. Those Olympics excluded team sports in lieu of individual achievement and included discus and javelin throwing, the long jump, running, wrestling and the pentathlon, in addition to horse and chariot races. Given the high-toned company, it’s no surprise that boxing fit in as well as it did.

That was a turning point in the realm of fistiana. Boxing was finally legit. The world’s first champion was Onamastus of Smyrna and he was crowned with a wreath of olive branches. The earliest written record we have of boxing came from Homer in the 23rd book of The Illiad. In the 8th century B.C. he put his pen to paper, his quill to parchment, and gave the world its first fight coverage. Homer wrote of a tussle in 1184 B.C. during the Fall of Troy between Epeus, king of a tribe from the Peloponnesian Peninsula, and Euryalus, son of King Mecisteus. They fought at the funeral games of Petrocles, in a fight promoted by Achilles. The stakes were high, as usual, even for contests of this sort. Not only was the two men’s honor at stake. There were exotic prizes.

The winner won a mule. The loser got a drinking cup.

How did Homer call it?

Amid the circle now each champion stands,
And poises high in the air his iron hands,
With clashing gauntlets now they fiercely close,
Their crackling jaws re-echo to the blows,
And painful sweat from all their members flows,
At length Epeus dealt a weighty blow
Full on the cheek of his unwary foe.

There’s nothing like a one-punch knockout to set the record straight.

Boxing in ancient Greece wasn’t that different from boxing today. The combatants trained in gymnasiums, as modern boxers do, with a regimen of calisthenics, diet, shadowboxing and roadwork. They practiced their punching on speedbags filled with fig seeds and grain. They performed in stadiums. There was no clinching, hooks or uppercuts in those days. There were no rounds, decisions or TKOs. These refinements were still to come. The fight was over when one of the fighters could fight no more.

He admitted defeat by raising his index finger.

In some ways that was the last gasp of civilized behavior vis-à-vis the fistic arts for many years. The pancratium was introduced at the 38th Olympiad. Like boxing in one respect, the pancratium permitted punching, but the pancratium also allowed wrestling, tripping, kicking, stomping, hair pulling and strangulation. By upping the ante in such a manner, the good old Greeks – in anticipation of the Romans –  were traveling that long and winding road from heavenly heaven to hellish hell, and the crowd, as crowds often do, ate it up.

Art from that time depicts a lively interest in pugilism. A Minoan vase from Cyprus from 1600 B.C. called Boxing Rython shows two cartoon characters sparring. A Greek urn from Rhodes circa the 6th century B.C. depicts four men at a boxing match: two boxers going at it, with a chief second on the right to offer assistance, and a ref on the left holding a stick with which to enforce the rules. There is a bronze statue in Rome’s National Museum from the late Hellenistic period of a seated pugilist. His smashed nose, misshapen lips and cauliflower ears attest to a profession like no other.

Greece fell to the Romans in 146 A.D. The Holy Roman Empire was in full swing by then, and when the Romans got their hands on boxing they would not let go. The Romans introduced the sport at the Games in the Colosseum. The Colosseum held 50,000 fans and featured such time-honored activities as chariot races, animal hunts, sea battles, gladiators fighting to the death, and that all-time crowd favorite, feeding Christians to the lions. Among such fiendish amusements, the simplicity of two men fighting with bare fists had to be jazzed up to satisfy the Romans’ bloodlust.

Because the fighters were either slaves or convicted criminals or prisoners of war, the Romans could do pretty much with their captives as they liked, so the Romans created the caestus, hard leather gloves that covered the hands, wrists and forearms, and into which metal studs, teeth and spikes were inserted. Boxing and the Roman Colosseum were now a perfect fit. The phrase “killer punch” took on a whole new meaning.

The Roman poet Virgil in his Aeneid from the 1st century A.D. wrote rhapsodically about the caestus.

From somewhere he produced the gloves of Eryx
And tossed them into the ring, all stiff and heavy,
Seven layers of hide and insewn lead and iron.
You can still see the blood and splash of brains
That stained them long ago.

A century later, a Latin poet named Lucilius wrote about a fighter’s misshapen mug: “Having such a face, Olympicus, go not to a fountain nor look into any transparent water, for you, like Narcissus, seeing your face clearly, will die, hating yourself to death.” Lucilius also wrote in his Epigrams: “Onesimus the boxer came to the prophet Olympus wishing to learn if he was going to live to an old age. And he said, Yes, if you give up the ring now, but if you go on boxing, Saturn isn’t in your horoscope.”

