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Articles of 2005

Wladimir Klitschko, Emanuel Steward Ready for Boxing After Dark

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Wladimir Klitschko, trainer Emanuel Steward, and Klitschko Brothers’ personal manager Bernd Boente spoke to the media Tuesday in anticipation of Wladimir's return to action after six-and-a-half-months away. Klitschko takes on undefeated Eliseo Castillo on Saturday, April 23, in Dortmund, Germany. The match will be shown on HBO Boxing After Dark at 9:45 PM ET/PT.

Question:Bernd, what is the latest on WBC Heavyweight Champion Vitali Klitschko?

Boente:The latest update is that Vitali will undergo surgery in exactly three hours (2 p.m. PT, Tuesday) in Los Angeles. It is really a minor surgery. He had problems in the back. There was a little spur at the spine that was pushing on a nerve and it was really hurting him. He tried to work it out the conventional way, trying to get injections for one week or so.That did not help and so the doctor said to have the surgery. He will have to have rehab for about six weeks or so and then he will be ready to go again. He will definitely be able to fight in September.

Question:Wladimir, what are your thoughts about Vitali’s back surgery and will this be the first time neither of you will have not been in each other’s corner for a fight?

Klitschko:Of course, it is something unusual for me that Vitali will not be in my corner for my fight because he was always there supporting me for my fights. Physically he will not be with me, but mentally he is always with me.

Question:How are you doing in regard to the upcoming fight?

Klitschko:I am doing pretty well. I am prepared for the fight and we did a good job together with Emanuel Steward. I am very positive for the future. I know there are a lot of people with a lot of doubts, but I do not even talk about it. I am looking forward to the fight with Castillo because he is one of the best technical heavyweight boxers right now. He is maybe not so famous, but he has good skills. He is undefeated and I think the fight will be pretty interesting for our audience.

Question:Emanuel, what are your thoughts?  How has Wladimir been doing in training?

Steward:Wladimir is doing very well and he has been spending a lot of time sparring. He has been sparring probably more than he has for any other fight. He will come into the fight very well prepared physically and mentally. We are very excited about the fight. We realize that it is very important and crucial to his career because we have not had a successful, very impressive victory for maybe two years, based on a lot of different incidents, but nevertheless, Wladimir realizes this and it is a very crucial fight in his life. He knows this and a lot of people are going to be making their final judgment on his career based on this fight.

Question: Wladimir, has Vitali ever missed one of your fights in the past?

Klitschko:No.

Question: From your point of view, does that have any impact whatsoever on the way you fight or how you approach things or is it just something you have to get through and not a big deal?

Klitschko:I will get through it. Vitali is mentally always with me even though he is not physically there. But I think mentally it is much more important than physically anyway.

Question:Will you speak to him before the fight to just try to hear his thoughts about things or will you just do your usual routine?

Klitschko: I will do the usual routine.

Question:Have you ever missed one of Vitali’s fights?

Klitschko:No.

Question:Manny, is somebody else going to take the place in the corner or are you going to be on your own with the rest of your crew with just one vacant spot?

Steward:Well, we have two guys who have been working with Wladimir and Vitali throughout the years – personal trainers and conditioners. So they will be with me and it will be OK. In fact, when Vitali works in the corner, I notice he supports his brother, but he does not do a lot of talking. The fights that he has worked with me, I do not think I have ever heard him say anything.  He just stands there, supports and listens to the instructions and sits down.

Question:So for you, it is not really a big deal, just one less guy in the corner who happened to be 6-foot-7?

Steward:Yeah. We are talking to him on a regular basis and he is very much aware of everything that is going on. But when you get to be successful on the level that these brothers have attained, sooner or later, it is inevitable that someone is going to have a fight maybe that conflicts or an injury or some situation. They are two extremely successful men right now. So I think a lot has been played on this which is something that you should kind of expect at this stage of their lives right now.

Question: Did you guys train in Majorca off of the coast of Spain?

Steward:Yeah, we went there because of the weather situation at the time and Wladimir likes to train someplace in the time zone and climate. He does not like to come in the last week and train like some guys do. He had been spending a lot of time with his brother in California, but it is a nine-hour difference between California and Germany. So, to get acclimated time-wise with his body, he wanted to train there. We would have been in Germany, but the weather was so bad that we decided to go to Majorca, which is like the part of Germany. So it was the same time zone, but just a little warmer weather, and only a couple of hours away by airline.  We have been here now for about three or four days. The final week will be fine. His body is acclimated time-wise right now very well.

Question:Wladimir, what heavyweight would you like to fight to show you are still a contender?

