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Articles of 2005

George Plimpton vs. Archie Moore

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The writer George Plimpton pitched a baseball to Willie Mays. He played goalie for a day with the Boston Bruins. He was in a pro-am golf tournament. He tried out for quarterback of the Detroit Lions. He played percussion with the New York Philharmonic. He performed as a trapeze artist in the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. Interesting though these experiences were, Plimpton’s first foray into the wild blue yonder of “participatory journalism” interests us most.

In 1959 George Plimpton – an intellectual heavyweight but pugilistic lightweight – challenged the Old Mongoose, Archie Moore, to three rounds of sparring. Moore was light heavyweight champ from 1952-1962 and a cunning ring presence. His record at the time of Plimpton’s challenge was 171-22-9 (123 KOs). Plimpton’s record was 0-0-0 (0 KOs), but he wanted material for a Sports Illustrated feature, which was later included in his book Shadow Box (1977), and that meant taking a risk.

“There are people who would perhaps call me a dilettante,” Plimpton said in an interview several years ago, “because it looks like I’m having too much fun. I have never been convinced there’s anything inherently wrong in having fun.”

There was precedent for famous writers getting hit by famous fighters. Sportswriter Paul Gallico got dropped by Dempsey in 1922 during an exhibition. Gallico wrote: “All I knew about boxing was to keep my left arm out. I knew the position. Dempsey came in, bobbing and weaving . . . There is one photograph in the News . . . I am bent over and Dempsey’s left hook is whistling over my head. I have no recollection of ducking that one. But I didn’t duck the next one. I found myself on the floor. Everything went sort of black. I held on to the floor with both hands, because the ring and the audience outside were making a complete clockwise revolution, came to a stop, and went back again counterclockwise.”

In the spirit of Paul Gallico, George Plimpton decided to spar with Archie Moore. Despite Plimpton’s pluck, the odds of his hurting Moore were next to nonexistent. One glance at Boy George said it all: “I am not properly constituted to fight,” he wrote. “I am built rather like a bird of the stiltlike, wader variety – the avocets, limpkins, and herons. Since boyhood my arms have remained sticklike: I can slide my watch up my arm almost to my elbow. I have a thin, somewhat fragile nose which bleeds easily.”

In addition to a nose which bleeds, Plimpton had eyes that tear.

“I suffer from a condition which the medical profession refers to as ‘sympathetic response,’ which means that when I am hit or cuffed around, I weep. It is,” according to Plimpton, “an involuntary response. The tears come and there is nothing I can do except dab at them with a fist.”

Skinny guys with noses that bleed and eyes that tear are a dime a dozen in the fight game. The late great boxing trainer Charlie Goldman once said, almost as if alluding to Plimpton, “You know them fighters with long necks and them long, pointy chins. They cost you more for smellin’ salts than they do for food.”

To prepare himself for his epic three rounds with the light heavyweight champ, Plimpton, at the recommendation of Ernest Hemingway, contacted the trainer George Brown to help get him in shape. “Hemingway spoke of his skills with awe,” Plimpton wrote, “saying that he could never remember having landed a good punch during a sparring session with Brown.”

Plimpton telephoned Brown, mentioned the fight with Moore, and the trainer wanted no part of what sounded like a dangerous stunt.

“Well, what am I going to do?” Plimpton asked. Plimpton told Brown that Martin Kane over at Sports Illustrated suggested he go to Stillman’s Gym on Eighth Avenue and try to find himself a trainer. Plimpton asked Brown if he thought that was a good idea.

Plimpton described the trainer’s reaction: “Brown was appalled. ‘Stay out of Stillman’s,’ advised Brown. ‘You’ll get some awful disease fooling around there. Stillman and his people don’t know what a mop looks like, much less how to push such a thing through the crud in that place . . . Listen, most of the trainers you’ll find as Stillman’s don’t have the brains God gave a goat. Maybe they’ll give you one lesson – how to lace on the gloves – but then they’ll get you up there in the ring for their bums to maul you around so you can “learn experience.” You’ll get ruined.’ Brown paused before continuing. ‘Listen, if you have to go to Stillman’s, go and work on the light bag, the heavy bag, but don’t get yourself pushed into the ring if anyone else is fooling around in there. Go into the ring when it’s empty – alone – shadowbox, get the feeling of the canvas, and get out if anyone starts climbing through the ropes. I don’t care if it’s Lou Stillman himself, or someone who looks like your grandmother . . . get out!’”

“They’d really tee off on me?” Plimpton asked nervously.

