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Articles of 2005

John Ruiz (and Norman Stone) vs. James Toney

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I was looking at the long list of heavyweight champions and their title fights, going back to the likes of Paddy Ryan, John L. Sullivan, James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons in the late 1800s right up until today. In most of them, the names and the bouts jump off the page at you.

There were the aforementioned names. There was Jack Johnson. There was Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney. Joe Louis. Rocky Marciano. Cassius Clay. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier. Larry Holmes vs. Ken Norton. Mike Tyson. Evander Holyfield.

Now comes the latest heavyweight title bout: John Ruiz vs. James Toney. This one has so much interest that thousands of fans will show up at Madison Square Garden disguised as empty seats. There is a real possibility that John Ruiz, holder of the WBA title belt, will win this fight. And that’s too bad. He is about as exciting as watching moss grow on a shady rock.

There’s also a real possibility that James Toney will win this fight. That too, fight fans, is a shame. While his personality and charisma is certainly more exciting than the drab Ruiz, that personality and charisma will definitely not transcend boxing and make fight fans out of non-fight fans. Middle-class America is not looking for a trash-talking fighter they can bring into their homes on a regular basis.

And speaking of foul-mouthed, Toney looks like a professor of literature when compared to Ruiz’s guttural, low-rent trainer/cornerman, Norman “Stoney” Stone. I didn’t think anybody could actually do it, but Stoney actually out-foul-mouths two of boxing history’s most polluted mouths, the late Al Braverman and the even-later Jimmy DiPiano.

Braverman is best-known for being the manager/trainer of heavyweight Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner, whose gallant effort against Muhammad Ali in 1975 for the heavyweight title was the basis for the first “Rocky” movie.

Up until his death in 1997, Braverman was also promoter Don King’s right-hand man for years. Braverman was with Wepner in 1976, when Wepner took on wrestler Andre the Giant at Shea Stadium. In the night’s “Main Event,” on the other side of the world, Muhammad Ali faced Japanese wrestling star Antonio Inoki.

Following the Wepner-Andre the Giant match, which ended when Andre lifted the 6’5”, 230-pounder over his head and threw him over the ropes onto the Shea Stadium infield, Braverman and Wepner faced the media.

“He’s an out-and-out ox,” said Wepner.

“No he’s not!” bellowed his manager. “He’s a triple-f-in’ ox!”

Rare was the Braverman sentence that didn’t have a curse word.

Nobody was ever worse than DiPiano, however. DiPiano was the father of former light heavyweight champion Mike Rossman (who used his mother’s maiden name). His mouth was so vile that Gangsta’ Rappers would probably blush in his presence. DiPiano was such a gutter-mouth that he thought he was being polite when he addressed someone with a curse word included (“Hey, Gordon, nice to f-in’ see you. How the f- are you?”). He was the only man I ever knew who could out-curse Braverman. One time, we were in the Sands’ Hotel Casino in Atlantic City. DiPiano was hungry (his belly was the only thing larger than his vile mouth). Instead of saying, “Let’s go to the cafeteria,” which is something you or I would have said, he said (nope, he did not say “Let’s go to the f-in’ cafeteria”) . . . are you ready for this one? . . . “Let’s go to the cafef-interia.” He actually broke up a word so he could install a curse inside of it! The day DiPiano passed away, I had been on the phone with Braverman.  I informed him of DiPiano’s passing.

“Good f-in’ riddance!” was Braverman’s reply.  Did you expect anything else?

After leaving the presence of either one of them, I always felt I needed to take a shower.

Norman Stone must be a disciple of one of the two of them. Maybe he is a graduate from the Al Braverman/Jimmy DiPiano Diction School. He is loud, crude, obnoxious, vulgar and a sore-loser—qualities Braverman and DiPiano envied.

When Roy Jones Jr. put on a clinic and boxed the title away from Ruiz, all you heard was whining, complaining and cussing from Stoney.

Last November, he wound up being tossed at Madison Square Garden by referee Randy Neumann for assaulting the senses with a constant barrage of obscenities.

An interview with Stoney (would anybody really want to interview him???) would look something like this:

Interviewer: If John Ruiz gets past James Toney, would you like to see him face Roy Jones again?

Stoney: First of all, what the @#$% do you mean “If” John Ruiz gets past James Toney? We’re gonna’ beat the *&^^%$ to death!  As far as Roy Jones is concerned, he’s a @#$%^& little *^%!@. I could take him myself and @#$% him up. One @#$%^&-handed.

