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Articles of 2005

The Contender Spotlights Tommy Gallagher

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For many of us, reality is show enough. Pop art genius Andy Warhol’s vapid dictum – “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes” – has finally come true. With the rise of the reality show, any Tom, Dick or Harry without inhibition can be a star.

Mark Burnett, the father of the reality show, DreamWorks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg, showbiz vet Jeff Wald, Sylvester Stallone (aka Rocky) and Sugar Ray Leonard, all under the watchful eye of NBC, have brought us the long awaited “The Contender,” the most expensive reality show ever produced, and the most real reality show produced, because its focus is boxing, and boxing is as real as it gets.

According to Burnett, “Nobody cares anymore about boxing, because nowadays boxers are felons or just unlikable characters. This show is our first step in changing that.” Burnett understands TV audiences better than TV audiences understand themselves, so when he talks it is wise to listen: “People today don't care about boxing like before because they don't have good role models to root for anymore.”

Role models used to be a dime a dozen. Now they’re as rare as boxing kangaroos.

“There's something very noble and heroic about the sport,” Katzenberg said. “We both remember back to the Muhammad Ali era, when I grew up. To be able to reclaim boxing, both for boxers and for fans, was the thing that inspired us to do this.”

Katzeberg wasn’t the only one inspired by this project. Stallone told the Pasadena Star-News: “Like we did in the 'Rocky' movies, what we're going to try to do in this is, it's very important to (show) the involvement of the families. What is their motivation? What is their support group? What makes them tick? What are their fears, their loves, their dedications? Is it just that they are money-oriented, or are they dealing with family responsibilities?”

Sugar Ray Leonard added: “The reason anyone, even men and women who are not boxing fans, will enjoy 'The Contender' is that it is a feel-good show. If you look at the movie 'Million Dollar Baby,' it didn't win an Oscar because it was about boxing. It won because of the story behind it. It didn't win because of Hilary Swank's boxing ability, but because of her character’s compelling story and the adversities that character had to overcome.”

The concept of “The Contender” is a classic. Take 16 top-twenty middleweight fighters. Have them fight in a series of box-offs. The last two men standing get to rumble for $1 million. The 16 boxers are divided into two teams, East and West. The teams live together in immaculate grade-A digs, the kind of place you hate to leave if you live in a barrio, ghetto or suburb.

It’s not easy for fighters to get fights. Boxers work hard for their money. “The Contender” gives these 16 men a chance to earn $800 a week, plus what they get for the fights, plus room and board for them and their families, plus lots of perks, not too mention a shot at those million smackers.

The first episode of “The Contender” introduced us to Stallone and Leonard, our masters of ceremonies; the 16 boxers; James Toney’s former manager Jackie Kallen; and the straight-out-of-central-casting, shoot-from-the-hip, take-no-prisoners boxing trainer Tommy Gallagher.

To decide which team’s fighters fight the other team’s fighters, arbitrary contests have been devised. This is the worst aspect of “The Contender.” For example, in the first show, the teams, wearing their team colors, carried telephone poles up a steep hill in a barren California landscape. Watching Tommy Gallagher with a megaphone on the back of a moving pickup imploring the boxers to “hurry up, hurry up, them’s guys is beating you” was no fun. (It was no more fun in the weeks that followed watching the fighters run around the Rose Bowl, play dodge ball, pull a truck along a dry river bed, engage in a spelling bee, or put tires in a dumpster.)

But we do get to see, courtesy of “The Contender,” the fighters training, bonding, interacting with each other, sharing private moments with their families and friends. We get to peek beyond the scrim into a world where machismo and self-doubt collide as if on cue.

“The Contender” is more a documentary than a reality show, more a reality show than a night at the fights.

After an hour of back story, lead-in, psychobabble, trash talk, high-fives, commercials and whatnot, the bouts were ready to begin. The camera panned the handpicked crowd. Chuck Norris was there. Melanie Griffith was there. So was Sonny Corleone. The bell rang to start the action – but the action was broken into snippets a few seconds long. While kettle drums pounded portentously on the soundtrack, Team Contender gave us highlights of highlights of highlights. Rapturous music filled the air and tugged at the strings of the heart. Each punch that landed sounded like an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) detonating in Iraq.

We saw thirty seconds of round number one, followed by a block of commercials.

Round two lasted twenty seconds, including cutaways to ringside reaction shots, followed by another slew of ads.

Round three came and went in thirty seconds. A wall of commercials came and stayed forever.

Rounds four and five lasted a minute.

The final bell sounded. The fight was over. It was time for more commercials.

When all was said and done, we saw three minutes of a five round fight and a million adverts in ninety minutes. The sublime symmetry of three-minute round/one-minute rest period/ followed by three-minute round was in some parallel universe. No judges were named. No scores were announced. The West’s Alfonso Gomez won. The East’s Peter Manfredo lost. And that was episode one.

The producers predicted that 25 million viewers would watch the premiere episode. 8.39 million tuned in for the first show. Of that 8+ million, half a million threw in the towel before it was over. “The Contender” had a disappointing 5.6 rating/8 share rating. The show’s 5.6 rating means that 5.6% of every household in the U.S. was watching. The 8 share represents the percentage of households actually watching TV while the show was aired. The competition of “The Contender,” Fox’s “American Idol” and CBS “CSI Miami,” garnered a 16.1 rating/23 share and 15.9 rating/24 share respectively.

The ratings have been all over the place in the last few weeks, spiking with last week’s episode four, which featured Najai Turpin, the fighter who lost on “The Contender” and committed suicide five months later.

I spoke with Tommy Gallagher, who landed the plum role of a lifetime playing himself on primetime TV, and asked about the show, the ratings, and my misgivings.

“The show is the best thing in the world to get a look at what our community is all about,” Gallagher told me. “It shows the fighters that they’re not just animals or thugs, like you read about in all the other papers. And the real glory here should go to the young kids that put the show together and shot the show and edited and did all those things, because it was so well done it made everyone look exactly as they are.”

I mentioned to Tommy that reality shows in general turn me off, but people whose opinions I respect think “The Contender” is the greatest.

“They should,” he said, “because it shows what fighters are all about. They go out and it’s up to them and they take responsibility for themselves.”

There were many complaints about how little action actually aired on NBC. Some folks felt robbed. Gallagher came to the show’s defense and said “It was a combination of everything. This is what the deal is. It’s about these guys who are men – that just happen to be fighters. And they’re showing the other side of them, the family side, the people they care about, and how important it is to be prepared. It just puts the fight game in a better light. That’s all. Not that everything is back door, back room, sleazy bullshit.”

Gallagher swears by “The Contender,” in part because it’s been good for him, in part because it’s been good for the fighters.

“I hope it gets picked up again so 16 more kids can get a shot,” Gallagher said. “They did anything and everything anybody could ask people to do to take care of these fighters. And they all came off as gentlemen. It’s the closest thing I can think of to a gladiator situation. Two-thousand years ago they put these gladiators in a surrounding and they trained together. And then they had to go out and kill each other. The only difference here is that they don’t have to go out and kill each other. They act like human beings.”

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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