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Articles of 2005

If Words Could Talk



I have long been a collector of cleverly constructed strings of consonants and vowels that form a brilliant paragraph or a singular sentence, lines sculpted by other newspaper or magazine fight writers, some of them in eras past, about boxers who were either ancient or deceased by the time I witnessed my first fistfight for money. With just a handful of carefully placed words, they converted legends into flesh and blood, and flesh and blood into legends. More than a half century ago, John Francis Kieran, a former City College of New York and Fordham University shortstop, who once penned gems for the New York Times, wrote: “Schmeling will go down in heavyweight history as the man who won the championship lying down and lost it standing up.” Lines like that should not be relegated to dusty bins in newspaper morgues.

When I landed my first newspaper job, at The Miami Herald shortly after the Korean War, my heroes, at least the ones that coaxed poetry from the keys of something called a typewriter, were Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon and Jim Murray, three fellows who knew their way around a saloon and the English language. Early on, I just studied their work, and that was fine. The problem came when I decided it was time to graduate from just reading them to trying to write like them. I figured nobody would notice.

One day, Eddie Pope, then The Herald assistant sports editor, beckoned me over to his desk. “Who,” he said, his voice dripping with Georgia honey, “are you today?”

“Huh?” I said, brightly.

“Are you Red Smith today?” Pope said, with a little less of that Georgia honey coming through. “Or perhaps you are Jimmy Cannon? No, I’ll bet today you are Jim Murray. Is that it; are you Jim Murray?”

I never liked multiple-choice tests; the odds are 2-to 1 against you if you guess. While I was trying to figure out a safe answer, Pope suddenly reverted to the southern charm of a drill instructor at Parris Island. “For the next year, you will knock off this literary musical chairs crap,” he snapped. “You will write everything straight, right out of journalism school 101. No more trying to be clever. No more one-liners. No more trying to imitate other writers. You got that?”

“Edwin,” I said.

“What?” he growled.

“I never went to journalism school.”

Fortunately, when it came to disciplining me, Pope had a very short span of attention. I slipped out of the penalty box about three weeks later. But I had got the message. Red Smith was Red Smith. Jimmy Cannon was Jimmy Cannon. Jim Murray was Jim Murray. And I was stuck with being me.

I was remembering that one-sided exchange on June 12, 1981 when Red Smith, a smattering of other writers and I were leaving the Pontchartrain Hotel in Detroit to walk to the Joe Louis Arena, where Larry Holmes would soon dispatch Leon Spinks in eight minutes and 34 seconds. It was a 1,000-meter walk, or about as far as a Korean War Marine sniper could reach out with a Springfield 1903A4 rifle and be reasonably sure of a kill.

Red was 75 years old at the time. Without thinking, I reached out with my right hand and snagged his Olivetti typewriter. My own was carried with my left hand.

“You don’t have to do that,” Red protested mildly.

“Yes, I do, Red,” I said. “First, it gives me balance. But more importantly, someday somebody is going to say to me, ‘You couldn’t carry Red Smith’s typewriter’ and I am going to say, ‘Screw you, I already did.’”

He laughed, gently.

“Then Rocky hit Joe a left hook and knocked him down. Then he hit him another hook and knocked him out. A right to the neck knocked him out of the ring and out of the fight business. The last wasn’t necessary, but it was neat. It wrapped the package, neat and tidy. And old man’s dream ended. A young man’s vision of the future opened wide. Young men have visions; old men have dreams. But the place for old men to dream is beside the fire.”

Red Smith wrote those lines after Marciano knocked out Louis in 1951. I don’t know how many times I have read them, a dozen, two-dozen, more. I read from the collection mostly after midnight, alone on a Saturday night in a hotel somewhere in the world, facing a long night of writing about a fight I had just witnessed while facing a Sports Illustrated-imposed Sunday deadline of 8 a.m. New York City time: 8:01 a.m. Sunday morning, EST or EDT. If the story was not in New York, you could bet the house that some angry editor would be telephoning my hotel room with threats to kill my children.

(“Please, God, let the hotel catch on fire….”)

“As a kid, Ray (Robinson) danced for pennies and played craps for dollars in the streets of Harlem. He wasn’t a high school drop out because he never made it that that far. He led the neighborhood in hocked watches he won in “amateur” fights all over New York and New England. But he never made a police lineup or a hot list. He never drank. He came full of the wine of life. He was raised by his mother and two adoring sisters, and it was a reverend who first jerked him off his knees in the ghetto where he crouched over an altar of dice and marched him to the gym and told him to make life his dancing bag.”

Jim Murray wrote those words for the Los Angeles Times, where he was the lead sports columnist from 1961 until his death in 1998. As it was with Smith, Murray was one of my go-to guys when my brain needed a jolt of literary genius, even if it was someone else’s. Their words read in the dead of night were the batteries I used to jump-start the cold engine in my head. Another was Jimmy Cannon, a nasty ex-drunk with the feathery touch of a talented if jaded poet.

Cannon wrote this about the first Rocky Marciano-Jersey Joe Walcott fight:

“The terrible concentration of Marciano was obvious now. Continuous failure discourages the coldest of men. The trainer demanded he throw the right, and then throw it again and come back with it as soon as he could. The blood would flow faster from the gashes every time he missed because Walcott would duck the punch and then hit back with combinations. And he would glide around the ring, like an acrobat advising an audience he had just finished a difficult trick. In the 13th round, Walcott went to the ropes and eased off them. The right that filled his mind with darkness was like all the others. But this one crashed against his jaw, and Walcott resembled a bird flying into a wall. Slowly, he crumpled, sinking down into the well of his personal night.”


