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Articles of 2005

Jimmy Young: A Personal Recollection

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On February 20, 2005, after a six day stay at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, former heavyweight title challenger and contender Jimmy Young, 56, passed away. The cause of Young's untimely death was heart failure. The passing of Young caught me by surprise and hit me hard. He was more than a fighter I saw on television. I knew Jimmy Young. We weren't friends, but from about mid-1977 through early 1982, Jimmy and I worked out at the same gym and I got to know him.

It was about six months before he challenged Muhammad Ali for the undisputed heavyweight title that I began to follow his boxing career. In October of 1975 my family moved to Cherry Hill, New Jersey. With the exception of rush hour, Cherry Hill is roughly 20-25 minutes outside the city of Philadelphia.

Shortly after moving into the new house, workmen came to hang the drapes my mother ordered. Since the workmen were from Philadelphia, I asked them if they ever saw Joe Frazier around town. One of the guys said he was a huge boxing fan and often went to Frazier's gym on Broad Street to watch the fighters train.

During the conversation he asked me if I ever heard of a Philly heavyweight named Jimmy Young. I told him that I knew he upset Ron Lyle, but never saw him fight. I remember him specifically telling me to remember the name Jimmy Young. He said Young was a slick boxer that nobody wanted to fight. After they left, I found Jimmy Young's record in a recent issue of Ring Magazine. Being young and dumb, I wrote him off after seeing he had four loses on his record. Years later when I knew how to interpret a fighter’s record, I understood how mismanagement led to those early defeats and how insignificant they were.

On April 30, 1976, six months after being told to remember the name Jimmy Young, he fought Muhammad Ali for the undisputed heavyweight title on ABC. Young wasn't given much of a chance to take the title from Ali, despite Ali weighing a career high 230 pounds for the fight. Ali retained the title by winning a 15-round unanimous decision over Young, a fight many who saw it thought Ali lost.

Less than a year after the Ali-Young bout, I started boxing at the Cherry Hill Police Athletic League (PAL), under the tutelage of former middleweight champ Joey Giardello. I had such passion for boxing that I quickly picked up everything he taught me. After training for about five months, despite being a middleweight, I was too advanced for even the heavyweights training at the PAL.

One day Mr. Giardello said to me that I was getting a little too happy with myself and wasn't being challenged when sparring with the other fighters at the PAL. He said, “If you want to be the champ of Cherry Hill, fine, stay here. But Frank, if you're serious about boxing, you'll never get any better then you are now unless you go to the city and train. Tomorrow morning be at Frazier's Gym around 10:30 and ask for Georgie Benton. Tell him that I suggested you start training in the city, and ask him if he would be willing to work with you.”

The following day I did exactly as he suggested. This is where I first met Jimmy Young. Young had just defeated top ranked and former heavyweight champ George Foreman in his last fight, and was getting ready to fight Jody Ballard in Vegas.

I remember Jimmy drove a turquoise Lincoln Mark V. On the trunk the words “Jimmy Young” were en-scripted with a boxing glove hanging down on each side. One of the first memories I have of Jimmy is him coming into the gym with Ted and Slim, and a big boom box playing the song “You Know I Love You” by Breakwater. Within a few weeks Jimmy and I began talking on a regular basis. When Jimmy got back after beating Jody Ballard, we started talking more frequently. Our topics were usually music, cars and boxing, in that order.

A month after returning from his fight with Ballard in September, he left for Vegas again for his next fight scheduled for November 5th. His opponent was number one ranked Ken Norton. Since Jimmy was ranked second, the fight between them was billed as a title elimination bout. The winner of Norton-Young was penciled in to fight Ali for the title in early 1978. Jimmy was in great shape for Norton and fought a terrific fight against him. The fight turned out to be more action packed than anticipated and went the scheduled 15 round distance. When the decision was announced, Norton won a controversial split decision. And as Jimmy has been quoted saying over the years, “He (Norton) didn't think he won it, and was as surprised as I was when it was announced.”

Since his passing, it has been widely reported that he lost his desire after losing the decision to Norton. Jimmy told the story more than once about how he ran into Norton in Vegas, while he was out there to fight Ossie Ocasio on the Norton-Holmes undercard. Young said Norton told him that he thought the decision was going to Young before it was announced.

In my opinion, Jimmy never put his all into training and getting in shape as a result of his disappointment over the decision in the Norton fight. A year and a half after fighting Norton, as he was getting ready to fight Don King's latest protégé, Michael Dokes (14-0), somebody brought up his fight with Norton. He reflected back and said that the decision to Norton was worse than the decision to Ali. He said because Ali was the champ and bigger than boxing, to get a decision against him a fighter had to really beat him beyond a doubt. Young thought by him beating Foreman, Ali-Norton IV became the big fight in the division, and that worked against him when he fought Norton.

During the summer of 2001, Ken Norton was a guest on my ESPN radio show “Toe To Toe.” He was in the midst of his book tour promoting his autobiography “Going The Distance.” Ken was very candid and talked openly about his career and the opponents he faced. With one exception, he wouldn't tell me when I asked him: Who hit harder, George Foreman or Earnie Shavers? He just said “next question.” I mentioned his three 15-round fights that ended in controversial decisions. He responded by saying that the one he won against Jimmy Young was the one he felt, before the decision was announced, was going to go against him. And the two he lost to Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes, he felt he won.