“In the ring with those guys you’re fair game,” Brown said. “Those guys’ll hit anything moving – the timekeeper, if he got in there; a handyman sent in to check the ring posts; anybody. And as for a writer, those guys’d smack a writer on the beak just to see what would happen.”

George Plimpton could take a hint and steered clear of Stillman’s Gym. But he had to prepare himself for the Old Mongoose, so he “fell back on the theory that I could teach myself what to do from books and a self-imposed training program.”

He visited the Racquet Club library on Park Avenue where there were a few books on boxing and arbitrarily pulled one from the shelves. It was The Art and Practice of English Boxing from 1807. Plimpton settled into one of the library’s large leather chairs in preparation for his fight with Archie Moore. He read:

“One of the chief studies of a pugilist of character is to know where he can most successfully plant his blows. The parts of the body in which a blow is struck with the greatest probability of terminating the battle, are on the eye, between the eyebrows, on the bridge of the nose, or the temporal artery, beneath the left ear, under the short ribs, and in the pit of the stomach . . . a blow under the ear forces the blood back which proceeds from the vessel to the heart . . . so that the vessels and sinews of the brain are overcharged, particularly the smaller ones, which being too delicate a texture to resist so great change of blood, burst . . . and an effusion of blood succeeding from the apertures of the head completes his business . . .”

The trainer George Brown thought learning to fight by reading a book was the most ridiculous thing he ever heard, so he agreed to teach Plimpton what he could in the little time allotted. 

“George Brown went to work,” Plimpton wrote. “The reading tapered off. He got me to stop smoking – from two or three packs to nothing, cold turkey, pointing out that it was not likely that I would ever find a better excuse for quitting (short of lung disease) than having to get into condition to fight the light-heavyweight champion. In the Racquet Club gymnasium he began showing me the boxing fundamentals themselves – how to throw the jab and duck slighting behind the right to protect oneself from the counterpunch. Though he taught me one or two combinations, and we worked on the heavy bag, he said we would ‘rely’ mostly on the jab. ‘No man, I don’t care who he is,’ Brown explained, ‘likes to have a glove flicking around his eyes. It’s like a fly up there. So we’re going to stick him – peck, peck, peck; just keep that glove in his face.’”

In addition to working out in the gym, Brown had Plimpton do roadwork: “He ordered me out into Central Park to run in the early morning. I hated getting up to do it. It was certainly one of the burdens of a fighter’s life. In my Racquet Club reading I had read that Willie Pep once caught Jake LaMotta spiking his premorning-run orange juice with a jigger of brandy to make the exercise more palatable. ‘Hell, Willie,’ LaMotta said, ‘I don’t run good, but I’m the happiest guy in the world.’”

Although difficult for a man his age and from his background, running through Central Park at dawn was one of the things Plimpton liked best about training, and he told Brown how beautiful the park was at that time of day.

Brown was not impressed and “made a face and said I was not tending to business. Always I had to remember why I was out there – and that I should try to work up a controlled rage against Archie Moore, seeing him always in my mind’s eye, shadowboxing as if his presence were just beyond reach . . . He told me that when Gene Tunney was training for Dempsey, he would take time off to play golf, but even on the course he would tag after his drive, shuffling and feinting and shadowboxing, and his caddy, hurrying after him, could hear him muttering between his teeth, ‘Dempsey . . . Dempsey . . . Dempsey.’”

Plimpton took Brown’s words to heart and began muttering “Moore . . . Moore . . . Moore” during his morning jog, “but the picture that hastened into my mind was not a reassuring one at all: a mental vision of Archie Moore glowering down over his gloves, and enormous, dwarfing the ring as if he had been pumped up with helium and steadied in his corner of the ring with guy ropes.”

George Brown enlisted a former Golden Glover named Peter Gimbel, who was also Plimpton’s friend, to introduce George to sparring. Brown insisted on concentrating on the jab: “peck! peck! peck! come on now! come on now! peck! peck! peck!” When the bell sounded to end the round, Plimpton “would stand ashen-faced and gulp in sweat-tainted draughts of gymnasium air.”

After one of their sparring sessions, the three men rode uptown in a taxi, and Brown and Gimbel engaged in the age-old game of What If? “The two of them would argue about boxers,” Plimpton wrote, “most often about the relative merits of Joe Louis versus Jack Dempsey. George Brown said that Dempsey could have licked anybody in the modern era easy as pie; he was just the greatest tiger there had been, ‘except for this tiger we got sitting here in this cab,’ and he would laugh and dig me in the ribs. ‘Why this tiger could take Dempsey and Louis in one afternoon and chew up Gene Tunney in the evening time,’ and I would look out the window at Third Avenue in the rain and think how much I enjoyed being called ‘Tiger.’”

