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Articles of 2005

Barrera-Fana and HBO-PPV



After vowing I would not buy the fight, there I was last Saturday night plunking down $40 to watch the HBO pay-for-view version of The Titanic, with Marco Antonio Barrera starring as The Iceberg. I knew it was going to be a disaster; with zero optimism, I hoped I was wrong. I forgot with whom I was dealing.

“In January of 1975, the World Boxing Council ordered Rafael Lovera of Lambare, Paraguay to fight Luis Estaba of Venezuela for the vacated light flyweight championship. At the time, the president of the WBC was Ramon Valesquez, a playground director in Mexico City who liked to be called “doctor.” (A year before, a stunned American fight official claimed to have witnessed Valesquez collect $20,000 in cash from a Bangkok promoter; the “doctor” blithely passed it off as a combination of sanction fees and fines.)

“Although no one in South America had ever heard of a Rafael Lovera, his record was cited by the WBC as 20-1-1. The WBC champion had been Franco Udella, a mediocre Italian boxer. When Valesques ordered Udella to defend his title again the cabalistic Lovera, he had refused, pleading illness. Valesquez stripped him.

“That’s when the “doctor” ordered the Lovera-Estabra fight for the vacated crown. Lovera was knocked out in the second round. That came as no surprise. It was the Paraguayan cab driver’s first pro fight. He never fought a second.”

I wrote those words in March of 1981. I was angry then; I am angry now. Nothing has changed, except the name of the president of the WBC. Today that office is held by Jose Sulaiman Chagnon, who is a master of the alphabet bandits’ Big Rule, the universal but unwritten rubric that states that no world boxing organization is required to follow any of its published rules when they get in the way of making a dollar.

As for the real regulations, the ones they are supposed to be following, forget about it. The various three-lettered cartels long ago stopped passing those out, even to their own members. In the fall of 2003, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, Wales withdrew the British Boxing Board’s representative to the WBC (while still affiliated, the Brits are no longer connected to any of the main sanctioning bodies) on the grounds that there were too many difficulties in obtaining a copy of its rules, and because of Sulaiman’s insistence that the office of president carries with it the entitlement of autonomy.

In other words, Sulaiman feels that he can make things up as he goes along, something he does frequently, as in 1990 when, under pressure from a semi-hysterical King, he suspended James Douglas’ knockout of Mike Tyson in Tokyo until media outrage quickly forced him to back away from his untenable position. When King screams, Jose panics, and when King panics, Jose screams.

After watching Barrera dismantle Mzonke Fana in four minutes and 48 seconds, leaving the sorely equipped South African twitching on the deck from a right hand that almost decapitated him, I made a list of the folks who should be led away from the Don Haskins Center in chimerical cuffs and shackles. At the top, of course, was Sulaiman, El Presidente Para la Vida Más Un Día, with his pudgy puppet master’s hands on the strings of the WBC ratings committee, setting up an easy victim for his new best friend Barrera. Then in no particular order, came the HBO suits, who were aware enough of this fistic farce to withdraw their No. 1 telecast team of Larry, Moe and Curly; the Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, who apparently needed a toothless, chinless opponent for the star of his Mexican Night in El Paso, and got one; and finally and equally as culpable, the incompetent clowns that run the boxing department for the Texas Department of Labor.

They took a human being, a father of two who had never fought anybody in the top 40, who was conned into thinking that he had a chance to win a world title, and put him in harm’s way, and except for Laurence Cole, a referee who had the good sense to stop what was becoming a stark and senseless beating, Mzonke Fana might have gone home to South Africa in a box. What price greed?

(Those who claim Fana should have been given a chance to get up should check the HBO rerun. After the stunning knockdown, the only things moving on Fana were his quivering hands held just above his thighs. Unlike the Romans in the Coliseum, we do not turn thumbs down on today’s gladiators. They might also take a look at Fana’s face during the minute’s rest after the first round; Private Eddie Slovik, executed for desertion to avoid hazardous duty in 1945, had the same look while U.S. Army MPs were tying him to a post in a woods near Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, France.)

The whole El Paso scam was aimed at protecting a lucrative fourth fight between Barrera and Eric Morales, which Sulaiman will happily sanction; HBO Pay-Per-View will happily telecast; the Golden Boy (Barrera’s promoter) will happily promote; and the idiots from the Texas Dept. of Labor will happily watch on TV, which is about as close to a boxing match as they should be allowed anyway.

As insurance, although with Barerra one wonders why, they needed a soft touch as a mandatory and Sulaiman provided Fana, last year’s South African fighter of the year with a 22-2 record that proved as phony as a three-Rand bill. The last time Fana fought, before Barrera, he was dropped twice by Randy Suico, who was ranked 41st among the world’s super featherweights. Still, Fana, who comes armed with a jab and nothing else, survived to win a split-decision. He took 11 months to get over that beating before he fought again.

