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Articles of 2005

A Week Full of Shenanigans/A Weekend Full of Memories

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Even with St. Patrick’s Day landing on Thursday last week, little transpired to cause us to believe we would be blessed with the luck of the Irish. In a span of less than a week, a notable heavyweight contest was postponed (Klitschko-Rahman), a potentially classic old-meets-new middleweight showdown (Hopkins-Taylor) appeared to be falling apart at the seams, and a chance for history to repeat itself in Ireland was denied when Joe Calzaghe was “forced” to withdraw from his scheduled fight with Brian Magee last Friday.

This being a sport where heart and willpower are every bit as important as skills and physical attributes, boxing refused to go down without a fight. Just when it seemed the present had nothing to offer, the weekend turned out to be one for the time capsule, with plenty of promise for the future.

Chief among the notable events last weekend was the junior lightweight showdown on pay-per-view between Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas. Rare is the occasion where a fight assumed by many to be the Fight of the Year going in actually meets or exceeds the hype. Morales and Pacquiao not only managed to meet the hype, but also received a hell of an assist from an unforgettable flyweight co-feature between Jorge Arce and Hussein Hussein. The pair of lower-weight wars helped accentuate the evening’s theme of “Coming with Everything,” which turned out to be well worth the price of admission, whether you ordered the show at home, or were among the beyond capacity crowd at the MGM Grand.

The hard-fought unanimous decision win now gives Morales (48-2, 34 KOs) the signature victory his already great career lacked, one of the few things missing in what has otherwise been an amazing run by the Tijuana terror. Having won world titles at 122, 126 and 130, Morales long ago affixed his name among the greatest Mexican fighters of all time. All that was missing was that one big indisputable win against a fighter whose star was on the rise or already burning bright. The closest he had come was a debatable win over a then-seemingly faded Marco Antonio Barrera in what proved to be the Fight of the Year in 2000.

Against Pacquiao, whose legion of diehard fans rival any fan base in the past decade – Tito-ites and Tyson fanatics included – Morales could not have asked for a bigger event for which to turn back the clock and deliver perhaps the most technically proficient performance of his career. In front of over 14,000 fans, many of who described the evening as “an event like no other in recent memory,” Morales managed to freeze out “Manila Ice” long enough to where he was even able to overcome an inexplicable brain freeze in the twelfth and final round to eke out a two-point decision.

As much ebb and flow as was featured in the main event, the crowd received a helluva primer in the co-feature. Jorge Arce finally grew out of the junior flyweight division, where he had reigned as linear champion (do the research; you’ll see that I’m right) for nearly three years. Looking to further his career, “El Travieso” set his sights on the flyweight division, a division having one of its golden eras. Standing in the way of a potential flyweight superfight with WBC champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam was a tough-as-nails Australian contender by the name of Hussein Hussein – a fitting name, as he undoubtedly had Arce seeing double for much of their ten-round slugfest. Cut badly between the top of his nose and left eye, Arce was dangerously close to suffering a TKO loss midway through the bout, which had been back and forth the entire way.

You didn’t need to speak Spanish to understand what Arce was demanding each and every time the ringside physician came to visit; all he wanted was the fight to last one more round, or until he was ready to end matters. That moment finally came in the tenth round, when Hussein finally gave in to an avalanche of punches from Arce that produced the bout’s lone knockdown. Before Hussein could beg anyone to allow the fight to last just a little bit longer, one of his cornermen darted into the ring to halt the contest. Some equated the act to turning off the TV just before the climax; others recognized that Hussein had given his all, but had no more left to give.

One could only speculate how much Arce had to offer at that point, but the point now becomes moot. What was offered in the end was yet another reason why the major networks should pay more attention to the lower weight classes. Arce, Hussein, Morales and Pacquiao all fought their hearts out, and eventually relied on heart to pull them through an evening where just giving their all would not be enough to prevail.

Junior bantamweight Martin Castillo gave it his all, and it proved to be enough to perhaps send former flyweight champion Eric Morel packing for good. Castillo walked down Morel all night, body punching his way to a dominant and aesthetically pleasing twelve round decision. The win kicked off what would become a “Mexican sweep” in the televised portion of the evening, with rising prospect Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. – do we really need to explain to you who his father is? – scoring a third round stoppage.

