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Articles of 2005

Boxing vs. UFC



Never before had I watched it. Not in person. Not on television. I frankly didn't have a smidgeon of concern if I ever saw an Ultimate Fighting Championship event.

But there I was in Las Vegas two weeks ago, having returned to my old stamping grounds to cover suspended heavyweight Joe Mesi's hearing with the Nevada State Athletic Commission's medical advisory board. I arrived a few days early to visit some old friends and to make sure all my old haunts still served their beer cold.

A big UFC pay-per-view show was taking place in the MGM Grand Garden, and NSAC executive director Marc Ratner, having learned of my UFC virginity, suggested I drop by to give the sport a chance. Seeing as how my liver was begging me for a night off, I decided to drop by the Grand Garden to catch some of the action and perhaps gain enough material to write a first-person account of UFC from a hardboiled boxing fan's perspective.

The event I attended was UFC 52.

No. 53 couldn't come soon enough, and I've been hunting for copies of the first 51.

I know there are tons more folks out there like me who've been reluctant to give mixed martial arts an honest look. Time to let down your guard and stop being such a curmudgeon.

The exhilaration of UFC matched that of a Las Vegas megabout, blow for blow. A high-voltage crowd of 14,562 filled the Grand Garden Arena – those are old Mike Tyson numbers – to see a highly anticipated rematch between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture for the light heavyweight championship.

“That energy is pretty amazing,” said Couture, who was weaned on Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. “There's no way to be involved and not feel it.”

Sometimes UFC isn't the best sport to watch live because you can miss the finer points once the fighters end up in a heap, but the action can make boxing look stale by comparison. Had you watched a steady diet of UFC before catching Saturday night's bout between James Toney and John Ruiz, you might turn off boxing forever.

I'm not that guy. Boxing will always be tops in my book. But now I understand UFC's allure.

Boxing, in a strict athletic sense, is pure. The fighters punch each other from the waist up on the ventral side. Anything else is a foul.

UFC is far coarser and more complicated. Fighters use a variety of disciplines such as jiu-jitsu, aikido, sambo and wrestling. For the untrained eye it can be difficult to enjoy the finer points. Sometimes the guy on the bottom is winning. But you don't have to be able to recognize a neck crank, a guillotine or a rear naked choke to feel the drama.

“There's been a resistance to learning or trying to understand it,” said UFC spokesman Jack Taylor. “Traditionalists don't want to believe it or accept it as a sport.”

To me, UFC represented a bit of professional wrestling. It all seemed a little too out there. Two guys wearing Speedos and going at it in an eight-sided cage felt a little too theatrical.

“If you watch it you realize very quickly there's nothing scripted about it, nothing choreographed or staged,” Couture said. “It's very real, very gritty.”

That was clear to me shortly after I located my seat and became enthralled by the undercard bouts.

Matt Lindland, the Greco Roman wrestling silver medalist from the 2000 Olympics, summed up his middleweight victory over jujitsu practitioner Travis Lutter: “He was tying me up and made it hard to hit him. So I decided to choke him instead.”


It sure felt like Lindland's hand was around my trachea during the next match, but it merely was my heart in my throat.

In the opening seconds, welterweight champ Matt Hughes was moments away from losing to Frank Trigg. The referee didn't see Trigg had kneed Hughes in the nether region. As Hughes grabbed his manhood and spit out his mouthpiece to complain, Trigg pounced and began to waylay.

Hughes somehow gathered himself and in wonderfully dramatic fashion bear hugged Trigg around the waist, lifted him off the mat, marched him across the ring like a dummy, slammed him down and administered a rear naked choke.

Trigg tapped out.

I was agog.

Suffice to say, boxers have a rather dismal track record in mixed martial arts competitions. In UFC, a boxer heading into the octagon would be like dropping a goldfish into a meat grinder. 

Since “standing and striking,” as UFCers call it, is only one element of the sport, boxers struggle.

“From their perspective it looks easy,” Couture said. “They think about their skill set and say 'I'll just knock this guy out before he puts me on the ground.' A lot of times, when you face somebody who's going to shoot and take you down, you don't realize how difficult that is to stop somebody from doing it.”

UFC continues to grow and will get even bigger as it gains more widespread acceptance across the country. It's sanctioned in Florida, Louisiana, Nevada and New Jersey and at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. It's close to being sanctioned in California.

