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Articles of 2005

James Toney: Bringing Back the Great Ghosts of the Past

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When James Toney defeated John Ruiz last Saturday it marked a significant turning point in the history of the heavyweight division. For starters, Toney becomes the third middleweight champion in boxing history to earn a heavyweight belt. Toney joins the duo of Bob Fitzsimmons and Roy Jones Jr. in this rarest of accomplishments.

To be sure, a closer look reveals that Fitzsimmons’ claim to the crown is the purest of all, because he won an undisputed title from a lineal champion. Jones won his belt from Ruiz when The Quiet Man was considered the weakest of the heavyweight belt holders. Thus, despite Jones’s excellent performance the night he fought Ruiz, his claim to the heavyweight throne is contrived and politicized. He took the path of least resistance in facing Ruiz, and didn’t go after the more decorated champions in the division. Jones’ win is a study in risk assessment, instead of a substantive historical contribution.

Jones’ preternatural reflexes coupled with adroit manipulation of HBO executives over the years brought him gratuitous wealth. From a historical standpoint, however, it didn’t help him when he returned to the light heavyweight division and was knocked out in successive bouts by Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. When Jones faltered, the fall was a vicious and slippery slope. Jones is not only no longer a top-ten pound-for-pound fighter; his place in boxing history has been severely downgraded as well.

Jones’ foundation was built on sand, not concrete.

Jones was certainly more dominant in his win over Ruiz than was Toney. Moreover, I sat in awe a few yards from ringside as I witnessed Jones nearly shutout Toney when they met as super middleweights in 1994. Ironically, I strongly believe that Toney will enter Canastota earlier than Jones, and with much more fanfare. Toney built his career the traditional way while serving an apprenticeship under sage trainer Bill Miller. Now a veteran of 75 professional fights, Toney has fought the best of the middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight, and cruiserweight divisions. Most importantly, he is now poised to seek unification in the heavyweight division, and brings a breath of fresh air to a maligned division. He comes from a different age. James wears Pony gear, not Nike.

Toney’s foundation is based on concrete, not sand.

Regardless of Toney’s future success in the division, he is flirting with a more meaningful place in boxing history than many realize. As a former middleweight champion, simply going after the best in the heavyweight division brings us back to a time when boxing was an integral part of American culture. When all is said and done, Toney will not only be mentioned in the same breath as Fitzsimmons, but with Stanley Ketchel, Harry Greb and Mickey Walker. Those four top-ten all-time middleweight champions moved up to fight the best available heavyweights in their time. No other middleweight champions can claim that accomplishment.

Stanley Ketchel won the middleweight title on February 22, 1908 with a first round knockout of Mike “Twin” Sullivan. The Michigan Assassin defended his title four times in the months following his knockout of Sullivan. He lost the title to archrival Billy Papke in Vernon, California in September of that year. Two months later, Ketchel regained the crown from Papke on an eleventh round knockout.

In 1909 Ketchel cemented his trilogy with Papke with a twenty round decision, and then gave away thirty-five pounds against one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all-time: Jack Johnson. The fearless and plucky Ketchel briefly had Johnson on the deck in the twelfth round before being knocked senseless moments later.

After losing to Johnson, Ketchel fought six times in 1910. One of Ketchel’s bouts was a no decision affair with the great Sam Langford, but Ketchel reportedly got the better of the Boston Tar Baby. Ketchel knocked out White Hope contender Dan Flynn in his next bout. After winning two more fights by knockout, Ketchel was murdered in a domestic dispute later that year.

Harry Greb held the middleweight title from 1923-1926. Unfortunately, Greb’s most notable wins occurred after 1921 when he was blind in one eye. The Human Windmill is best known for being the only man to beat Gene Tunney, and for his epic middleweight title defense win over Mickey Walker when he was far past his prime in 1925.

At or near his prime, however, Greb relished in whacking around bigger men. One of Greb’s famous quotes is: “Big guys don’t bother me. They get in their own way.” Indeed, Greb reportedly befuddled Dempsey in a 1920 sparring session. Dempsey’s manager, Jack Kearns, blatantly steered Demspey away from Greb thereafter. Kearns was smart. Greb was formidable against top-flight heavyweights. Greb easily defeated Tommy Gibbons before Dempsey struggled with Gibbons. Gunboat Smith was cannon fodder for Greb. Other victims included Billy Miske and Bill Brennan. Greb was special, and just too good for his own good against the best heavyweights of his era.

