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Articles of 2005

My Million Dollar Problem

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I really wanted to love Clint Eastwood's “Million Dollar Baby,” this year's Academy Award-winning movie. I wanted to love it like almost no motion picture before it. I wanted to be swept away by the sensational performances. I wanted to be haunted by the darkness of its cinematography. I wanted to be shocked and drawn in by its sudden and sensational plot twist. I wanted to be moved to my limits by its psychological exploration, consumed by its emotional power. And I wanted to be well ahead of the curve in bringing the message of this unbelievable film to boxing fans.

Here at The Sweet Science we felt a special connection to this film as well. As you probably know, I am the President of the International Brotherhood of Prizefighters (IBOP), and the founders of this organization had a close relationship with Jerry Boyd (aka F.X. Toole) – who wrote the book “Rope Burns,” which contained short stories on which this film is based – and still maintain close ties to Dub Huntley, the venerable trainer and ex-fighter to whom the book was dedicated. When I say “close,” I mean “best friend” close. Because of that, we rooted for the film, and were not displeased when it won its share of awards. It was no accident that The Sweet Science had its “Million Dollar Baby” banner displayed bright and early, and kept it there virtually throughout its Oscar run.

Before the general public was exposed to “Million Dollar Baby,” there were rave reviews from nearly every critic who saw it. Those who didn't, and thus omitted it from the list of early Oscar contenders, now look like dolts. It was Roger Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times review that may have done more to boost the film's perception among Oscar voters than anything else. Ebert is one of the most respected film critics in America, and he waxed poetically as he declared the movie an instant classic:

“Clint Eastwood's 'Million Dollar Baby' is a masterpiece, pure and simple, deep and true. It tells the story of an aging fight trainer and a hillbilly girl who thinks she can be a boxer. It is narrated by a former boxer who is the trainer's best friend. But it's not a boxing movie. It is a movie about a boxer. What else it is, all it is, how deep it goes, what emotional power it contains, I cannot suggest in this review, because I will not spoil the experience of following this story into the deepest secrets of life and death. This is the best film of the year.”

I got chills.

The review went on to say:

“The screenplay is by Paul Haggis, who has worked mostly on TV but with this earns an Oscar nomination. Other nominations, possibly Oscars, will go to Swank, Eastwood, Freeman, the picture and many technicians — and possibly the original score composed by Eastwood, which always does what is required and never distracts.”

Well, let's just say I needed to see it in the worst way after hearing that endorsement. But I live in the kind of town where they're just now rolling out “Kill Bill Vol. I” at the local theater, know what I mean? So, as Eastwood's film was being released in only about eight or nine major cities at first, my only choice was to get on a train and go to Chicago.

I walked into the theater expecting to be changed by it; to come out of it with a different outlook on life, on love, on human relationships, as sometimes happens when you are watching a memorable work of art. I anticipated that I might be thinking about this film for days, weeks, even years, the way some great movies have in the past.

But while I got to the theater, I never arrived at my expected emotional destination. When I walked out of the Metroplex two hours later, I was the same person. I wasn't thinking very much about “Million Dollar Baby.” In fact, the entirety of my thoughts centered on catching a cab back to the train station. Since we couldn't possibly escape without using a boxing cliché, here it is, folks: “Million Dollar Baby” never delivered the knockout blow.

There should be some kind of law against people intimately acquainted with the boxing industry watching a boxing movie. It's just too easy to be distracted by all the discrepancies. I think if I were to watch “Rocky” for the first time in 2005 rather than 1976, I'd probably be wondering how Rocky Balboa ever got a title shot with twenty losses on his record, and which sanctioning body could have possibly rated him in the Top 10 without the benefit of any political connections. The chicken-chasing scenes may have given me a problem as well.

The realistic boxing films have been few and far between. Notable among them was John Huston's “Fat City” (1972), which starred Stacy Keach as a Northern California club fighter on the way out, and Jeff Bridges as a four-round fighter presumably on his way up. In an interesting twist, it also featured a real-life champion – Curtis Cokes – in a role that nothing to do with boxing whatsoever.

