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Articles of 2005

Zab Judah Career Facts

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Undisputed World Welterweight Champion & Three-Time World Champion
Born on Oct. 27, 1977, in Brooklyn, New York
Height: 5’7”   Weight:  (Welterweight) 147
Record: 33-2-1 NC (24 KOs)

Even though Zab Judah is one of the fastest-punching fighters in boxing, it doesn’t mean the undisputed world welterweight champion hasn’t had to face and bounce back from adversity. He has been a boxer since age 6, and has never held another job.

He compiled an extraordinary 110-5 amateur record, was a two-time U.S.national champion, three-time New York Golden Gloves champion, and won the 1996 PAL Nationals.

In a major surprise, however, Judah failed to earn a berth on the ’96 U.S.]Olympic boxing team. After defeating Hector Camacho Jr. and Ishe Smith, Judah was upset in the finals of the Olympic Trials by David Diaz, despite having defeated him in the PAL Nationals.

“Failing to earn a berth on the U.S.Olympic team was tough to deal with at the time because I always had dreamed of winning a gold medal,” Judah said. “But once it was over, I decided to put my entire focus on my pro career and winning a world title rather than pout.”

One of nine brothers and two sisters—five of the brothers box—Zab is the son of Yoel Judah, a six-time kickboxing world champion who is also his trainer. When asked, “Who is the best fighter in the family?” Zab does not hesitate to reply.

“My father is the best fighter in the family, no question,” Judah said. “We had a rough time growing up in Brooklyn. It was an experience that made me what and who I am today.

“Being in the game, being around Pernell Whitaker and those guys, that is what motivated me. Boxing was in my blood. As a kid, I came home fighting all the time. Everyone thought I was a natural. But my father has always been my idol. He raised seven boys. I had no sisters, so I thought that took a lot. Nobody was on drugs. We were all straight. He ran us, too, along with his career. I remember going to the gym, watching my father train. I thought that one day I could be as good as him. He used to knock guys out. I still watch his boxing tapes. The guy is awesome.”

Despite the obvious bloodlines, not every one in Judah’s family was in favor of young Zab following in his father's and brothers’ footsteps.

“My mother was totally against it,” Judah said. “But after she saw me fight a couple of times, she gained more confidence in me. She said ‘Wow, this boy is good.’ ’’

Judah turned pro at age 18 on Sept. 20, 1996, and scored a second-round TKO over Michael Johnson. His next five fights also ended early, including three in the opening round. 

After capturing lopsided decisions over George Crain and Omar Vasquez in May and June of 1997, Judah closed the year with first-round knockouts over Cesar Castro (Aug. 24), James Salava (Oct. 3) and Ricardo Vasquez (Nov. 7).

Judah began 1998 in style by flattening Steve Valdez in the first round on Jan. 17. Valdez, who never had been stopped and had won seven out of eight starts, went down four times. Judah swarmed his opponent from the opening bell and battered him with blinding combinations.

In a bout the following March 10 in Pikesville, Md., Judah and his opponent, Esteban Flores, accidentally clashed heads in the second round, causing a gash to open above Flores’ eye. The cut widened in round three, and the bout was stopped as Flores could not continue. Rules in Maryland stipulate that following an accidental headbutt, the uncut fighter cannot be declared the winner.  Since Flores was behind on the scorecards at the time of the stoppage, the bout went into the books as a technical draw.

Following a hearing on May 21, 1998, in Washington, D.C., the Maryland Commission changed the Judah-Flores result to a no-contest because of an error committed by the referee, Ken Chevalier. Maryland rules state that immediately following a cut, the referee is required to alert both corners as to what caused the cut. Chevalier failed to inform Judah’s corner that the gash was caused by an accidental headbutt.

In one of his finest performances to date, Judah battered two-time Dominican Republicchampion Angel Beltre on April 14, 1998. Judah fired crippling body punches from the opening bell and landed a flurry of punches before the fight was stopped in the second round. The victory earned Judah a bout against Mickey Ward for the vacant USBA junior welterweight crown on June 7, 1998.