There were others, columnists, essayists, beat writers, and most of them “instead of going home, spent their time in bars soaking up boxing lore,” as Cannon once commented. Here are a few of that lot:

“The first of the several million dollars Dempsey made fighting were sparse and hard-won. As a hungry kid, he’d mosey into a rough Western bar and make an odd deal with the bartender. Was some big bully lousing up business at the bar? Nine times out of 10 some big bully was indeed. Well, Harry (later Jack) would say he would take care of the big bully provided the bartender passed the hat around among the regular customers after the fistfight. He once explained a certain complication:
‘“The tough guy always was looking for a fight when he came in the bar. Sometimes I started the conversation, sometimes he did. Sometimes the bartender would give me a big buildup. But one thing was always the same: I looked and sounded like something the tough guy could have eaten for breakfast. Sure, by today’s standards I probably looked real tough—-broken nose, maybe a sweater instead of a shirt, boots, half-shaven head, a few scars. But, of course, everybody looked tough in a Western saloon. What made those guys willing and ready to fight me was, first, my weight, and, second, the fact I was obviously still a kid. But the real clincher came when they heard me talk.
“‘I sounded like a girl.
“‘I didn’t hit like a girl, though…’”
Bob Considine

“Another marriage occurs to me, that of another champion, wise-shouldered, sparrow-legged former heavyweight champion Bob Fitzsimmons. It was his second. Bob had been married to a famed circus performer, and had her portrait painted in tights and spangles and the painting hung in a place of honor in the living room. It was till hanging there…the portrait of her predecessor…when the new bride came home with Ruby Robert. The lady never did get over that scrape on her sensitive feelings and thelr marriage didn’t last long.”Jack Kofoed

“The greatest fight of the century was a monologue delivered to twenty thousand spectators by a smiling Negro who was never in doubt and who was never serious for more than a moment at a time. As a fighter Jack Johnson did not show himself as a wonder. He did not have to.”Jack London

“At the time, boxing was illegal in Ohio, but Tex Rickard prevailed upon Anthony Drexel Biddle, a Philadelphia socialite with an affinity for the bizarre, to gain the support of the Ohio Ministerial Assn., whose membership write hundreds of letters to Gov. James M. Cox (later a defeated Presidential candidate) in support of the bout. Heaven obviously was asked to wait. Anyway, Rickard caused a contractor named Jim McLaughlin to build a 90,000-seat wooden arena on the shore of Maumee Bay. Tickets were scaled from $60 for a ringside seat to $2 for the privilege of sitting on lumber so green, resin exuding from its pores stained thousands of pairs of trousers. Local dry cleaners named McLaughlin their man of the year. July 3, 1919, the eve of the fight, was a furnace. Heat reaching 100 degrees scorched Ohio and when Battling Nelson, an oft-punched former lightweight champion, went to the arena to scout the scene, he came upon a huge vat filled with ice-cold lemonade. Stripping down to his underwear, he plunged into the vat. In the process of coming clean, he increased the content. Refreshed and relieved, he pulled on his clothes and left the arena. The next day the temperature soared to 112 degrees at ringside. Only 19,650 customers turned up. Rickard, like Battling Nelson, took a bath, having guaranteed Willard $100,000. Many of the fans drank the lemonade in which Battling Nelson had bathed himself. Nobody died.”Barney Nagler

“It never was Harry Wills but another Negro fighter that Jack Dempsey feared, he says in his new book, “Dempsey, By The Man Himself,” as told to Bob Considine and Bill Slocum. ‘Sports writers…even say I was the greatest fighter of my century,’ the old Manassa Mauler says. ‘They said I feared no man. The hell I feared no man! I was afraid of Sam Langford, who was a smaller heavyweight than I was. I knew he would take me out.’”Francis Stann

“Years later, after he had become a permanent part of the legend of the Twenties, there were limousines, country estates, a society life, lectures at Yale, seats on the boards of a dozen corporations. He was photographed with presidents and kings. Letters arrived from George Bernard Shaw and Somerset Maugham, and a son was elected to the United States Senate. But in the beginning, for Gene Tunney, it was a cold-water flat on Perry Street, and he never forgot it.”Pete Hamill

“The first time Ezzard Charles boxed J. J. Walcott, Charles won on points and his manager, Jake Mintz, fainted in the ring. When the fighters met against Friday night, it was Ezzard who swooned and Mr. Mintz remained upright. This is my idea of the perfect partnership—-always one man on his feet to count the house.”Ring Lardner

“Joe Frazier was in the oak-paneled living room of the big house on Brewton Plantation when the blow fell. A mockingbird was singing from a Tupelo gum outside the open window, and the faintest of breezes stirred the Spanish moss festooning the live oaks. Summertime, and the living was easy when the radio brought word that the heavyweight champion of all creation was no longer champion in Oklahoma. ‘Oklahoma?’ Joe Frazier said. ‘Where’s that at? I don’t recall no fights there.’”Red Smith

I always finished with Red.

More later.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More



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

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




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



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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