Even though it was presented as a bit of a farce, and had someone fighting for a title in his pro debut as one of its plot points, “The Great White Hype” (1996) nonetheless found some brilliance in its parody of boxing at the highest level. You had the Don King character (Samuel L. Jackson), the Jose Sulaiman-type (Cheech Marin) and a million wannabes and hangers-on you'd find out are very true to life if you only had the opportunity to inhabit that world. Upon walking out of the movie, I recall wondering just who the technical advisor was, because it contained a lot of insight that Eastwood, it turns out, has missed in his film (one of the screenwriters was Ron Shelton, which might explain some of it).

Most boxing movies don't do any favors for the sport – there always seems to be a fixed fight, a horrible ring injury or some mob involvement as a critical part of the storyline.

“Million Dollar Baby,” in its own way, continues that dubious tradition. (Of course, if you haven't seen it yet, you may not want to read any further).

The film is, for the most part, a well-acted, well-crafted story. No one can doubt Eastwood's credentials as a helmsman, although his prowess as a director has long been overshadowed by his status as a movie star. But from his directorial debut with “Play Misty For Me,” through the Charlie Parker biopic “Bird,” the iconoclastic western “Unforgiven,” and 2003's “Mystic River,” he has demonstrated a propensity to examine the dark side of human existence, exhibiting a wellspring of experience that was necessary to draw from in putting “Million Dollar Baby” together.

His source – the book by Jerry Boyd – is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in boxing, if for no other reason than it is well-informed; seen through the eyes of someone who has spent thousands of hours inside gymnasiums, observing both the glorious and dark sides of this “game.” The film is very loyal to the book; however, in the way Eastwood delivers the cinematic version – and here I go again with my boxing mentality – there happens to be a logistical flaw that spoiled the whole thing for me. Perhaps I should be faulting Boyd for this, but it was Eastwood who made the artistic decision to adapt this specific material for the screen.

As you probably know by now, the story centers around a budding female fighter named Maggie Fitzgerald (portrayed by the Oscar-winning Hilary Swank) who walks into the gym operated by trainer Frankie Dunn (played by Eastwood) in the hopes of getting him to train her. Frankie refuses, not just once but again and again and again.

I have no earthly idea why she would insist, in the face of all logic and all resistance, on being trained by this man in particular; indeed, it is established early on that the trainer has never worked with a world champion, even in this era of the proliferation of titles. But there she is, day after day, absolutely unwilling to take “no” for an answer. Considering the setting was Los Angeles, I've got to imagine that in reality she would have simply hightailed it to any of a dozen other gyms where someone would have been all too happy to watch her work the heavy bag. And if she had the basic rudiments of the talent she displayed later in the film, she'd have found a trainer easily enough, either before visiting Frankie's gym or shortly thereafter.

There is, in fact, no plausible explanation for Maggie's persistence other than that it was necessary to fit into the plotline.

Once Maggie turns pro (by now with Eastwood at her side) she's fighting before loud, enthusiastic audiences in settings that looked awkwardly like places where amateur “smokers” might be held. I'm not sure I've seen too many professional venues looking like that. But maybe I just haven't been around.

And did I see this incorrectly, or did Frankie not tell his best friend, sidekick and confidant “Scrap” (the Oscar-winning Morgan Freeman's character) for the first time about Maggie's title fight only when he was walking out the door with his bags packed for Vegas? You would think that for a half-million dollar purse, half the L.A. boxing community would have known about the fight.

That stuff just doesn't make any sense.

But that's STILL not the fundamental flaw I'm talking about.

I could handle the dysfunction of Maggie's inane family members as they thumbed their noses at her line of work from the perspective of their trailer park existence, even though by then she had experienced quite a bit of ring success. Or the heavyweight contender (soon to be champ) who went to Frankie's house to tell him he had taken up with another manager (most fighters would not have extended that courtesy, opting for contact through a lawyer instead, or no contact at all). Or the way the fighter's title victory was shown on broadcast TV (what, no HBO?). Or the scene where Scrap brings Maggie to meet a more accomplished rival manager as a way of testing her, but Maggie stays loyal to Frankie (most boxing people know the way that would have actually turned out).