It was Judah’s first step up in class, and he passed with flying colors. At one point, Ward pounded his chest in frustration and cursed at himself in anger.  he tough veteran quickly realized that he was no match for the young lion. Judah banged bruising combinations to Ward’s midsection and followed with overhead lefts to Ward’s nose. Unable to fight off Judah’s blinding attack, Ward gamely attempted to counterpunch. Ward’s desperate left hooks flailed aimlessly, striking nothing but air. Finally, after executing a brilliant 12-round boxing exhibition, the Brooklyn sensation was declared the USBA junior welterweight champion.

“Ward was my toughest fight at that point,” Judah said. “In the early rounds, I was kind of anxious, but it taught me that I need to stay calm and box my way into it. Once I slowed down, I was fine. I learned a long time ago that you could not knock everyone out. It has to come naturally.”

In his next outing Judah registered a second-round TKO over Otilio Villarreal on July 12, 1998. Judah retained his USBA title by stopping former USBA and NABF champion Darryl Tyson in the 11th round on Oct. 15, 1998. Judah decked his opponent three times before the bout was stopped.

The Brooklyn native overcame the disappointment of failing to make the 1996 United States Olympic team by capturing a world title after just 22 professional fights to become one of the top pound-for-pound boxers in the world.

Judah captured the interim IBF junior welterweight title with a fourth-round KO over Wilfredo Negron Jan. 16, 1999, in Las Vegas. Judah settled down after a wild start and won every round. He knocked Negron down three times in the fourth (all with right hands), before the referee stopped the contest at 1:44 of the round.

On April 16 and July 9, 1999, Judah scored first-round knockouts over Juan Torres and David Sample, respectively. Sample went down four times, three of them from left hands.

Judah received his first shot at a world title when he fought Jan Bergman of South Africafor the vacant IBF light welterweight title on Feb. 12, 2000, at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.  Judahcame out throwing blistering shots and knocked Bergman down twice in the opening round. The first knockdown came on a right hand that staggered Bergman, which was followed by a grazing left that put Bergman on the canvas again.

The second knockdown was a lightning left hand that dropped Bergman in the corner. In the second round, Judah got careless on defense and Bergman sent him to the canvas for a flash knockdown on a left uppercut.

Judah finished Bergman off in the fourth round with a flurry of punches that left Bergman sitting sprawled in the neutral corner.

“Bergman caught me with a little left hand and I laughed at him,” said Judah, who got up and quickly regained control. In the fourth, Judah exploded with the barrage that dropped Bergman before referee Steve Smoger counted to eight and then waved off the action.

Judah retained his title for the first time with a unanimous 12-round decision over Junior Witter on June 24, 2000, in Glasgow, Scotland. Judah defeated the reluctant challenger by the scores 118-110, 118-111 and 116-112.  “I thought Zab did really well,” said his father/trainer, Yoel. “You cannot do much with an awkward fighter like Witter. The guy ran for 12 rounds and never would take a stand and fight. We did what we had to do.”

Judah received an early scare from Terron Millett, who floored Zab with a crushing left hook on the jaw in the first round when they met at Mohegan Sun on Aug. 5, 2000. Mirroring his performance against Bergman, Judah rallied to knock Millett down once in the second and twice in the fourth. Millett was unsteady when he got up from the last knockdown, causing the referee to stop the bout at 2:47of the round.

Hardly working up a sweat in his third title defense, Judah toyed with Hector Quiroz prior to stopping him with an eighth-round TKO Oct. 20, 2000, in The Palace at Auburn Hills, Mich. Judah battered and bloodied Quiroz until the referee followed the advice of the ringside doctor and stopped the one-sided bout at 1:56of round eight.

In his next start, Judah opened the 2001 campaign by knocking out former NABF titleholder Reggie “Showtime” Green at 1:29 of the 10th round at Mohegan Sun on Jan. 13.

Always in control and ahead on each of the scorecards, Judah appeared uninspired in the middle rounds; however, the IBF titleholder suddenly turned devastating when he numbed Green with a hard left to the jaw. Judah then rushed in with another left that dropped Green along the ropes. Green got up wobbly and blurry-eyed but was allowed to continue – until Judah connected with a right hook to the jaw for another knockdown. The referee stopped the bout without a count.