Suico was undefeated before losing to Fana, but his record had more potholes than a street in the Bronx. Three of the four guys he beat just before his loss to Fana had records of 0-1, 0-2 and 0-3. The fourth was Kazunori Fujita, who had won 16 of 19; Fujita’s victories came against guys who arrived in the ring on sushi plates.

Before Suico, Fana stopped Cristian Paz, an Argentine import whose 14-4 record was built on losing to the guys that could fight, and beating the ones that couldn’t. Paz was rated 112 in the world.  Before Paz, there was Elvis Makama (10-1), a six-round fighter ranked 173rd in the world; Yuri Voronin (14-2-1), who fought 12 guys with no record, and is ranked No. 191; and Lazlo Bognar, who was 4-4 in his eight previous fights to Fana, and the four guys he defeated were 0-5, 2-2, 3-12-3 and 0-0. For some ungodly reason, Bognar is rated all the way up to (or down to) 69th. The guy that picked Fana’s opponents must have a day job in a cemetery.

Apparently, Sulaiman and the others also neglected to look at tapes of Fana, or they might have discovered that the son of a Khaleyetsha Township cop has never heard of lateral movement; his defense is as impregnable as was the Maginot Line; and if how to throw a jab was covered in the opening chapter of the boxing textbook that he studied, he obviously neglected to read any of the chapters that followed. Two jabs, or three, a combination do not make.

Other than a Shirley Cloete-designed jaw, I spotted no additional faults, but then there was not that much time. This is the opponent they found to put in with someone quite properly named the Baby Faced Assassin; a cruel puncher who had knocked out 41 of the 64 men he had faced; a four-time world champion who was shy just one title fight (21) of matching the 31-year-old Fana’s total victories. As Joe Leibling once wrote about Rocky Marciano: “He has the look of a Great Dane that has just heard the word bone.”

I remember an April night in 1981 when I sat drinking with Jose in the lounge in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in New York City. We were both staying at the hotel, me because I was covering the late Teddy Brenner’s multi-million dollar suit against the WBC, Jose because he was the defendant.

Jose was drinking white wine; I was drinking Dewars neat. Several times during the evening, while Jose was defending himself against Brenner’s charges of continued WBC abuse, he repeated a phrase I have heard him use dozens of times over the years that I have known him: “No one has ever bought me so much as a cup of coffee.”

I recall he said that for the last time just before I paid the check for our drinks.

In fairness to Jose, he won that case against Brenner. I remember telling the former Madison Square Garden matchmaker later that if his lawyer had been any dumber they would have to water her twice a day. No matter. It was Jose and the WBC that got United States District Court Judge Charles Metzner’s judicial nod, and from the way the trial in Manhattan went, rightly so.

The worst part was Jose’s victory oration – a pontification of innocence that ended with his own beautification and seemed to last longer than the trial, which took 16 days. To paraphrase the queen in Hamlet, he doth protest too much, methinks.

And there was the June day in 1981, a day or so before Ray Leonard knocked out Ayub Kalule in Houston, when Jose and I met on the sidewalk outside of the Astrodome. Two months earlier, I had written a story on the machinations of the WBC, which you can read in a minute. After protesting his innocence in all matters illegal, Sulaiman told me that if I thought any boxer was in the ratings that did not belong, he would remove him. And if there were any fighter that I thought belonged in the ratings, he would add him.

I remembered that Kenny Jones, a wee Welshman who still writes for the Independent of London, had told me about a friend of his who was in Saudi Arabia coaching one of the royal princes, a 135-pounder, in the fine art of self-defense.

“Jesus, Jose,” I said, “I can tell you right now that there is an undefeated lightweight fighting out of Saudi Arabia that you guys have totally ignored.”

“What’s his name?” said Jose. “Where should we rank him, number three?”

I told Sulaiman that I would have to get his name, and that three was a little high. “Perhaps eight or nine,” I said.

Returning to the hotel, I called Jones in his room. I told him of my conversation with Sulaiman. “Get the name of the prince,” I said. “Hell, let’s get him ranked.”

Laughing, Jones said he would call his friend the next day. At breakfast the next morning, Jones arrived in the hotel coffee shop with a dour look. “Whatever you do,” he said, “do not get the prince ranked. My friend said you would get him killed. The prince has never had a fight, not even as an amateur, because my friend is afraid he will get hurt. He’s horrible. If we get him ranked, the Saudi’s will want him to fight, he’ll get murdered, and my friend said his head will wind up in a basket.”

I told Jose the guy had retired.

                                                                * * *

The WBC has, without a doubt, the most prestigious ratings in the boxing world. Over 20 people from 16 countries around the world form the Ratings Committee in order to have world representation. WBC title fights have proven to be at a high standard of quality and competition and this proves that the ratings of the WBC are Number One. (World Boxing Council website, April 2005)

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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