No – what really screwed this movie up for me was the way Maggie's title fight was handled.

Her opponent is Billie “The Blue Bear,” played by the great female champion, Lucia Rijker. We experience enough foreshadowing to know that Billie is a dirty fighter and that she's likely to break a few rules when their encounter finally takes place. Naturally that manifests itself in the defining fight scene, when Maggie, having almost scored a TKO toward the end of a round, turns toward her corner when the bell sounds and is punched from behind by Billie – the force of the blow sufficient to knock her down and onto the ring stool, which, conveniently, Frankie has not placed upright in the corner. The result is that Maggie snaps her neck against the stool and becomes paralyzed.

Maggie's dream is over at this point, and I guess there's a double disappointment, because not only has she lost the fight, she's lost the very thing that makes her happy: being able to compete in the ring. Maggie certainly doesn't want to live a bed-ridden life, so she goes through periods of depression, which become exacerbated as skin ulcers demand that a leg be amputated.

She doesn't want to live anymore, and tells Frankie so. He writes that off, to some extent, but just to convince him she's sincere, she bites off her own tongue with the expectation of bleeding to death. That isn't successful, so Frankie goes through a requisite amount of soul-searching, visits the priest he supposedly haggles with every day, and finally decides he's going to accommodate Maggie. He sneaks into the hospital one night, shoots her with adrenaline, walks out, and disappears for good.

I hope I've capsulated the film to your satisfaction.

Now let's start talking reality.

Religious types can argue all they want about the way the film deals with the issue of assisted suicide. I find such disputes to be somewhat benign. I'm reasonably certain Eastwood wasn't reaching to make a political or social statement here, and it would be hard to believe it was Boyd's intent. What I would rather focus on, as someone who has been associated with this industry, is explore the course of events from a boxing standpoint, with an eye toward how they affect the other things the movie is supposed to be about.

First and foremost, the film implies that Maggie never reached her dream of winning a world championship. Of course this is nonsense. In any world that has even a semblance to that which is genuine, Maggie Fitzgerald would have been declared the winner of the fight, and the title, by disqualification. There is no argument about that. None.

Don't believe me? Okay, since the fight was set in Vegas, let's find out how Marc Ratner, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, would have ruled on it.

“Obviously it was a disqualification, without question,” says Ratner. “Completely. That's why it wasn't a boxing movie. You can't lose a fight on an intentional foul. We would have held the purse. The rules on that are real clear to me.” As for how Rijker's character could get away with throwing the illegal punch, Ratner said “No professional referee would turn his back when the fighters went to their corners.”

Ratner saw another problem with that fight scene, which was set in the fictional “Las Vegas arena.”

“If you're going to have a fight like that, with a million-dollar purse,” he says, “have it at Mandalay Bay or Caesars Palace or someplace like that, with Michael Buffer or Jimmy Lennon as the ring announcer. That's what a fight in Las Vegas is like. They (the producers) skimped on those kinds of things. But maybe it doesn't matter to the general public.”

This is not to say all boxing people had problems with the film. Although I think he might be in the minority, Chris Middendorf, a matchmaker who was an art history major at Harvard, says he didn't let logistical difficulties interfere with his enjoyment of “Million Dollar Baby” as pure entertainment.

“Anybody who knows anything about being in a rowboat knows that George Washington did not cross the Delaware standing up in one, as depicted in one of America's most famous paintings, and Marc Ratner would certainly have disqualified Lucia Rijker's character and awarded the title to Hilary Swank's,” says Middendorf. “But great films, like great works of art, are able to transcend reality and take the viewer to a different place of appreciation to tell the story that they want to tell. This was a movie not about Swank or Eastwood winning or losing the title; it was a movie about people trying to achieve their dreams. Eastwood is a great director who has made a great film that is not about assisted suicide or unethical acts in the boxing ring, but about people who are beaten down but still have hope.”

Ratner would have written the movie differently, with Swank's character receiving her championship belt in the hospital so she could die with a little peace.

I find some common ground with him there, though I regard the resolution of the title fight as much more than just a minor glitch in the plot.

