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Articles of 2005

Boxing’s Lifeblood – The Big Fights

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Professional boxing is a maze of sanctioning bodies, promoters, and government overseers in an international, year-round sport. While frequently (though figuratively) spat upon by critics who extol the supposed virtues of the more mainstream team sports, boxing endures for one primary reason: the big fight.

In years past, the big fight included title fights and key bouts between top contenders vying for the chance at the one true champ in each weight class. Today there exist no less than nine “world” sanctioning bodies (take a deep breath before trying to recite this list): WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO, WBU, IBA, IBC, IBO and NBA. That does not include the vaunted Ring Magazine belt. I’m sure that by the time you finish this article there will be a new organization that springs into existence.

The WBA has also added something called “super” champion for titleholders who hold belts of two or more organizations. This allows the sanctioning body to sanction (and collect fees) for other fighters to contest for the lesser title of “champion,” as well as sanction (and collect fees) when their super champion defends. Confusing? You bet.

Okay, that diminishes one aspect of the “big” fight. But what about top contenders fighting elimination bouts for titles? Consider for an instant that next month the WBO will sanction a title eliminator between Lance “Mount” Whitaker (formerly known as Goofi – like the Disney character but spelled differently) and someone named Luan Krasniqi. You know Krasniqi don’t you? Of course you do. His last fight was a European Union title defense against Timo Hoffmann that ended in a draw.

How confident do you feel now that title eliminators are showcasing the top fighters? Whitaker belongs somewhere in the top 15 heavyweights, but not in a title eliminator. And Krasniqi? You tell me.

So how do we get to the big fights? Like it or not, money is, more often than not, the driver for such matches.

Other factors, such as small-time promoters protecting turf or fighters who are not confident in their abilities, are the usual impediment.

The high-end promoters such as Don King, Bob Arum, Main Events and Golden Boy, among others, are guided by markets and will eventually get the big fights in front of us often enough to keep the sport alive.

Although much of the boxing public loves to hate the big-time promoters, they are not the true enemy. No, the spoiler is the promoter with a narrow view of the world who continually puts his fighters in against nominal opposition in front of hometown crowds.

He does so in the hope that he can regularly fill arenas, perhaps have a local TV contract (usually outside the U.S.), while keeping his champions – from whatever sanctioning body – with their crowns intact. In some cases such promoters have been proven correct often enough to continue the practice.

The focus for the rest of us should be to keep up the pressure on promoters and fighters to face the best in the sport as often as possible.

Here’s a list of what writers, fans, promoters, fighters, managers and even sanctioning bodies can do to help their sport — and ultimately themselves:

1. Boxing writers vote with their coverage. Call the big fights big and the farces farces. Pound away at the various champions who avoid top competition until they meet the best in their respective weight classes and constantly note whom they avoid. Are you listening Joe Calzaghe?

2. Fans vote with their dollars and Euros at the live gate, on pay-per-view, and with their cable subscriptions. Most promoters are listed on the internet, as are all of the sanctioning bodies. Write to them about whom you want to see. Refuse to shell out $59.95 on pay-per-view to see the local tavern tough guys duking it out for the (take-your-pick) sanctioning body title de jour. Incidentally, thank you Main Events for a reasonably priced and entertaining ESPN PPV.

3. Promoters and fighters, including their managers, should push the major U.S. networks for fight dates and featured events, with the focus being on creating stars. Although it is true big promoters gain the most when the popularity of the sport crests, it is also true that local promoters realize a spillover effect. Likewise, skilled journeymen fighters can realize paydays far in excess of their proportionate abilities as “name” fighters climb the latter.

One needs only to remember the rise of Ray Leonard as he fought regularly on ABC’s Wide World of Sports during his march to, and including, his title-winning effort against Wilfred Benitez on November 30, 1979. He didn’t go the closed-circuit route (the precursor to today’s pay-per-view) until his defense against Roberto Duran June 20, 1980.

Another example is that of Riddick Bowe when he began his career. His manager Rock Newman wisely signed a multi-fight deal that put Bowe on CBS Sports for perhaps less money than he could have made elsewhere. The net result was Bowe’s popularity skyrocketed and he quickly became a fighter with a marquee name.

Of course, in each of the examples above, Leonard and Bowe had Olympic bona fides and both had undeniable talent.

The fact is: stars must be built. That’s what drives the big fight.

4. Sanctioning bodies that fail to recognize the champions of the other sanctioning bodies should continue to be chided forever. It is ridiculous, for example, that Vitali Klitschko, the current WBC heavyweight champion, is unranked by the WBA, IBF and WBO. Such a situation renders all rankings meaningless.

While some of the lesser-known sanctioning groups do rank champions of the others – most of the boxing world has been boiled down to the WBC, IBF, WBA, and to a lesser extent the WBO.

If one of the major sanctioning bodies today changed their policy and ranked the other champions, they could break away from the pack quickly.

