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Articles of 2005

Boxing Classic: Jimmy Young vs. George Foreman

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“About two years ago, some IRS guy came by my house and said they were going to subpoena my contracts with promoter Don King. I said, 'I never had any contracts with Don King.' Not always, at least. Sometimes he'd just give me some money after a fight and say, 'This is your share.’”  – Jimmy Young (1986)

The last time I saw the late Jimmy Young fight, he weighed 237 pounds, most of it jiggling like something poured from a Jello package. This was in 1979 and Young had fallen on hard times, if one period in Jimmy’s life can be described as harder than any of the other periods, and on this night he was reduced to fighting a young and potential tiger named Wendell Bailey for a few thousand dollars.

Bailey was a Don King fighter, or at least King promoted him, and after 13 straight victories, all of them against people named Opponent, he had lost in his moving-up party to another rising King fighter name Michael Dokes. King hoped to resuscitate Bailey’s reputation by matching him with Young, damaged goods who had lost controversial decisions to Ken Norton and Muhammad Ali and had defeated George Foreman, but was no longer capable of the magic that had made him a serious contender.

Young lions love to pad their resumes with the names of aged and burnt-out stars.

That night in late June of 1979, a crowd of 14,136 fans had shown up at Madison Square Garden to watch Larry Holmes defend his heavyweight championship against a former Marine named Mike Weaver. As one of the opening bouts, to fill time while the Romans found their seats in The Coliseum, King sent out Bailey to snare Young’s scalp.

A defensive genius who made opponents look ugly even while they were winning, Young had stopped being a fighter the moment they announced that two of the three judges thought that Ken Norton had done enough to win their title elimination bout in November of 1977. In Las Vegas that night, justice was truly blind; so were two of the officials, as incompetent a pair that ever judged a fight.

One, Raymond Baldeyrou, a Frenchman working in his third title fight, voted for Norton, but had him winning only six of the 15 rounds; he called six even. The other myopic gentleman was Jim Rondeau, out of Seattle, who gave Norton seven rounds; he called five even. Art Laurie of Las Vegas only scored one round even; he gave eight rounds and the fight to Young. It was only Rondeau’s seventh championship fight, of which only two ended cleanly, by stoppage. The others were four split decisions and a mandatory decision.

“If I had a vote,” said referee Carlos Padilla, “I would have given the fight to Young.”

(The tainted victory set up Norton’s eventual claim to being the answer to boxing’s No. 1 trivia question. When Muhammad Ali lost his title to Leon Spinks three months later, Jose Sulaiman, the World Boxing Council’s pompous presidente for eternity plus a year, order Spinks to defend first against Norton. When Spinks elected to first give Ali a rematch, Sulaiman stripped him and handed the WBC championship to Norton. Now: which heavyweight champion had three title fights and never won any?)

His spirit broken, Young would fight 26 times more, a once bright bulb flickering, showing brief flashes of illumination, but mostly showing a long slide in the dark until he was reduced to fighting nobodies in hick towns for a boxing parasite named Rick Parker, who spoke of future million dollar fights while selling him for pennies.

His last fight was in August of 1988 in St. Joseph, Missouri, where Parker gave him a few hundred dollars for defeating a tomato can out of Rapid City, S.D, who fought under the names of Frank Lux, Frank Williams and Frankie Albert, but as none very well. Then Young went back to Philadelphia, where an auto accident ended his boxing career.

When Young entered the ring that June night in 1979 to face Bailey, he was wearing a tattered old robe, red with silver piping, which needed washing. The laughter started when the robe was shed. The cruel barbs followed: Hey, Jimmy, put on a bra. Hey, Young, you’re in the wrong ring, the sumo wrestlers are next door. Jimmy, you used to be a bum, and now you are a fat bum.

The man from Philadelphia who should have been the heavyweight champion winced, as though struck by bricks and bits of broken glass. At first he was embarrassed. Then that great pride that had carried him into the ring against the fists of Foreman and Ali and Shavers turned up an inner flame too long banked.

For two rounds Young handled Bailey easily, but he failed to shut down the insults hurled at him from outside the ropes. He had never fought angry, for he knew that is when clever boxers get hurt. But when he came out for the third round, he did not come out to win. He came out to create hurt. For a little more than two and one-half minutes he hammered Bailey, dropped him once, until finally referee Billy Graham had enough. The fight was stopped at 2:37 of the third round.

When Graham raised Young’s hand, the crowd cheered.