Harry Greb was an American original.

John Barleycorn was Mickey Walker’s toughest opponent, but that didn’t inhibit him from becoming one of the greatest fighters of all time. Completely fearless and blessed with one of the nastiest left hooks in boxing history, Walker held the welterweight title from 1922-1926. He defeated Tiger Flowers for the middleweight title in 1926, and vacated the title in 1931 to go after the best heavyweights of his era: Max Schmeling and Jack Sharkey.

Despite being far past his prime, Walker fought to a controversial draw with Sharkey in June 1931. A day after his draw with Sharkey, Walker was playing golf with his manager Jack Kearns, a friend, and a senator.

Walker crammed in seven more bouts before meeting Schmeling in 1932. Among the bouts were back-to-back ten round decision wins over heavyweight contenders King Levinsky and Paolino Uzcudun.

Schmeling proved to be a bridge too far for Walker. Flabby and drastically slowed by Father Time and countless late nights, the Toy Bulldog characteristically pressed the action with his famous left hook, only to be met with pinpoint counters from Schmeling. At the end of the eighth round, Walker was bloody and helpless, but angry and defiant when Jack Kearns stepped in and stopped the slaughter.

Walker epitomized old school.

Two other former middleweights, and two of Toney’s favorite fighters, deserve mention as well: Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles. Moore held the California State Middleweight title in the early 1940s, and was a world ranked middleweight before moving up to become one of our greatest light heavyweight champions.

As a heavyweight contender, Moore is best known for challenging Marciano for the title in 1955. The Ol’ Mongoose walked Rocky into a right hand in the second round and had him on the deck before succumbing in the ninth round of a war.

Moore also beat a slew of heavyweights in his career. One of my favorites is his 1951 first round knockout of Embrel Davidson. Moore was giving away thirty-five pounds to Davidson. In the first round, Moore shuffled in, feinted, looked for angles, and abruptly deposited Davidson on the deck for a ten-count out with a beautiful straight right hand.

The same year Moore lost to Marciano, Archie waddled into the ring at 200 pounds to face solid heavyweight contender Nino Valdes. After giving away most of the early rounds to the younger, stronger Cuban, Ageless Archie pulled out his bag of tricks and came from behind to outpoint Valdes over fifteen rounds. Moore had previously defeated Valdes in 1953.

Ezzard Charles was the number one middleweight contender in the early 1940s. In 1942, Charles was about to turn twenty-one when he defeated the great Charley Burley in back-to-back bouts. Burley, one of the true uncrowned champions in boxing history along with Sam Langford, would floor Archie Moore several times in route to an easy unanimous decision two years later.

Charles quickly grew out of the middleweight division. In three bouts with Moore at light heavyweight, Charles owned The Ol’ Mongoose. Charles never won a middleweight or light heavyweight title, but many consider him the best light heavyweight in history. Unlike Ketchel, Greb, Walker and Moore, Charles successfully stepped up to become a heavyweight champion. The Cincinnati Cobra was a special fighter who still isn’t recognized for the breadth and depth of his accomplishments.

In its true essence, boxing is a blue-collar, populist sport, but the contemporary boxing landscape has been polluted by managers, promoters and sanctioning bodies. James Toney will change some of that for us. He’ll spew quotes similar to that of Harry Greb, and won’t give a second thought to what’s appropriate or politically correct. He’ll probably take heavy shots from bigger, more skilled men than John Ruiz, but he’ll be as defiant as Mickey Walker and probably smoke a big cigar later that night. At his best, he’ll slip, roll and counter in the tradition of Moore and Charles. He’ll remind us that Bill Miller forgot more about boxing than the trainers of Toney’s opponents can ever learn.

Don’t expect James Toney to call out Tye Fields for his first defense. James Toney will remind us of the glory days of the sport. He’ll show us that the art of boxing is more important than size. He’ll show us that street corner guts are more important than politicized rankings. He’ll remind us of Ketchel, Greb, Walker, Charles and Moore.

James Toney may be fat with too much back, but he’s taking us to a better place.

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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