Men were men and nothing less in the misty vistas of ancient Rome, but gents in Asia were also fighting. The East, home to most of the martial arts, also had their variations on boxing: vajra-musti in India, as recounted in the early Hindu epic poem Mahabharata, shaolin boxing in China, muay-thai in Thailand and bama letwhay in Burma. But Imperial Rome set a standard for the western world, and boxing rose and fell with the Holy Roman Empire. After twelve centuries of blood on the sand, Theodosius I abolished boxing in 393 A.D. For thirteen hundred years, with a few notable pockets of resistance in Europe, there were no formal fights.

The Brits in Regency England in the late 1600s woke boxing from its slumber. In tune with the Restoration, the English resurrected the game as a way to divert rabble in a town square. Boxing was right at home with the cockfights, dogfights, the bull and bear baiting, the ratting and farting contests. Boxing softened up the crowd for the public lashings of whores and Roman Catholics.

The diary of Samuel Pepys has an entry from August 1660 that refers to a fight between a Dutchman and a waterman at the stairs of Westminster Abbey. In another entry from 1662 Pepys wrote: “I came and saw my first prizefight . . . between one Mathews . . . and one Westwicke who was cut several times in head and legs . . . all over blood . . . strange to see what a deal of money is flung to them both between every bout.” The Protestant Mercury from January 1681 recorded a fight of note: “Yesterday, a match of Boxing was performed before His Grace, the Duke of Albemarle, between the Duke’s footman and a butcher. The latter won the prize, as he hath done many times before, being accounted, though a little man, the best at the exercise in England.”

It wasn’t long before a wily gent saw that boxing had potential. That man was James Figg. He was a master of the broadsword, cudgel and quarterstaff, and embraced bareknuckle prizefighting as a legitimate form of self-defense. Figg opened his amphitheater – history’s first boxing gym/casino – on Tottenham Court Road in 1719. Figg was as much of a showman as he was a pugilist, and his daily challenge to the crowd was: “For money, for love, or a bellyful!” Figg had many students eager to learn the noble art. One of these students, Captain Godfrey, wrote boxing’s first how-to book in 1740 and titled it A Treatise on the Useful Science of Defense. He never forgot the lessons he learned at Figg’s Academy: “I purchased my knowledge with many a broken head and bruises in every part of me.”

Figg’s greatest pupil was a heavyweight named Jack Broughton. Not only was he big. He was also athletic. The “Father of Boxing” could parry and cross-buttock throw. He introduced defense. He created counterpunching. Broughton was boxing’s first ring genius and he ushered in 170 years of hard-hitting bareknuckle history.

In 1743, under the patronage of William, Duke of Cumberland, Broughton opened his amphitheater. One of his fights was against a Yorkshire coachman named George Stevenson. Broughton beat up Stevenson so badly that he died three days later. Broughton was crestfallen at the death, but Broughton believed in boxing, so he created Broughton’s Rules, the first modern rules, published on August 16, 1743. These rules introduced the referee and forbid gouging and kicking a man when he was down.

Broughton was a great champion and when he lost the crown in 1750 boxing went into a tailspin. But boxing was not going away. The first Anglo-American war fought by men with their fists was between England’s champion Tom Cribb and a former slave from the United States named Bill Richmond in 1805. Cribb fought another tough black man from a southern plantation named Tom Molineaux in 1810 and 1811. Also during this time, Pierce Egan’s Boxiana (1812), the first great book devoted exclusively to boxing, introduced the “sweet science of bruising” to eternity.

Boxing in England was the thing. Champs like Daniel Mendoza, Richard Humphries, Gentleman John Jackson, Jem Belcher, Tom Spring, Jem Mace and Tom Sayers were the stars of the day. These were men who could protect themselves at all times and at all times look good doing it.

The London Prize Ring Rules were introduced in 1838 and further legitimized the game. These rules gave us the boxing ring, and outlawed biting, butting and wearing spiked boots.

The Marquis of Queensberry Rules of 1867 established 3-minute rounds with 1-minute rest periods, and boxing gloves became the norm, signaling a melancholy end to the bareknuckle era.

In the twentieth century the United States became the dominant force in the fight game. The heavyweight reign of the Great John L. Sullivan, the Boston Strong Boy, who won the last bare-knuckle heavyweight title in 1882, gave way to legendary fighters named Jim Corbett in 1892, Jim Jeffries in 1899, and Jack Johnson, the first great heavyweight of the modern era, in 1908.

The heavyweight eras of Dempsey, Louis, Marciano, Ali, Holmes, Tyson, Holyfield and Lewis carry us through the last century and into our own. Boxing was here before we were and will be here after we’re gone. Boxing has legs. Boxing has a good chin. Boxing is here to stay.

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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