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Articles of 2005

Joe Louis: Brown Bomber Bombs Bums

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When Joe Louis said “He can run, but he can’t hide,” he said a mouthful.

Former heavyweight champion of the world Joseph Louis Barrow was born in a shack in Lafayette, Alabama on May 13, 1914, the seventh of eight children conceived by Lillie Reese and Munroe Barrow. Two years after Joe’s birth, the champ’s dad was committed to an insane asylum forever.

Joe’s mother remarried a widower named Pat Brooks, who had five children of his own, and the Barrow brood moved to Mt. Sinai in the Buckelew Mountains. Joe Louis shared a bed with two of his siblings. He walked to school barefoot. He also picked cotton.

In 1926, when Joe Louis was twelve years old, Pat Brooks brought his family to ghetto Detroit and they crowded into a tenement apartment on Catherine Street. Louis hung out with the gangs and got into his share of mischief, so his mother, hoping to give Joe some direction, urged her son to study the violin.

Joe Louis took his money for fiddle lessons and spent it learning to box at the Brewster Gym.

He had his first amateur bout in 1933 and was knocked down seven times by a fighter named Johnny Miler. Joe Louis quit boxing for six months, but could not keep himself away. He figured boxing was the ticket and returned to the gym with renewed vigor. Fighting at light heavyweight, he had 54 amateur bouts during the next year, winning 50 of them, 43 by knockout.

John Roxborough and Julian Black handled Joe in the pros and hoped the trainer Jack Blackburn would join the team. Blackburn remembered the hell wrought by Jack Johnson twenty years earlier and was wary of getting involved. “I won’t have no truck with a colored boy,” he said at first, but eventually changed his mind.

Blackburn drummed it into Louis that “the science of boxing is to avoid getting hit, but if you do get hit, hit the other fella before he hits you again.” Joe Louis learned his lessons well and won his first pro fight on July 4, 1934 with a first round TKO over Jack Kracken in Chicago. That was the first of twelve victories that year.

Joe Louis, aka the “Brown Bomber,” was getting ready for the big time. “Yeah,” Blackburn said, “he’s ready for New York, but New York ain’t ready for him.”

Louis continued his winning ways in 1935 with ten victories, including a sixth round TKO over former heavyweight champion Primo Carnera in June at Madison Square Garden. “This was my first night in New York,” Louis recalled, “and this was the night I remember best in all my fighting. If you was ever a raggedy kid and you come to something like that night you’d know.”

Two months later, Joe dispatched Kingfish Levinsky in one round in Chicago.

Preparations commenced for Joe’s next fight against Max Baer. Many thought Baer had a fighting chance against the young slugger. Even Jack Dempsey – a magic talisman if there ever was one – agreed to serve as one of Baer’s cornermen. When Louis was asked if he was concerned about Dempsey seconding Max, Joe replied, “The rules say Dempsey can’t hit me, don’t they?”

Dempsey didn’t hit Louis that night. Neither did Baer. Joe Louis did most of the punching.

Jack Dempsey told Baer between rounds that they had nothing to worry about because Louis wasn’t landing. Max looked at Jack in disbelief and said, “Then you better keep an eye on (referee) Arthur Donovan, because somebody out there is beating the hell out of me.”

Louis kayoed Baer in four rounds. When the fight was over, sportswriters chastised Max because he took the count on one knee. “Sure I quit,” Baer told them. “He hit me eighteen times while I was in the act of falling that last time. I don’t intend to be cutting up paper dolls for a living. Besides, I got a wife and family to think about. If anyone wants to see the execution of Max Baer, he’s gotta pay a lot more than $25 for a ringside seat.”

The writer Ernest Hemingway described Louis as “The most beautiful fighting machine I had ever seen,” but said “The Louis-Baer fight was the most disgusting public spectacle outside of a hanging that your correspondent ever witnessed.”

As 1936 began, Joe Louis, although not yet champion, was seen as the greatest heavyweight alive. He could box. He could punch. He was humble. He wasn’t seen with white women. The nation embraced the knockout artist, even though he was the same color as Jack Johnson.