For a moment, it was just like being in Puerto Rico when the house chanted “Jeemy Young! Jeemy Young! Jeemy Young!”

They stole a lot from you, Jimmy. But they could never take away that night in San Juan . . .

San Juan, Puerto Rico, March 1977 In Joseph Conrad’s novel Victory, the old man advised his son Heyst, “Look! Do not pounce.” Jimmy Young must have read that line and taken it to heart, for it is the sum of what he is about as a fighter. He is a circling lion, pawing at his prey, a quick darting attack, a flick of the claws, and then back outside, circling, looking; always looking. But even a watch-and-wait boxer like Young sometimes has to pounce, has to gear up into an offense mode, and he did that just often enough with near perfection last week in the exacting heat of Robert Clement Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto. When done, he had pulled off an astonishing upset of heavily favored George Foreman, who went back to his dressing room and found Jesus in the bathroom.

There is little doubt that Young’s unanimous 12-round decision over top contender Foremen is a cannon shot into the belly of the heavyweight division, causing dreams of large sums of money and the plans of backroom schemers to become as flat as last night’s undrained beer. The decision, and it was a correct one, thrust Foreman back into the comeback thicket, where he had landed after his devastating loss to Muhammad Ali 2½ years earlier in Zaire.

The loss to Young leaves Foreman poorer by the $5 million he was demanding for a rematch with Ali. It also places the relatively unarmed and almost childlike Young on the verge of becoming a million-dollar fighter. The underdogs of the world are ecstatic.

The jolt of Young’s reversal of form, at least to those who misread his performance while losing a controversial 15-round decision to Ali the previous April, left the so-called power brokers of boxing numb. The Magi of mayhem stared at each other, as though they had peeked behind the psychic curtain that hides the answers to questions like: Do dreams really come true? To that question, Young now qualifies as an expert.

“For weeks,” said the man who knocked down Foreman in the 12th round and left him barely able to stand at the final bell, “I would be sleeping and dreaming and scheming how to beat George Foreman. Combinations, combinations, combinations. That’s all I kept saying in my sleep. Then I’d wake up cold and sweating. Dreams do come alive. It ain’t no dream no more, is it? It’s a fact.”

In the Presbyterian Hospital bed to which he was taken after the fight, after he tried to convince his handlers that he just had a conversation with Jesus in the small bathroom connected to his dressing room, Foreman was hooked by tube to hanging bottle from which an intravenous solution for extreme heat prostration dripped into his huge left arm. “He said he had a spiritual awakening,” said Gil Clancy, the former heavyweight champion’s trainer. “It was hot as hell in the ring; he was hallucinating from dehydration.”

Foreman told Clancy in the dressing room that as he left the ring, he was plunged into despair. He thought he had died, and a giant hand was carrying him out of the emptiness surrounding him. Then he said his head and hands were bleeding, and he began to yell, “Jesus Christ is coming alive in me.” With that, Foreman jumped into the shower before Clancy and the others in the room could stop him. As the water poured down on him, Foreman began to shout: “Hallelujah, I’m clean! Hallelujah, I’ve been born again!”

That’s when Clancy reacted secularly; he called for an ambulance. Now the veteran trainer stared down at the hospital bed, where the huge ex-champion was covered in entirety by a sheet.  Clancy lifted the top of the sheet and said, “Excuse me, sir.”

Two large black hands pulled the sheet down further, revealing Foremen’s smiling face. “I’m waking from the dead,” the fighter said. “Wait around until midnight, and I will come out of my coffin.”

“Oh, boy,” said Clancy.

The trainer knew that what Ali had exposed in Zaire, Young had certified in San Juan; Foreman was what Ali said he was – magnificent but hollow. The hope after Zaire had been that all the dysfunctional parts of Foreman’s awesome body would finally blend into the one great fighting machine. His second victory over Joe Frazier, a 5-round stoppage in June of 1976, and a knockout in the fifth round knockout of hard Ron Lyle five months before that, had given birth to great promise.

Look how he handled Frazier and Lyle, they said; look how he shortened his punches, they went on. Sure, how else are you going to hit a guy who is in your face trying to pull out your wisdom teeth? “Both those guys are easier to hit than a heavy bag,” Young said a few days before the fight. “Foreman still cannot punch when he has to chase somebody.”