One night before “Mexican March Madness” was upon us, separate cards on both sides of the Atlantic helped introduce the past, present and future within a manner of hours.

When the Calzaghe-B. Magee fight was scrapped on the eve of the card, promotional outfit Sports Network, Ltd. searched for ways to somehow salvage the card. The solution came not in the fight itself, in which the Eamonn Magee-Alan Vester contest was upgraded from co-feature to main event. Instead, the story for the evening became the fact that not only was Magee able to fight again for the first time in fifteen months, but returns to the ring with a sizzling stoppage over Vester, a former world title challenger.

Barely surviving a violent roadside attack on February 29 of last year, Magee was figured to have been left for dead. In the attack, Magee suffered a broken leg so mutilated that you could see the muscle inside. His lung was punctured to the point where he had to stick his finger through a hole in his neck just so he could summon the strength and vocal ability to call 911. The miracle was that he lived; doctors had informed him at the time that it was going to be as good as it gets for the once-promising junior welterweight contender.

If boxing has taught us one thing, it is to never underestimate the heart of a fighter. Magee is a fighter in every facet of life, and defied the odds by rehabilitating himself to the point where he could lace them up again without making a spectacle of himself.

He did manage to make a spectacle of Allan Vester in front of a rabid, if somewhat sparse, crowd at King’s Hall in Belfast. Despite the overwhelming number of fans who demanded a refund the moment the Calzaghe-Brian Magee fight was scrapped, Eamonn managed to give those who decided to stick it out their money’s worth and then some. Dominating the bout from the outset, Magee finished off Vester with a pair of knockdowns in the third frame, forcing referee Mickey Vann to halt the contest with about fifteen seconds to go in the round.

It wasn’t enough for Magee that he was able to once again climb through the ropes; he is slated to run the Belfast Marathon on May 2, and is already calling out streaking contender Junior Witter. How far Magee is able to go in his comeback is irrelevant. The fact that he is back at all is all the proof you need that boxing is first and foremost in boasting the world’s greatest survivors.

Speaking of irrelevant, Kevin McBride headlined the stateside portion of the St. Patrick’s weekend celebration in stopping Kevin Montiy inside of five rounds on the main event of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights. The action between the bells was every bit as pitiful as the pro credentials attached to the career of McBride. Bad enough that he is once again rumored to be the opponent for Mike Tyson’ proposed June comeback. McBride had his chance at such honors last year, but managed to ridiculously price himself out. Considering what wound up taking place in Louisville last July, Team Tyson will undoubtedly be willing to empty the vault this time around.

A career that is shaping up to become extremely relevant would be that of undefeated middleweight John Duddy. One of the more promising fighters to come out of Ireland in a long time, Duddy has made it his intention from the beginning of his career to make a splash in the States. Now based out of the Northeast, all of Duddy’s fights have been staged in New York and Connecticut.

With last Friday being the day after St. Patrick’s Day, Duddy served plenty of cause for which to celebrate, steamrolling past previously undefeated contender Leonard Pierre in the ESPN2 co-feature attraction. Flooring Pierre mere seconds into the contest, Duddy remained as calm as an assassin in delivering every punch with pinpoint accuracy before finishing off Pierre midway through the opening round. That a 25-year-old prospect in his ninth pro fight could exude such poise under such circumstances speaks volumes of the potential Derry’s John Duddy possesses. From Ireland to New England, this one may pan out to be the gift that keeps on giving.

All in all, the weekend’s action helped us all forget the bogus politics and shenanigans which had taken place earlier in the week. With three noteworthy fights falling through before the weekend arrived, the naysayers were too quick once again spreading tales of the sport’s alleged demise. After viewing what took place in the ring, you’d have sworn that Mark Twain was brought back from the dead to help rewrite the script. Because a miraculous comeback, a prospect on the rise, and two unforgettable back to back wars in Vegas helped prove that reports of the sport’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

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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