Of course, the above interview never took place. Had it been a real interview, there would have been a lot more @#$%’s and *&^^%$’s.

                                               * * *

When the MSG bell rings for round one, my heart will be pulling for Toney. My head tells me it’ll be Ruiz who wins.

Ruiz’s boring personality and just-as-boring boxing style is not the reason I am pulling for Toney to win. Boring is boring and dull is dull. Boxing has been through boring and dull before. It’s Stoney we want to see disappear. It’s time for him to work corners in club fights and sit at Fenway Park and curse out the umpires. He’s had more than his share of airtime and fame. HBO’s cameras and microphones don’t need to be focused on his filth after Saturday night. We can only hope, can’t we?

But is Toney up for the dethroning of Ruiz? With “Lights Out,” you never know what you’re going to get.

Will it be the James Toney who thoroughly wiped the floor with Evander Holyfield and who pulverized Michael Nunn in 1991 or will it be the James Toney who was trashed by Roy Jones in 1994 and outpointed by Drake Thadzi in 1997?

I have a special place for the Thadzi-Toney fight. I promoted it when I was the Director of Boxing for the Foxwoods Resort/Casino.

The fight was supposed to have been for the WBU light heavyweight crown. Toney swore to me he’d make the light heavyweight limit of 175 pounds. When he arrived at the hotel three days before the fight, he looked at least 10 pounds over that weight.

“Don’t worry about me,” he told me. “My weight is fine.”

The next morning, I watched him train in a rubber suit for over an hour. Most of his time was spent on a Stair Master. He also shadow-boxed and jumped rope. When he was finished, he returned to the locker room and peeled off the rubber suit. Water poured out. He stepped on the scale. It said 175 pounds.

“I told you not to worry,” he said. “I’ll dry out tonight and weigh even less tomorrow.” Then he added, “I can fight at light heavyweight, I can fight at cruiserweight and I can even go up to heavyweight and be successful. Don’t doubt me. I’m telling you, I can be the heavyweight champion of the world!”

That night, at around 11:00, I was sitting at the bar on the exclusive 8th Floor—where most of the casino’s “high-rollers” stayed—talking with a few sportswriters who were up to cover the bout. They were devouring plate after plate of jumbo shrimp and other goodies from the food bar directly behind us. As I looked in the mirror inside the bar area, Toney’s image behind me caught my eye. He had a suspicious look on his face, as if he was doing something wrong. I watched him. He was. He was breaking training.

Only that morning, he trained incredibly hard in a rubber suit, killing himself to make weight, anxiously waiting to fight Thadzi. Now, there he was, fighting his junk food craving—and losing. I watched him take handfuls of chocolate and stuff them into his right pocket. Then he took another handful and stuffed them into his left pocket. I turned to face him.

“James, what in the world are you doing?” I asked him.

He was truly the kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. In this case, it was on the dessert tray.

“I, uh, I’m bringing these things to a few friends who are in my suite.”

I glared at him.

“Tell them they can come out here and take all they want,” I told him.

“Uh, that’s, uh, okay,” he stammered. “I think they’re, uh, tired.

I glared at him some more.

“Hey, it’s your fight to win, James,” I told him. “It’s also your fight to lose.”

“It don’t matter,” he said, waving his right hand. “I’m gonn’ kick ???’s butt no matter what.

Toney then disappeared into his suite and most likely had himself a chocolate party. A one-man chocolate party. The next night, he failed to make weight. Then he ran out of gas late in the fight and was outpointed by Drake. It remains the last time he lost.

                                                          * * *

Expect an ugly fight. Ruiz’ jab-and-grab style will lend itself to becoming that. However, Ruiz will do what he has to do to hang onto his title. He shows that outing after outing.

James Toney is an exceptional fighter. Defensively, few men at his weight and size are as adept at picking-off and slipping punches as he is. While he doesn’t punch like a heavyweight, his punches are short, fast and crisp. Enough of them will take a fighter apart, the way they dismantled Evander Holyfield. However, I still view him as, if not a blown-up middleweight, then a blown-up light heavyweight with a pocket full of chocolates.

Somehow, someway, I feel Toney will accomplish what he told me at Foxwoods he was going to do. He will decision John Ruiz and win the heavyweight championship of the world.

If that happens, look for Toney to move toward making one more dream come true. No, that dream is not a fight against Chris Byrd or Vitali Klitschko. It’s a fight against his arch-enemy, a man who occupies Toney’s every thought whether he wants to admit it or not. That man has already beaten John Ruiz. That man is Roy Jones, Jr.

Only in boxing!

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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