Klitschko:I would like to fight Eliseo Castillo and right now my focus is on that fight. I do not want to talk about anybody else right now because I think it is so important to focus on this fight. After this fight, we can talk.

Question:With your brother not there were there any thoughts of postponing the fight?

Klitschko:Actually, I wanted to postpone this fight because we were working on different fighters and we were waiting on answers from the surgeon and everybody else. Then, I decided that I did not want to wait for anybody. I just wanted to keep fighting and wanted to get busy. That is why I decided to fight on the 23rd of April. I have really enjoyed working with Emanuel and we have learned a lot of new things and new stuff. I am really got itchy to get into the ring and try out everything that we have worked on for a few weeks.

Question: Castillo is probably the most unknown of all the heavyweights. Aside from his fight with Michael Moorer fight, have you seen anything else on him?

Klitschko:Yes, of course, I saw a couple of fights, especially his last fight against Moorer. Moorer lost every single round. Castillo may not be well known, but he has very good Cuban boxing skills and moves a lot. He is one of the best technical boxers of the heavyweights.

Question:What do you think of the people who are underrating Castillo and saying that he is not very good?

Klitschko:I think it is wrong for people to think he is not good. He is very fast and has good balance. Moorer brought out a lot of positive points for him. Castillo is very competent. He came over here and we had a press conference Monday. He seems very confident and he is here to win.

Question:Emanuel, you have been with Wladimir for a few fights now.  How have you gone about getting him to settle down so that he does not run out of gas so early in the fight?  What kind things have you done to work on that? 

Steward:First of all, he did run out of gas against DaVarryl Williamson. In fact, he was patiently waiting on Williamson to quit running. If you remember the fight exactly, Williamson was running, running, running, so Wladimir got impatient, threw a right hand from too far away, lost his balance and got hit. If you noticed when he went down, he was trying to grab his balance. And at the end of that round, the bell saved Williamson. People keep forgetting because Williamson for the first time came in and started to fight. Wladimir was never tired. In the next round, they bumped heads. But to get back to your question, we have been doing a lot of sparring. In Europe, they do a lot of the training and conditioning but Wladimir has done an extensive amount of sparring spread over 100-some rounds. He went 10 rounds on quite a few occasions. It is very fast paced and he is very relaxed mentally and physically.

Question:Is that more of a thing where he knows now in the gym that if he goes 10-12 rounds in the gym, he can do that with no problem?

Steward:Yes, I think that is very important. We have had a problem of slowing him down. It is interesting. We talk about Wladimir, here is a guy who had 50 professional fights – which I was shocked when I looked at his record – and was basically, aside from the Corrie Sanders fight, a guy never known for stamina problems. He was always a patient fighter who normally wore guys out and knocked them out in the late rounds, but because of one fight, primarily.

Question:What about the Ross Purritty fight?

Steward:Well, that was inexperience and that fight was a long time ago. He was an inexperienced kid and he appeared so easy that he was just jumping around; doing what he wanted to do and just threw so many punches he got tired. But since then he has come on and won his fights very easy. He beat Chris Bird very easily, knocked him down a few times. The one thing that I watched when I am doing my HBO broadcast and I admired was his stamina and patience, the way he just took his time, jabbed and wore guys out and knocked them out in the late rounds.

Question:Is this fight scheduled for [10] or [12] rounds?

Steward:This one is 10 rounds. It is really strange. For most of his career, he has trained for 12-round fights. We wish it was 12 rounds.

Klitschko: We can only talk so much about stamina. This fight will show how my stamina is. 

Question:Wladimir, why do you think Byrd did not fight you?

Klitschko:I want to fight him. But I intend to keep myself busy.

Question:But do you think that even though you have not had the best last 18 months that Chris owes you a rematch?

Klitschko:He is a champion and is in the driver’s seat, but he has to decide when he is going to fight. I think that it would be a good fight for him. I have to fight Eliseo Castillo right now and then we can talk about Chris Byrd.

Question:Emanuel, how soon will Wladimir be ready to get in there with a world champion?

Steward:He is ready right now. Originally, we started off with the fight being with Chris Byrd and I would rather be fighting Chris Byrd than Castillo, not just for fact that it would have been for the championship, but I think that Byrd is a much easier fighter. I do not think that Wladimir would have any problem with any of the top heavyweights. Castillo has been training for quite awhile, so he would have been on the card anyway. But he is a much better fighter than Byrd or all of those guys up there.

Question:What does Castillo do well that concerns you for this fight?