The fight I think Jimmy put the most into post-Norton was his May 1980 fight with Gerry Cooney. While training for Cooney, his trainer George Benton was always reminding Jimmy that Cooney's management agreed to the fight because Jimmy wasn't a knockout puncher, and still had a name. Jimmy did a lot of sparring while getting ready for Cooney, but struggled to get his weight down. For the undefeated Cooney, Jimmy weighed 223 pounds, which was 10-14 pounds more than what was considered his best fighting weight.

Despite the extra weight, Jimmy fought well against Cooney until getting cut. He was finding Gerry with his jab and actually moved him back a few times with right hands. When Cooney went to his body, Jimmy caught him with counter rights and short hooks to the head. Gil Clancy, who was doing the color commentary on CBS with Tim Ryan, said that Young was exposing Cooney's lack of experience.

The fight came to an abrupt end after Cooney caught Jimmy with a half left uppercut/hook that opened a nasty gash over his eye. Cooney then began unloading his best uppercuts and hooks on a stationary Young. Although Jimmy was never staggered or close to being hurt, he couldn't answer Cooney with his own assault because his vision was severely impaired from all the blood flowing into his eyes. The fight ended in the fourth round, and, along with it, so did his hopes of ever getting back into title contention again in his career.

Although it hasn't been reported, his loss to Cooney frustrated him and I think took whatever remaining spirit he had for boxing. Losing to Cooney cost Jimmy what he felt was his last shot at the title, which was something he badly wanted. Through different conversations between Jimmy, Randall “Tex” Cobb and me, Jimmy gave the impression that Don King thought if he beat Cooney, he could make a fight between Young and Holmes. Implying a win over Cooney would make him a more marketable opponent for Holmes, than was his last opponent Leroy Jones.

Losing to Cooney because of a cut, something that never happened to him in his career, was the final straw. I still remember George Benton saying in words that cannot be repeated in this writing, leading up to his fight with Cooney, that if he ever wanted another shot at the title and big money, he had to win. Jimmy nodded in agreement.

In the years after Norton, Jimmy talked openly about his career whenever he was asked a pointed question. He tired of always being asked about Ali and why he ducked in between the ropes during the fight; although he did say he did it to frustrate Ali. He further stated that the referee never once took a point from him or even threatened to penalize him. He loved talking about his two fights with Ron Lyle. Young said Lyle told him during their second fight that he fought like a girl, hoping to con him into fighting his fight because he was so flustered by his style.

I always used to ask him to rank Foreman, Lyle, Shavers and Norton as punchers. Only I would do it in different ways to try and trick him, but he never fell for it. One day I would ask him to rank the four of them. A week later I'd say “Jimmy, Ali said Lyle hit harder than Shavers. What do you think?” He'd laugh and ask “What's changed in the last week?” Sometimes he'd clown and say that Joe “King” Roman and Richard Dunn hit harder than either Shavers or Foreman, only he couldn't keep a straight face. For those who must know, as I did, Jimmy rated the big punchers he fought in the following order: Shavers-1, Foreman-2, Lyle-3 and Norton-4.

One of my favorite stories, circa mid March 1981, involved Jimmy Young and Randall “Tex” Cobb. George Benton was the trainer for both Jimmy and Randall at the time. Cobb was ranked among the top ten heavyweight contenders due to his upset of Earnie Shavers in his last fight. Jimmy and Randall worked with each other a lot preparing for their fights in the early eighties. On this day they were sparring for the final time before Cobb was to leave for Las Vegas for his upcoming fight with Michael Dokes (19-0-1) on ABC.

During the second round while they were sparring, Jimmy nailed Randall with a couple of clean uppercuts to the face. This worried Benton, and he began saying loudly: “Be careful, Tex. I don't want to chance you getting cut this close to the fight.” All of the sudden Benton screamed “TIME!” He jumped into the ring and said, “Jimmy, stop throwing F***ing Uppercuts. We're leaving for Vegas later and I don't want Tex getting cut.” With that, Randall turned to Benton and said “F*** it, George! Throw 'em Jimmy, Dokes sure as hell will.” With that, Benton began lecturing Cobb about how he had to be extra careful with the fight being so close. Benton said the last thing they needed was for Cobb to get cut while sparring, causing the fight to be cancelled.

After Jimmy and Randall yes'd Benton a few times, assuring him they were on the same page, they resumed sparring. The first punch Jimmy hit Randall with was another uppercut to the face. For the rest of the round Jimmy threw nothing but uppercuts at Randall.

What I'll never forget are the funny faces Jimmy was making at George behind his back while he was lecturing Randall, trying to cause him to break up. Cobb was the type of guy who could ignore things like that if he wanted to. But Jimmy had this goofy look on his face while holding his glove up and moving it as to imitate Benton going on and on. Randall literally had to look away from Jimmy to keep from breaking up in George's face in the middle of his rant.

I remember Jimmy Young. He was always friendly and greeted everyone with a smile. When people would come up to him and talk, he would always ask about their family and if they had kids. If there was ever something bothering him, you couldn't tell by his demeanor. I never heard him once speak badly about anyone. What I respect about him is, despite being cheated out of the two most important decisions of his career, he never whined and felt sorry for himself.

I don't know if Jimmy Young will be elected to the boxing hall of fame. What I do know is, if there was a people hall of fame, the Jimmy Young I knew would be first ballot. Rest in Peace Jimmy.

(This is the last part of a three part feature on the late heavyweight contender Jimmy Young.)

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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