Louis wrote, somewhat reflexively several years later, about his predecessor Jack Johnson: “He was working as a strong man in Robert Ripley’s flea circus, and by my standards that ain’t shit.”

Louis had six fights that year, including a pivotal bout with another former heavyweight champion, Max Schmeling. Schmeling wanted a bout with the titleholder James Braddock, but the powers-that-be denied him, so Schmeling said, with some resignation, “I will fight Joe Louis then.”

Louis was an 8-1 favorite to beat the German when the two men met on June 19, 1936 in Yankee Stadium. Schmeling, 31, caught Lewis, 22, with a straight right in the fourth which staggered the Brown Bomber. Another right dropped Joe to the canvas for the first time in his career. The fight was give and take for several rounds, with Max doing most of the giving and Joe doing most of the taking. Lillie Reese Barrow, Joe’s mom, was led from the hall imploring, “Don’t let them kill my son.” Things came to a head in the twelfth when Schmeling caught Louis with two overhand rights. Louis was down for the count.

Schmeling recalled that decisive moment in his autobiography: “The punch turns Louis around. Astonished, he looks at me with eyes that no longer see anything. He turns 180 degrees and falls into the ropes and then down to his knees. His arms go back. Referee Donovan sends me to a neutral corner and starts his count. Louis tries to use the ropes to get back up. He holds himself in this position for a second or two, his face surprisingly calm. Then his head falls forward, his shoulder slides along the ropes, and then, as if his will has finally given in, he collapses. He lies there stretched out on the canvas. He seems to be trying in one last desperate effort to get up. He actually does manage to get his shoulders a few inches off the canvas but then suddenly collapses completely. Joe Louis rolls over and lies face down, stretched out and motionless . . . My heart is in my throat as I watch Donovan’s hand rhythmically rise and fall: ‘Seven-eight-nine!’ Then he spreads his arms wide – Joe Louis has been knocked out.”

That was a shocking loss, a stunning defeat, and some men exploited it to their own ends. Hitler cabled Schmeling from Germany: “Most cordial felicitations on your splendid victory.” Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels wrote in his diary that morning after the fight, once the announcer’s cries of “Aus! Aus! Aus!” had died down in his ears: “Stayed up all night. At 3 a.m. the fight begins. In round 12 Schmeling knocks out the negro . . . The white man defeats the black man, and the white man was German!” Goebbels was no less fulsome in his message to Max. “I know you fought for Germany, that it was a German victory. We are proud of you,” he wrote. “Heil Hitler!” The Daily Telegraph ran a feature which included the following: “The Fuhrer takes a deep delight in Schmeling’s career. After he knocked out Joe Louis in New York . . . he was received in the Chancellery by Herr Hitler, who told him how delighted he was about this triumph of Nordic blood over negro blood.”

In his next fight, on August 18, 1936, Joe Louis kayoed another former heavyweight champ, this time it was Jack Sharkey, in three rounds. Sharkey, who also fought Jack Dempsey, compared the two men and was not impressed by the Brown Bomber: “Every time Louis hit me, he said, ‘Sorry.’ Every time Jack Dempsey hit me, he said, ‘How come you’re not dead yet?’” Sharkey added, “I was the only fighter to fight Dempsey and Louis. Who hit me hardest? Dempsey hit me the hardest because Dempsey hit me $211,000 worth while Louis only hit me $36,000 worth.”

After kayoing Sharkey, Louis flattened Al Ettore, Jorge Berscia and Eddie Simms to end 1936, not with a whimper, but with a bang.

In 1937 Joe Louis beat Bob Pastor and Natie Brown, setting up a title fight with the champ James Braddock, aka The Cinderella Man, who won the title from Max Baer a year and a half earlier. Baer said of Braddock after the loss: “Jim can use the title. He has five kids. I don’t know how many I have.”

Louis met Braddock on June 22 in Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Braddock got to Louis early and knocked him down with an uppercut in round one, but Louis came back swinging and took over the fight. Louis caught Braddock with a crushing overhand right in round eight and that was it for Braddock.

Joe Louis was the new heavyweight champion of the world.