“I had to stay patient, not get wild, nor leave myself open to get knocked down or knocked out,” Judah said. “I just relaxed, took my time and did what I had to do. I felt good. I did my best.”

In his first start in five months, Judah successfully defended his title for a fifth time by knocking out Allan Vester in the third round on June 23, 2001. Firing on all cylinders, the champion decked the previously unbeaten, top-ranked challenger twice in the second before a right hook knocked him down and out at 2:58of the third.

“Whenever I hurt a guy, I expect to finish him,” Judah said. “Vester escaped in the second round, but I got him in the third. There is no one in this weight division (140 pounds) that will give me a fight. I know that when I am at my best, no one, including Tszyu and Shane Mosley, can beat me. I am here to stay. I will be a world champion for as long as I decide to stay in boxing. I am dedicated, but I want to get in and out of the game when I am 27 or 28 years old.”

The long-awaited matchup between the quick-hitting, undefeated phenom Judah and the reigning WBC and WBA 140-pound kingpin Kostya Tszyu, from Australia by way of Russia, took place on Nov. 3, 2001 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas. Judah was so well thought of at that time, he was favored by all oddsmakers to win—some by as high as over two-to-one odds.

Judah clearly won the first round over Tszyu by utilizing his superior quickness and stinging Tszyu with two combinations. The first occurred midway through the opening stanza and appeared to hurt Tszyu, while the second snapped Tszyu's head back with 40 seconds left on the clock.

Tszyu was controlling the second, though the action was sparse for much of the round. With just under 10 seconds left, however, Tszyu ripped Judah with a straight right. Judah seemed to take it well and was moving toward the ropes when Tszyu fired a shot that landed flush on the chin with just one second to go in the round.  Judah went down, but got up quickly. His eyes were crossed, his balance was poor, and he stumbled across the ring toward Tszyu's corner while attempting to regain his balance and fell down again, face first. Referee Jay Nady chose to end the fight, while Judah insisted he should have been allowed to continue, particularly given the significance of the bout.

“I'm in a world title fight and I got hit with a good shot,” Judah said. “I went down, but for sure, I was up. I just feel I was never given a chance for a count.”

“He just stopped it,” Judah exclaimed. “What happens, you fall and that's it? It was an early stoppage. You can see how quickly I got my head back together and I was ready to go back again. He walked up to me and said, `It's over.' You can't do that. I've seen fighters roll around on the floor. He never gave me a chance. As big as this fight was, it should never have been stopped like that.”

Nady said he had no second thoughts and that he stopped it because he was concerned Judah might have been momentarily knocked unconscious.

“I think everybody knows I was not happy with the way the fight was stopped,” Judah said. “I was in a world title fight and I got hit with a good shot. I just feel I was never given a chance for a count, and that was wrong. The referee just stopped it. It was a big fight.”

Over time Judah accepted the defeat to Tszyu and returned his focus to the ring.

“I was mad and disappointed for a long time. But I have put the fight behind me and re-channeled my energy toward regaining my title. I have come back before. I will come back again. I would love a rematch with Tszyu.’’

It didn’t take long for Judah to serve notice that he was still a force to be reckoned with in the 140-pound division. On July 12, 2003, he won the WBO junior welterweight crown with a 12-round split decision over defending champion DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley in Las Vegas. It was Judah’s first start in a year and just his second start since losing his first fight and IBF light welterweight title to Tszyu.

“I felt a little rusty with a year off, but I think I had a great fight,” said Judah, who dropped Corley with a looping left near the end of the third en route to winning (115-112, 115-112 and 112-115). Judah, who has openly campaigned for a rematch against Tszyu, broke his left hand after the knockdown.

“Chop Chop fought a good fight, but I feel great because I came back after a year off and beat the guy with a broken hand,” Judah said. “I had to jab the rest of the fight because of my left. I didn't throw the left the way I normally do. I could just touch with it. I normally throw with a lot more power.’’