For example, if the WBA ranked Vitali Klitschko its number one contender, he could be offered a shot at current champion John Ruiz as a mandatory challenger. If he refused, the next ranking contender, perhaps IBF champion Chris Byrd, could be offered the bout as a mandatory.

This would require the WBA champion to face one of the true best heavyweights, assuming they were willing, and would force promoters to negotiate non-binding fight contracts, because mandatory contenders cannot be compelled to sign long-term contracts.

Obviously there is some benefit in upholding the status quo, but the competition would improve the stature of the sanctioning bodies instantly and perhaps one or more of them would fall off the map.

However it happens, big fights need to continue to be the goal of every person participating in the sport. Club fights serve as the incubator for top fights, much in the way minor league baseball serves the major leagues. The future of boxing depends on the best of those fighters emerging from that very difficult process to engage in the big fights that serve as a draw for the sport.

If they remain hidden from view in small markets and off TV, their fame – and thus the claim that their fights are “big” – will not grow. Likewise, even the “big” names must get their faces on broadcast TV, perhaps fighting non-title bouts, to nurture their audiences for the next big fight.

It is a shame that Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, two high-octane fighters, could walk down any street in America and go largely unnoticed.

Now, on to the big fights many would like to see (and should push hard for).

Vitali Klitschko vs. Chris Byrd – This rematch is long overdue. Klitschko has developed considerably since their first meeting, a fight in which he quit on the stool. Byrd, a smallish heavyweight, has made the most of his talent despite being hard-pressed to defend his title. This unification fight needs to happen to either close a bitter chapter for Klitschko or gain some big-time recognition for Byrd. Oh, and don’t count on much excitement in this match. Just pray there isn’t a draw. Chances of this bout happening in the next year: 10% (Damned unlikely. Byrd is trying hard to not fight anyone named Klitschko. He might actually fare better than he thinks against Vitali).

Glen Johnson vs. Joe Calzaghe  – Forget titles for a moment. Johnson was unceremoniously stripped of his title for facing, and beating, arguably the best lightheavyweight in the world, Antonio Tarver. Crazy, huh? Calzaghe has been withering on the vine despite holding the WBO super-middleweight title. He’s 38-0 and much of the boxing world – and certainly the sports public at large – barely know him. And no one knows if he can really fight (though I suspect he can). This is a huge bout for Britain, but it is also an old-fashioned big fight for the rest of us. If Calzaghe can swallow hard and ditch his WBO belt, he has a chance at becoming a superstar. Johnson would have a chance to add luster to an already respectable record. Chances of this bout happening in the next year: 20% (Call me an optimist. Every time I hear Calzaghe or someone from his camp calling out one of the stars of the sport, for a brief moment I believe that’s what they really want. Unfortunately, it just never seems to happen).

Bernard Hopkins vs. Jeff Lacy – Hopkins’ place in history is already secure. He’s a great fighter in the tradition of Sugar Ray Robinson and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Lacy, on the other hand, is a relative green-horn. What makes him special, however, is a clear desire to face the big names, and tremendous power. He also fights as if he has something to prove – perhaps due to his relatively lackluster performance in the Olympics. It’s the classic young lion taking on the grizzled king of the jungle. Chances of this bout happening in the next year: 50% (Hopkins avoids no real contender – never has. Time is working against this one, however. He may not get it in before he packs it in for good).

Bernard Hopkins vs. Winky Wright – Winky is already a proven commodity and he is putting it all on the line against Felix Trinidad. I won’t be at all surprised to see him emerge the victor in their upcoming contest. Brilliantly skilled, left-handed, and fearless, he possesses many of the qualities that must be in place to take on Hopkins. Still, it is a fight too close to call. Chances of this bout happening in the next year: 50% (same reason as with Lacy above).

Zab Judah vs. Kostya Tszyu – Could there possibly be a more anticipated rematch? Two solidly skilled champions. Tszyu, who returned from a long lay-off to overwhelm Sharma Mitchell – a fight many thought he would lose – has gained an aura of greatness. He has a tough match upcoming against Ricky Hatton, but he’s a big favorite to retain his title. Judah devastated Cory Spinks. So much talent. Both are true champions using any measure. Chances of this bout happening in the next year: 70% (Okay, there are promotional problems and logistical issues, but both of these fighters want this match. The winner will perhaps reign supreme on the pound-for-pound lists of everyone).

Manny Pacquiao vs. Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales, etc. – No, I don’t mean a three-way. This august group could continue to fight each other in any combination for years and they would fill arenas – and deservedly so. Chances of some combination of the above happening in the next year: 90% (The fighters want it, the promoters are for it, the cable backers love it, and the fans will pour in. Once we get these worthless mandatories out of the way, look out).

Clearly there are many other matches to be made, but particular sanctioning body letters next to the names of the participants are not – and should not – be the driver.

If you want to see the best, demand the best. And do it now.

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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