When asked after the fight when he knew he had Braddock beat, Louis said “I knew I had him when I signed for the fight.” Braddock admitted after the fight, “When (Louis) knocked me down I could have stayed there three weeks . . . I couldn’t have got up if you offered me a million dollars.” Asked by a reporter what it was like to be hit by the Brown Bomber, Braddock said it was “Like someone jammed an electric light bulb in your face and busted it.”

That was a huge win, the dream of a lifetime come true for Joe Louis, but the heavyweight champ had unfinished business. “I don’t want nobody to call me champ until I beat Schmeling,” Joe said. “Bring on Schmeling.”

Louis wrote about the bout: “I had nothing personally against Max, but in my mind, I wasn’t champion until I beat him. The rest of it – black against white – was somebody’s talk. I had nothing against the man, except I had to beat him for myself.”

Louis fought and beat Tommy Farr (“Every time I hear the name Joe Louis, my nose starts to bleed”), Nathan Mann and Harry Thomas, setting the stage for the rematch with Schmeling.

The geopolitics of the time anointed Joe Louis as America’s proxy against the Huns and he met the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in the White House before the rematch with Schmeling. FDR put his hand on the champ’s biceps and offered these stirring words: “Joe, these are the types of muscles we’re going to need to beat the Germans.”

Joe recalled that “White Americans – even while some of them were lynching black people in the south – were depending on me to K.O. a German. I knew I had to get Schmeling good. I had my own personal reasons, and the whole damned country was depending on me.”

Even though Schmeling insisted “I am a fighter, not a politician,” even though his manager, Joe Jacobs, was Jewish to the bone, most Americans treated Max like he was one of Hitler’s henchmen. “I was never a Nazi,” Schmeling said, “but once a German, always a German.”

Louis and Schmeling had their rematch on June 22, 1938 at Yankee Stadium. Louis took it to Schmeling at the opening bell and caught him early. When Max retreated to the ropes, Joe went for the kill. Louis knocked Schmeling down three times, and broke two of his vertebrae, in less than two minutes. At 2:04 of the first round, Schmeling’s corner threw in the towel. Max was sorry to have lost on one hand, but relieved on the other: “A victory over Joe Louis would have made me forever the 'Aryan Show Horse’ of the Third Reich.” Joe was more sanguine. “I’m sure enough champion now,” he said.

Joe Louis was on top of the world. With his destruction of Schmeling, he had beaten every man he had ever faced. Thus began the infamous “Bum-of-the-Month” Club. The Bum-of-the-Month Club disparagingly describes the lack of talent in the heavyweight division during the years of Louis’ reign. “Those guys weren’t bums,” Joe wrote. “They were hardworking professionals trying to make a dollar, too. I knew the training they went through, and I knew the dream they had. No different from me. I respected every man I fought. It’s no easy job getting up in that ring; you got to have a special kind of balls.”

Louis had four fights in 1939. Joe’s first victim was John Henry Lewis. His second was Jack Roper, who had a fine excuse for losing to Joe in one round in LA: “I zigged when I shoulda zagged.” The third notch on Louis’ belt that year was against “Two Ton” Tony Galento. Barney Nagler wrote that “The hardest punches I ever saw Louis throw were against Tony Galento. Every time he hit him it made little breaks in the skin as though (Galento) cut himself shaving.” Two Ton Tony had a good mea culpa for his crummy performance: “I coulda busted Joe Louis real good if my manager woulda let me get out there and hit him all over,” Galento said. “You know what I mean . . . Butt him and kick him around. It’s a fight, isn’t it?”

Louis ended the year with an eleventh round kayo over Bob Pastor.

Joe had four fights in 1940. He beat Arturo Godoy twice, and had wins over Al McCoy and Johnny Paychek. Paychek, who Joe flattened on March 29 in two rounds, exclaimed at the fight’s end, “God, how the man can punch!”

1941 was a busy year for the champ. He had seven bouts, stopping Red Burman, Gus Dorazio, Abe Simon and Tony Musto, and won by DQ over Buddy Baer. Buddy was one of the boxing Baer boys, and those brothers loved to talk. “I took his best punches,” Buddy Baer said in his dressing room after the fight. “(Louis) has to hit you a million times before he gives you a headache.”