I saw the negative result of the bout to be the catalyst for Maggie's emotional state while she was in the hospital. The dialogue between her and Eastwood indicates that, officially, she was defeated. I believe that the desire to kill herself was fueled by the fit of depression created by the “loss,” which prevented her – in her mind anyway – from achieving the dream she lobbied Frankie so hard to guide her to, and which she worked night and day to attain. Because of that, my feeling is that her outlook would have improved considerably if she were to wake up every day to see that championship belt in its rightful place – beside her hospital bed.

Therefore, had events proceeded in a way which would have been factually correct, the story would have changed in a most fundamental way. After all, there is a huge chasm between a dream fulfilled and a dream that remains unfulfilled. Every human being is different, but I would speculate that Maggie Fitzgerald may have found some added meaning to her life – even under condition of paralysis – had she gotten her just reward.

I don't see where everyone could avoid dealing with the aftermath of this incident. You have to believe the press would have had a field day with the story, only because it's another opportunity to exploit a ring tragedy in this age of the 24-hour news cycle. We are sold on the proposition that the fight between Maggie and Billie was the biggest event in women's boxing to date, so it would make sense that the “accident” would have fueled a share of media attention commensurate with its significance. I can see it now – “Nightline's” Ted Koppel, “Hardball's” Chris Matthews and Hannity and Colmes weighing in on the dangers of boxing, or Bill O'Reilly devoting part of the “Factor” to a moral statement about allowing women into the ring. Certainly ESPN's “Outside the Lines” would have patronized the issue. Lifetime, which makes pulp movies about everything else related to women, would have been there to make an offer for “Trailer Park to Title Fight: The Maggie Fitzgerald Story.”

Undoubtedly the injustice done to this fighter would have been exposed, and as Ratner pointed out, there would be room for his own commission to step in and issue a ruling, even if it had to be after the fact and upon review of the videotape.

An investigation would have been conducted, with criminal charges against Billie contemplated. And Frankie, who was a little slow getting that stool up into the ring, would have been derelict in his duties if he did not raise holy hell with the commission in a crusade to gain some recompense for Maggie. But since the plot couldn't possibly allow for that, neither could the rules of boxing. (McCain, where are you when we need you?)

I find it to be of great concern when you can't tell an effective story and remain consistent with simple truths at the same time. To imply that scenarios like this customarily play themselves out in boxing, particularly in the state which hosts the biggest fights, does the sport a tremendous and unnecessary disservice.

In that way, Eastwood’s movie becomes nothing out of the ordinary.

The book, and the film, needed to be more intellectually honest than that.

Whenever a movie deals with boxing, we hear the obligatory comments from proponents of the film that “Well, it's not a boxing movie. It's about this, this, and this (feel free to fill in the blanks).” You can see some of that in the excerpt from Ebert's review. No wonder: if you use the tag “boxing movie” these days, people tend to stay away in droves, not unlike the way they stay away from the sport itself.

But this was intended as a boxing movie. It was a boxing BOOK, wasn't it? There are few athletic pursuits where that arduous quest for respect and self-esteem, the struggle to achieve, can be personified so well. It is certainly conceivable that one can come virtually out of nowhere and establish herself quickly as a viable entity in women's boxing, where the ranks are relatively thin. What other sport were they going to use, where a 32-year-old woman can take a fast track to the top, make some real money, then suffer a sudden, debilitating injury? Golf? Yeah, right – Maggie gets hit by a flying eight-iron. Tennis? Were they going to pull another Monica Seles number? Basketball? Sure – Maggie gets hit with a cup of water, runs into the stands after a fan, and gets pummeled into oblivion. That's just not sympathetic, man.

No, it HAD to be boxing. And as long as it's a boxing movie, the least the storytellers could have done was be true to the sport.

Ratner is right, though. Maybe the general public really doesn't care.

But I just wish that when someone decides they're going to make a boxing movie that's really NOT a boxing movie, they could avoid the sport entirely.

Am I being overly harsh? Probably. But then again, I'm in boxing.

Like I said, there ought to be a law.

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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