Steward:  The fact that Castillo is always in perfect balance. He moves very well. Like all good Cuban boxers, if you make mistakes, and you get off balance, they counter punch very rapidly and move in and out. That is very good for a small guy, but even if he may not be as big as Wladimir, his style of fighting will neutralize Wladimir’s height if Wladimir is not on balance at all times. He must be very sharp and accurate because any mistake you make, Castillo will take advantage of it very quickly.

Question: Wladimir, do you feel that the Castillo fight should be an HBO main event considering you have been knocked out the last two times on their airwaves?

Klitschko:My responsibility and my job is to get in the ring and fight Castillo. Everything else is going to be said by broadcasters.

Question:Emanuel, do you see any difference in Wladimir now than when he was preparing for the Brewster fight?

Steward:First of all, the Brewster fight – which seems like, it is amazing, his whole career is based off of that fight more than anything else – but nevertheless, no one remembers anything but that one fight. But if you look at it, there were physical problems that I will not even dwell on. But I think he trained very well for the Brewster fight and you must remember that up until the time that he fell apart, so to say, he was fighting one of the most beautiful, technical fights of any heavyweight in modern times. But we have had over a year now to work together and it makes a big difference. Oftentimes, when I work with a guy for the first fight, there are different changes, it is a little difficult. When I first worked with Evander Holyfield, it was not just for the rematch with Riddick Bowe, I worked with him for a fight with Alex Stewart and it was not that impressive. But by the time he fought Bowe, he had learned my methods and was a lot more comfortable. We have had much time to work now together and I feel that a lot of things that we were working on that he was a little awkward executing in the beginning, he is doing very well right now and I expect a real good performance out of him Saturday night.

Question:Emanuel, how is Castillo a more dangerous opponent than Byrd?

Steward:First of all, Chris gets hit a lot more. I think that would be to our advantage with Wladimir being as big he is. He does not have much footwork. Chris just basically moves his upper body, paws with his gloves and becomes a looser target. But that would not work with a man as big as Wladimir.  But Castillo, on the other hand, uses footwork. He moves around the ring, hands always in good position where he can execute, but he puts a lot more movement overall and that makes a difference. Do not forget, he is at least as big as Byrd, bigger than Chris, in fact. He is probably about 220. I think his feet, balance and movement – where Chris is in front of you and getting hit a lot more, we have noticed that in all of the fights. I think in the last fight he even got knocked down by Jamel McCline who was very easily controlled by Wladimir. So, therefore, that is my reasoning.  Wladimir has got to be very fast on his feet in this fight and it is going to be very difficult to make an adjustment. But he is prepared and I think you will see a better and a new Wladimir Klitschko in this fight.

Question:Emanuel, do you think a win over Castillo should catapult Wladimir back to the top of the heavyweight rankings?

Steward:If you look at the heavyweight division, there is nobody up there really dominating and standing out. It is just like a tossup division. And Wladimir Klitschko’s name is still a big marquee name and he gets tremendous ratings. Even his fights with Brewster, they got some of the biggest ratings on television. I think a fighter like Wladimir, who is an Olympic gold medal winner and has had a great career so far, and is a former champion should fight for the world championship next.

Question:Who do you think is going to be victorious between John Ruiz and James Toney?

Steward:I think it is going to be an ugly, ugly, ugly fight and I think that James Toney will win.

Question:  Wladimir, regarding your focus after having had to deal with so many opponents you were looking at for this fight, how do you keep your edge?

Klitschko:I think that right now I have spent almost more than half of my life in boxing and I have had a great career. Next year, it will be 10 years since I turned pro. All the time, at the beginning of my career, I remember getting the name of the fighter a week before the fight. Now, I have more than four weeks to prepare myself for Eliseo Castillo. I think it is more than enough and I have no problems with that.

Question:Manny, how hard is it to prepare a fighter when the opponent keeps changing and how do you keep your fighter focused to keep his mental and physical edge?

Steward:It was very difficult because when I left America to go to Majorca, I was told that we were fighting one fighter. Then we went through Chris Byrd and all the other guys. So we brought in big sparring partners and from the time that I left to the time that I landed, I was told that the opponent had been changed and it looks like it would be Castillo. So I had to go from having extremely big guys to getting fast and speedy guys. So we had to change up and call back some of our old sparring partners. But it did not bother Wladimir very  much. I guess, as he said, it happened in all of those great amateur fights. He had over 100-plus amateur fights.  He was used to fighting and making adjustments overnight with different opponents. We have had at least 30 days or four weeks of focusing on one opponent and that is all that is necessary. 

End Press Questions.  Begin closing comments.

Klitschko:Thank you for taking part in this conference call and thank you for taking an interest in Vitali’s health right now. Everything is good and he is healthy and everything will be good. Also, thank you for paying so much attention to my next fight.

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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