Pursuit takes time, patience, instinct, and a sure sense of one’s own body. Foreman’s style leans more to sledgehammer; when somebody moves the target, he has a problem. That, along with his traitorous stamina, did him in – aiding and abetted by Jimmy Young. When you are as big as Foreman, sometimes it can work against you. His first 40 fights added up to less than 113 total rounds. By averaging less than nine minutes a fight, he never understood the value of pace.

Young explored the great bulk of Foreman like a cartographer, his magnifying glass to eye, going over an old and valuable map. This is the Philadelphia heavyweight’s forte: he discerns, he probes, he seldom pounces. He is the August mosquito that drives you mad. By any standard, he does not qualify as a world-class heavyweight. He is too short, too light, too slow, and he cannot punch. He improves at a snail’s pace.

“What I see in Jimmy,” said Foreman the day before he found Jesus, “is a guy trying to imitate a lot of people. It means he has no growth. Jimmy Young today is the same Jimmy Young of two years ago. No worse, but no better.”

Young found that amusing. “You look at Foreman and you see a lot of muscle. You look at Ali and you see a body built for speed. You look at Frazier and you see a body built for power. What I have, you can’t see. The key to any victory is to outthink the other man, whether it is combat, shooting craps, or playing chess. And there is no heavyweight alive that I can’t outthink.”

Young said that no matter how strong an opponent might be, and he admitted that most were stronger than he, there was neither a horse that could not be broken nor a man that could not be thrown.

He grinned, as though the thought of Foreman being thrown – or broken – pleased him.

Before a crowd of 8,000 and a TV audience that produced an astonishing 36 rating, Young set out to do just that. Knowing that Foreman had never gone more than 10 rounds in his career (and only twice had he done that since 1970), and having seen Big George so often left exhausted and arm weary after no more than just four or five rounds, Young began to use him up, making those big, powerful and heavy arms work against empty space. For the first six rounds, Young moved side to side; he is relatively slow of foot, but quick. He lounged on the ropes and held. He was a gentleman out for a stroll, and Foreman clumsily stomped after him, desperately asking his hands and feet to work together.

When Foreman did get close, he tried to manhandle Young. He pushed, laced, hit on the break and once, in a clinch, made an ungentlemanly move that almost broke Young’s left arm. The crowd reacted at though it were witnessing Godzilla mug Peter Pan. Before long the cry “Jeemy Young! Jeemy Young! Jeemy Young!” swept through the famous old baseball stadium, and it did not cease until Foreman had staggered off toward his epiphany.

Until the seventh round, that made for a horrendously dull fight. With the round not half over, Foreman finally landed one of his ponderously slow hooks high off Young’s head, sending his smaller opponent reeling and scrambling for his life. Resembling a man up to his hips in mud, Foreman plodded in pursuit.

“When he caught me with that punch, I asked God to help my soul,” said Young. “George did not know it, but while I may have been standing, I was out cold. He could have pushed me over with his little finger. How I survived that round I will never know. I think what may have saved me was that when George thinks he has you, he goes crazy. He leaves a lot of openings.”

Shaking off the effects of that big punch, Young pounced; his counterpunches forced the tiring Foreman to back off. As he moved briskly back to his corner, Young raised his hands in triumph. Across the ring, Foreman blinked. After their 60 seconds of rest, Young, sensing a growing softness in Foreman, became the aggressor. The oppressive Puerto Rican heat did the rest.

In the 12th and last round, two rounds deeper into combat than Foreman had ever gone, the badly flagging former champion missed with an overhand right. Young countered with his own right hand, caught Foreman on the side of the head, and dropped him. A solid punch by Young barely budges a heavy bag; Foreman regained his feet at the count of one. He wobbled but stayed on his feet. Several hours later, after his electrifying encounter with Jesus, he was on his way to the hospital. Promoter Don King elected not to accompany him.

King had put in a lot of time and effort on Foreman’s behalf, making him somewhat wealthier – if not wiser – as he pointed him toward a multi-million dollar rematch with Ali. All of that was set aside, at least for the moment. King pondered his next step, the most the obvious being replacing Foreman with Young as Ali’s next opponent?  King winced at the thought. Artistically, their styles offered little promised of a dramatic confrontation.

“I told George that if Jimmy Young beat him, he would get a return shot,” said King, sighing. “But I got to go where the wild goose goes.”

In this case, the new wild goose was Jimmy Young. Now all King had to do was figure out what to do with a small, relatively slow heavyweight who can knock you out with his smile, but not his hands.

As King has said more than once: “This is a hard business.”

(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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