Joe Louis signed to defend his title against light heavyweight king Billy Conn and the hype was ripe in the buildup to the fight. Conn said of Louis, “He can’t box a lick. He has to hit you with those punches to hurt you, and he couldn’t hit me in the britches with a bull fiddle.” Maybe Louis sensed what he was getting into when he said “A drop of rain will hurt you if you let enough drops hit you first.”

It was June 18, 1941. A crowd of 54,487 filled the Polo Grounds. The opening bell rang. Conn was a slow starter, but he weathered an early storm and proceeded to pick Joe Louis apart. Louis looked slow. The challenger was beating the champ to the punch. Louis wasn’t cutting off the ring. It looked like Conn had Louis on a leash. “You’ve got a fight on your hands tonight, Joe,” Conn told Louis during the fight. Joe replied, “I know it.”

Conn was ahead on the scorecards after twelve. The world was on the verge of having a new heavyweight champion. But Conn let his success in the early and middle rounds go to his head and figured he was man enough to trade with Joe Louis.

That was Billy Conn’s only mistake of the night, but it was a big one.

In the thirteenth round Louis connected with a left to the body, a right uppercut, a left hook and right cross in rapid succession – and Conn went down. With only two seconds remaining in the round, Conn couldn’t beat the count.

After the fight, Louis told Conn, “Man, I loaned you my title for twelve rounds and you couldn’t keep it.” Conn said, “What’s the good of being Irish if you can’t be dumb now and then?”

Joe Louis finished off the year with a fight against Lou Nova. Nova trained with a yoga master, instead of a conventional boxing trainer, and claimed he possessed a “cosmic punch.” “He not only has to fight my muscles,” Nova said. “He has to fight my mind.” It took Joe six rounds to beat Nova’s muscles and mind. If anyone had a “cosmic punch,” it was Joe Louis.

The champ had two fights in 1942. The first was a rematch and round one kayo against Buddy Baer, who insisted “The only way I could have beaten Joe that night was with a baseball bat.” The second was a rematch with Abe Simon. Then Joe Louis enlisted in the army. Although there was a war going on, the only action Joe saw during WWII was in a boxing ring.

At the war’s conclusion, Joe resumed his pro career in 1946 with kayos over Conn in the rematch and a one round blowout of Tami Mauriello. Louis said that was “the last time I really felt like my old self.”

Joe Louis was slowing down, but he was still dangerous, and he was on the lookout for new opponents. Joe Baksi, a former Pennsylvania coal miner of Czech descent, was offered a chance to fight the Brown Bomber. “Sorry, I can’t fight Louis for you. I’ll be busy this summer,” Baksi said. “I can’t disappoint my relatives in Czechoslovakia. I promised to visit them.”

Louis was given a gift decision over Jersey Joe Walcott in the Garden in 1947, which Louis clarified with an eleventh round kayo the next year.

Then Joe Louis retired.

In 1949 Ezzard Charles decisioned Walcott in a box-off in Chicago to win the heavyweight title. The next year Joe made the inevitable comeback and lost a decision to Charles. But Joe liked being back in the ring, plus he needed the money, so he continued fighting.

After winning eight fights in a row, Louis agreed to meet an up-and-comer named Rocky Marciano on October 26, 1951 in New York City. With painfully little resistance, Rocky pummeled his hero Joe Louis and kayoed him in round eight. It was an ugly loss, an unsightly fall, the end of the end of the road, and even Joe Louis knew it. “The Rock don’t know too much about the boxing book, but it wasn’t a book he hit me with,” Louis said. “It was a whole library of bone crushers.”

Louis retired from boxing with a record of 68-3 (54 KOs) and began a full-time tilt with the IRS. Due to poor management, bad advice, and out-and-out larceny, the champ was in hock up to his neck. “When I was boxing, I made $5 million and wound up broke, owing the government a million. If I was boxing today,” Louis speculated, “I’d make $10 million and wind up broke owing the government two million.”

Louis tried professional wrestling to settle his bill with the state – Joe said “it beats stealin’” – but the hoped for jackpot never came and debt plagued him to the end.

“They say money talks,” Louis said, “but the only thing it ever said to me was goodbye.”

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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