And for frustrated boxing fans there's plenty to like about UFC's business model. There are only five weight classes, and the whole operation is under one roof. That means the best will fight each other. There are no promoter shenanigans, no ratings politics, no inflated records. Even the greatest fighters have multiple losses. Couture has seven. Liddell has three. Hughes has four.

“Nobody fights bums or dogs in the UFC,” Taylor said.

Amen to that.

                                                          * * *

BURNING QUESTIONS: Am I the only one who thinks Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. looks like a frightened 5-year-old who has just been dropped off for his first day of kindergarten?

Whatever happened to Magic Johnson's career as boxing's promotional savior?

Why can't the WBC learn how to spell Lamon Brewster's name correctly?

Sulaiman & Co. have been calling him “Lamont” for years.

TONEY NO PHONEY: The fight wasn't wildly entertaining, but Toney proved he belongs among the heavyweight elite with his decisive triumph over the WBA champ. Ruiz, as much as his style makes me vomit, has always been underrated. Toney toyed with Ruiz all night. The little man wore down the big man and sent him into retirement. Toney would have trouble with Vitali Klitschko's range, but it's not hard to imagine him beating anyone else in the division.

CHIP OFF THE OL' COBB: I guess Larry Holmes hit Randall “Tex” Cobb so hard his kids came out dizzy. That's how unsteady on his feet Josh Cobb looked Friday night in his second pro bout. The 19-year-old heavyweight was huffing and puffing in his ugly TKO-3 loss to Javier Diaz on ESPN2's show from the Union Plaza in Las Vegas. I wonder how many witnesses vowed never again to watch boxing.

HAIL, CAESARS: I don't know of a more beautiful sports setting than outdoor boxing at Caesars Palace. To see the Sweet Science applied under the gloaming, with the famous hotel and its neon sign in the background, is as comforting as a phone call from mom.

QUOTEMARKS: “I always treated everybody with respect, but they didn't treat me the same way. It hurts me to walk away like this. I grew up in boxing. It's sad for me to put it this way, but boxing was the sport I loved. Now it's the sport I hate.” – Ruiz to The Boston Globe after losing to Toney.

“I doubt he has the balls to fight Samuel. If he did, it would give me great pleasure to watch Sam beat the hell out of him.” – Samuel Peter's promoter, Dino Duva, on Toney.

“I am looking to see if he really does have the power to knock me down, to knock me out. We have to go up in the ring and find out. I think I am strong enough to take his punch and we will find out who really is the strongest guy up there.” – Jose Luis Castillo on fighting Diego Corrales on Saturday night.

FAREWELL, JACK: Some newspapers listed his age at 80. The Associated Press said he was 76. Nobody could locate any survivors. Everybody who came into contact with Jack Welsh considered him a friend, but few really knew him. Welsh passed away last week. He died in his sleep shortly after attending ESPN's pay-per-view show at Caesars Palace.

I was one of those boxing writers who thought he knew Jack. He was ubiquitous when it came to boxing, writing for such publications as The Ring, Boxing Monthly, Flash Update and Gaming Today, as well as Showtime's website. He was at ringside, the news conferences, the weigh-ins, the media junkets to places like Big Bear, California. He always had a smile on his face and a story for any occasion. I enjoyed being around him.

But Jack also lived a lonely existence. He was a recovering alcoholic who lived alone and didn't always have enough money to handle his bills. But Jack always had his benefactors – whether they wrote his stories for him back in the day while he was on a bender, or they helped pay the rent in recent years – and there will be a special place reserved for them in the afterlife for their kindness.

I remember the night I met Jack. It was 1994 and I was a cub reporter for the Lorain Morning Journal dispatched to Las Vegas to cover hometown boy Carl “Stuff” Griffith against Oscar De La Hoya. Here I was, in the belly of the beast for the first time, my first trip to Vegas, covering my first major boxing event. Jack must've seen the intimidation on my face because he made it a point to come over and say hello and welcome me to the city that eventually would become my home for five years.

After Roy Jones obliterated Toney in the main event, Jack introduced me to a group of boxing writers who allowed me to tag along for drinks at the Four Kegs on Tropicana Avenue. I sat there with Mike Katz, Ed Schuyler, Royce Feour, Tim Dahlberg, Robert Seltzer, Joe Maxse, Jim Hunter and others I can't recall through the haze. As Jack Welsh had done earlier, they enraptured me with tales of the Sweet Science. The beer and booze came in waves.

I have been a boxing fan, and frequently sloshed, ever since.

Welcome to the business, kid.

And thank you, Jack, for ushering me there.

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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