George Plimpton finally made it to Stillman’s: “The fight, or exhibition, or what people later called ‘that time when you . . .’ took place in Stillman’s Gym, the famous and rickety boxer’s establishment on Eighth Avenue just down from Columbus Circle. A dark stairway led up into a gloomy vaultlike room, rather like the hold of an old galleon. One heard the sound before one’s eyes acclimatized: the slap-slap of the ropes being skipped, the thud of leather into the big heavy bags that squeaked from their chains as they swung, the rattle of the speed bags, the muffled sounds of gym shoes on the canvas (there were two rings), the snuffle of the fighters breathing out through their noses, and, every three minutes, the sharp clang of the ring bell. The atmosphere was a fetid jungle twilight.”

Stillman’s was called the University of Eighth Avenue, among other things less flattering, because it was, in addition to being the best place to study boxing in the world at the time, a complete and utter dump. When Gene Tunney trained at Stillman’s he could not believe the stench. “‘Let’s clear this place out with some fresh air,’ he said, and everybody looked at him as if he was nuts. Johnny Dundee, the featherweight champion at the time, made one of those classic boxing remarks: ‘Fresh air? Why, that stuff is likely to kill us!’”

The owner of the gym was Lou Stillman. Stillman’s real name was Lou Ingber. He changed his name to Stillman after he won the gym in a game of cards. Stillman was a capital-C Character and had what Budd Schulberg described as a “garbage-disposal voice.” He also had a way with words: “Big or small, champ or bum, I treated ‘em all the same way – bad.” Describing his derelict institution, Stillman said “The way these guys like it, the filthier it is, the better. Makes them feel more at home.”

Plimpton told Stillman that he and the Old Mongoose needed the gym for an hour. “I told him about Archie Moore and what we hoped to do,” wrote Plimpton. “Sports Illustrated would pay him a small sum for the inconvenience. He did not seem especially surprised. An eyebrow might have been raised. It turned out that he condoned almost anything that would break the dreary tedium.”

Probably because Archie was involved, Stillman “agreed to turn over his premises, though he told me what a businesslike establishment he was running there, and what a considerable inconvenience it was going to be to stop operations for the hour or so of the exhibition. Couldn’t Sports Illustrated come up with more scratch? I said that I would see what I could do. I told him, frankly, it was the least of my worries.”

Even while lunching with fancy friends at this club or that, Archie Moore was never far from Plimpton’s mind: “During lunch I kept wondering what Archie Moore was up to. I knew that he was in town, not far away. I thought of him coming closer all the time, physically moving toward our confrontation, perhaps a quarter of a mile away at the moment, in some restaurant, ordering a big steak with honey on it for energy, everyone in the place craning around to stare at him, and a lot of smiles because a month before he had won an extraordinary fight against Yvon Durelle, a strong pole-axer French Canadian, in which he pulled himself up off the canvas five times, eventually to win, so the applause would ripple up from among the tables as he left the restaurant.”

Literary flights of fancy are great on the page, but not so good in the squared circle. While Plimpton was soaring on the wings of his fertile imagination, Archie Moore was across town asking Peter Maas, another friend of Plimpton’s: What’s with this guy George Plimpton? Maas had a sense of humor and told Moore that Plimpton was an “intercollegiate boxing champion . . . He’s a gawky sort of guy, but don’t let that fool you, Arch! He’s got a left jab that sticks, he’s fast, and he’s got a pole-ax left hook that he can really throw. He’s a barnburner of a fighter, and the big thing about him is he wants to be the light-heavyweight champion of the world. Very ambitious. And confident. He doesn’t see why he should work his way through all the preliminaries in the tank towns: he reckons he’s ready now.”

Plimpton wrote that “Maas told me all of this later. He said he had not suspected himself of such satanic capacities.”

After hearing Maas’ description of Plimpton, Archie Moore said, “If that guy lays a hand on me I’m going to coldcock him.” Then Moore cracked his knuckles.

The day of the fight arrived. Plimpton and his trainer arrived at the gym and “Lou Stillman led us through the back area of his place into an arrangement of cubicles as helter-skelter as a Tangier slum.” Brown sat Plimpton down and started wrapping his hands. Plimpton worried aloud that maybe Moore wouldn’t show.

