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Articles of 2005

Barrera-Fana: Can Even A “Blind” Man Size This One Up?



And so we come to one of those situations where we can really enjoy the challenge. It's called, for lack of a better term, “handicapping on the blind,” as now we have trotted before us a challenger for Marco Antonio Barrera's newly won WBC 130-pound title – Mzonke Fana – who may be “The Rose of Cape Town” but represents a seed that has never been planted here in the United States.

So what do we do when we've never seen one of the contestants?

Well, we can still punt.

One might suggest that horse races are handicapped every day by people who are looking at nothing but the Racing Form, perhaps we can engage in the same thing here by viewing boxing's equivalent of past performances: the fight-by-fight records.

To an extent that's true, I guess, but we still won't get a full picture; not enough details; and no accounting for the intangibles.

You know, matchmakers, who are in their own way also handicapping, insert opponents sight unseen for their “house” fighters all the time. They utilize whatever is at their disposal – records, physical stats, a network of contacts, word-of-mouth – in making their evaluations.

We try to do the same thing, as much as we possibly can.

At least we know one of the entities. Barrera is one of the better fighters around today; there is very little question about that. He's got a great work ethic, is tough as nails, durable, and has demonstrated that he can win by blowing out his opponent or by taking a more scientific approach. His list of vanquished foes includes Prince Naseem Hamed, Johnny Tapia, Paulie Ayala, Kennedy McKinney, Erik Morales (twice), and many others. There are few mysteries about Barrera; most of the questions have been sufficiently answered.

Of course, no one should take for granted that because somebody is the “known quantity,” it makes for an automatic win; many a 'capper has been victimized by the unknown who has made the big step and displayed what didn't seem to be there before.

So it would not be unreasonable to say that this fight is less about how good Barrera is and more about what Fana is capable of doing.

It is abundantly clear from looking at Fana's record that he has never faced anyone remotely comparable to Barrera before. The clear advantage in terms of experience and accomplishment, and the apparent edge in sheer ability, will probably be too much for the South African to overcome. Indeed, he is given little chance by the betting world – at Olympic Sports and Diamond Sports International, Barrera is -1800 to win, with +1200 (12/1) coming back on Fana; Pinnacle Sports has it -1700/+1300 for Barrera (For conversation purposes, these figures can be interpolated to express Barrera as a 15/1 favorite). The numbers are wider at William Hill (-2500/+900) and Bet365 (-3333/+1000), as it doesn't appear they wanted to post this fight as a serious offering.

That Barrera is a sizable favorite is no big surprise. The question in this fight does not really involve whether Fana is going to win, but whether he will in fact be overwhelmed. And that's where propositions come into play.

The over/under for this fight has been established at 8.5 rounds. In each of four online sportsbooks we surveyed, the over is favored. At Olympic Sports, the over is -130, with a takeback of +110 on the under; Pinnacle Sports has the over favored at -121/+101, although their numbers have a tendency to fluctuate. Diamond Sports International lists the over at -125/+105, and World Sports Exchange has you laying a number both ways, with the over at -120 and the under at -110.

Can Fana hang in there long enough to go some rounds?

Well, his fight-by-fight listing does tell me some encouraging things.

For example, while his roster of opponents may not have any brand names on it, Fana clearly has not followed the same blueprint as other less-than-deserving mandatory title challengers, who have feasted on losers all the way up the ladder. In fact, he's been going up against winning fighters virtually from the beginning. From his sixth pro fight forward, his foes have had a cumulative record of 224-28-17. While those guys might not have been quite as good as their record indicated, it still tells me Fana hasn't been overly protected, and is not one of those guys whose career has been fraudulently built against out-and-out stiffs.

He's no stranger to the weight division, having fought the last eight years at 130 pounds. This is in contrast to Barrera, who made his junior lightweight (or super featherweight, if you prefer) debut in his last fight, the decision win over Morales. He has received pretty good sparring from main eventers Lehlo Ledwaba and Silence Mabuza.

Fana has been the full twelve-round distance a total of ten times. That indicates he's a hard guy to get out of there, and that he's most likely encountered a lot of different situations in his career. Also, since what we know about Fana is that he likes to exhibit movement, he probably doesn't run into major stamina problems.

One of those 12-round efforts, the last fight on Fana's slate, told us something too; something that could support both sides of the argument. In a title eliminator against a puncher named Randy Suico, Fana suffered knockdowns in the second and third rounds, and gutted it out in the face of a vicious onslaught in the final stanza. In between, he outboxed Suico, who himself had not encountered topnotch opposition. He showed a lot of guts, but would Fana be able to escape against Barrera?

Those past performances, as we see them on paper, are probably not enough to rely on. To gather some useful input to answer our questions, we may have to get closer to home – Fana's home, that is.

It is not unusual for a fighter's countrymen to be overly excited enough about his title challenge to overstate his chances. It may in fact be what is happening with regard to Ricky Hatton and his junior welterweight championship tilt against Kostya Tszyu. But in South Africa, the case appears to be precisely the opposite.

Fana's promoter has expressed his anger at the South African media, which is terming this a “mission impossible,” for suggesting that the challenger will get badly hurt in this fight. David Isaacson of the Sunday Times has written that if Fana comes away with a win, it would be “among the biggest shocks in boxing history.” At his Hall of Fame induction last year, Stanley Christodoulou, the longtime South African referee and judge, specifically named a couple of South African boxers he thought could win world titles, and Fana was not one of them.

Deon Potgieter, South African correspondent for The Sweet Science, wrote about Fana, “I think he'll be lucky to see the fifth round. It could even end in the first two if Barrera lands.” That's potentially bad news, since it's a good bet Barrera will land. Grant Germanus, a South African-based manager, said, “The key for Fana is to get on his bicycle and not stop moving for twelve rounds, because if Barrera catches up to him, it will be good night.”

I would echo Germanus, in that Fana is going to have to do his best to keep Barrera at bay with the jab, and stay out of the Mexican's range, just to get to the ninth round. From what I understand, however, he does have fast hands and an educated jab – good enough to befuddle any opponent who is too lazy to step under it and counter him. “The jab of Mzonke is unique,” says South African junior bantamweight star Hawk Makepula. “That's how he is going to frustrate Barrera. Take my word for it.”

But one thing Fana has had to constantly work on in the gym is to use the jab as a precursor to rapidly moving out of harm's way. Too often he has had the tendency to throw a jab, and then just stand there. And that will be deadly against a champion who possesses the total package.

You might expect that for someone who has just come off a big fight a little more than four months ago and is undoubtedly eyeing big matches to come, complacency will be a problem. But if early quotes were any indication, Barrera was on his guard, well aware of his opponent's abilities. “He is too good to simply be outboxed,” he told a reporter. “I plan to attack to wear him down.”

If Barrera were to decide to go into “boxer” mode, it would most likely serve to prolong the fight. If he decides to be more of the aggressor, it means cutting off the ring, throwing meaningful punches to the body, and testing Fana's chin, which nearly failed against the inexperienced Suico. The South African has plenty of heart, but in only his second fight away from home and in front of a fiercely pro-Barrera crowd, he'll be caught standing too much, and with just eight knockouts in 24 career fights he doesn't punch hard enough to keep Marco away from him.

Sure, Fana can run, but he won't be able to hide from the artful Barrera, who will catch him sooner rather than later. If I can get a takeback price on the fight going less than eight and a half rounds (like the +110 at Olympic), I'd be inclined to grab it.

(All information is for news matter only, and is not intended to promote the violation of any local, state or federal laws.)

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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