“Suddenly, Archie Moore himself appeared at the door of my cubicle. He was in his streetclothes. He was carrying a kit bag and a pair of boxing gloves; the long white laces hung down loose. There was a crowd of people behind him, peering in over his shoulders – Miles Davis, the trumpet player, one of them; and I thought I recognized Doc Kearns, Moore’s legendary manager, with his great ears soaring up the sides of his head and the slight tang of toilet water sweetening the air of the cubicle (he was known for the aroma of his colognes). But all this was a swift impression” wrote Plimpton, “because I was staring up at Moore from my stool. He looked down and said as follows: ‘Hmm.’

Archie Moore started to undress. He put on his foul-protector. He put on his boxing trunks and shoes. He began taping his hands. Then “he offered us a curious monologue, apparently about a series of victories back in his welterweight days: ‘I put that guy in the hospital, didn’t I? Yeah, banged him around the eyes so it was a question about whether he could ever see again.’ (Moore) looked at me again. 'You do your best, hear?’ I nodded vaguely. He went back to his litany. ‘Hey, Doc, you remember the guy who couldn’t remember his name after we finished with him . . . just plumb banged that guy’s name right out of his skull?’”

That was not what George Plimpton hoped to hear.

“I looked at George Brown beseechingly,” Plimpton wrote. “He shrugged. ‘Don’t let it bother you. Just remember what we’ve been doing all this time. Move, and peck at him.’”

The two men met at the center of the ring and Plimpton was resigned to his fate: “I had read somewhere that if one were doomed to suffer in the ring, it would be best to have Archie Moore as the bestower. His face was peaceful, with a kind of comforting mien to it – people doubtless fell into easy conversation with him on buses and planes – and to be put away by him in the ring would not be unlike being tucked in by Haitian mammy.”

The bell rang to start the action: “He came at me quite briskly,” Plimpton remembered, “and as I poked at him tentatively, his left reached out and thumped me alarmingly. As he moved around the ring he made a curious humming sound in his throat, a sort of peaceful aimless sound one might make pruning a flowerbed, except that from time to time the hum would rise quite abruptly, and bang! He would cuff me alongside the head. I would sense the leaden feeling of being hit, the almost acrid whiff of leather off his gloves, and I would blink through the sympathetic response and try to focus on his face, which looked slightly startled, as if he could scarcely believe he had done such a thing.”

Moore had no problem knocking men out. Making them cry was another matter.

Plimpton continued: “Halfway through the round Moore slipped – almost to one knee – not because of anything I had done, but his footing had betrayed him somehow. Laughter rose out of the seats, and almost as if in retribution he jabbed and followed with a long lazy left hook that fetched up against my nose and collapsed it slightly. It began to bleed.”

The writer George Plimpton was now crying and bleeding in front of Archie Moore and a gym full of giddy spectators.

“We went into a clinch; I was surprised when I was pushed away and saw the sheen of blood on Moore’s T-shirt. Moore looked slightly alarmed. The flow of tears was doubtless disarming. He moved forward and enfolded me in another clinch. He whispered in my ear, ‘Hey, breathe, man, breathe.’ The bell sounded and I turned from him and headed for my corner, feeling very much like sitting down.”

George Brown, Plimpton’s cornerman, offered the same old advice: “just jab him, keep him away, keep the glove in his snoot, peck, peck, you’re doing fine.”

Moore toyed with Plimpton in round two. “In the third round Brown began to feel that Moore had run through as much of a repertoire as he could devise, and that the fighter, wondering how he could finish thing off aesthetically, was getting testy about it.”

An early bell ended the “fight” and saved Plimpton from any more damage.

“That round seemed awfully short,” Plimpton said to Brown.

“I suppose you were getting set to finish him,” Brown replied.

George Plimpton and Archie Moore returned to their cubicles and a mob filled the cramped space.

“The character of the crowd had begun to change,” Plimpton wrote. “The word has gone around the area that Archie Moore was up in Stillman’s, and the fight bars down the avenue had emptied. A whole mess of people came up Stillman’s stairs, some of them in time to see the final round, other pushing against the striped-tie crowd leaving. ‘It’s over? What the hell was Arch doin’ fightin’ in Stillman’s?’

‘I dunno,’ one of the other pushing up the stairs said. ‘I hear he kilt some guy.’”

The exhibition was over. Stillman’s Gym cleared out. One of Plimpton’s supporters, a perfumed lady who arrived in a Rolls, came late and peered into the empty space.

“Where’s everybody?” she asked.

Lou Stillman answered, “Everybody is not here.”

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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