Judah, who taunted Corley throughout, controlled most of the fight by jabbing and moving and making Corley miss with his best punches. “He kept his composure the whole fight, so I was just taking my time and picking off his shots,” Judah said. “I pretty much could see everything he was throwing.’’

The victory over Corley helped erase some of the sting from losing to Tszyu.

In his first fight after Tszyu, Judahr ecorded a unanimous 10-round decision over Omar Weis on July 13, 2002, in Tunica, Miss. Judah turned back a determined bid by Weis to triumph by the scores of 97-92, 97-93 and 96-93. The lefty scored the bout’s lone knockdown in the second when he dropped Weis with a left hook flush on the chin.

Before his Dec. 13, 2003, questions swirled around WBO junior welterweight champion Zab Judah: Is his left hand 100 percent? Will he take Jaime Rangel lightly? Will he remain poised and relaxed, or will he enter the ring too pumped? Before the end of the first-round, Judah left no doubt as to the answers. With a punishing blow to Rangel’s temple followed by a right hook, Judah won a dramatic knockout victory just 72 seconds into the fight and made good on his promise to “steal the show” on a night that featured eight championship fights.

“I did it, just like I promised. When I hit him with my left hand, I knew he was hurt. I put him out with my right,” explained Judah.

Following this dramatic victory, Zab moved up to welterweight to challenge undisputed champion Cory Spinks in an important fight for both men in Las Vegas on April 10, 2004. Judah was stepping up in weight for the first time in his career, and Spinks was out to prove his victory over Ricardo Mayorga to unify the welterweight crown was no fluke.  In the 12-round battle that ensued, momentum swung between the two combatants, with both fighters getting knocked down. Some ringside observers felt if the bout lasted another minute, Judah would have prevailed, but the “Spinks Jinx” held. Zab won the respect of the boxing world, but lost the decision to Spinks.

But Judah was to rebound again. On May 15, 2004, Judah battled Rafael Pineda at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas for the vacant WBO intercontinental welterweight title. Judah looked lackluster at times and was actually grabbing his lower leg during the fight. It turned out Judahwas suffering from severe cramps in both legs, but still was able to win a close split decision victory (115-112, 114-113, 112-115).

Judah successfully defend his WBO intercontinental welterweight title in his hometown of New York Cityat the famed MadisonSquareGardenwith a with a first-round technical knockout of Wayne “Wawatae” Martell on Oct. 2.

“I begged and prayed for a second chance after the first fight with Spinks,” Judah said. “I took a big risk moving up in weight from 140 pounds, and it was my first fight at 147 pounds. I didn’t feel like I was fully saturated at welterweight when I first moved up.”

Judah’s prayers were answered when Spinks agreed to the rematch in his hometown of St. Louis at the Savvis Center on Feb. 5. What Spinks didn’t know when he signed the contract was that the pressure to win on his home turf would become even stronger when St. Louisans snatched up all 22,370 tickets to set an all-time attendance record for a boxing match at an indoor arena.

To say Judah was in hostile territory when he entered the ring would be an understatement. What he had on his side was his experience and the type of maturity, at age 27, that only comes with time.

While Spinks attempted to control Judah in the early rounds with his quick stick-and-move style, Judah stalked him relentlessly, forcing a fight on Spinks he didn’t want to participate in.

Near the end of round seven, Judah rocked Spinks right at the bell, but referee Armando Garcia ruled it a push. Spinks reeled from Judah’s attack in the eighth, but held his ground.

Spinks appeared to be recovering further in the ninth round until Judah  scored with a long left cross that rattled Spinks, and Judah immediately dropped a right hook that dropped the champion. On unsteady legs, Spinks marched on with Judah stalking his wounded prey. In an amazing act of sportsmanship reflecting the tremendous respect these two fighters have for each other, Judah dropped his hands to his waist, imploring Garcia to stop him from further injuring his friend.

Judah said after the fight, “I remember hitting him and I saw his eyes rolling. He kept moving, going with the flow, then I knocked him down, and I looked at the ref for some help. He’s got a wife and family.” Garcia finally halted the beating at 2:49 of the ninth. 

“Hunger and determination was the difference in this fight,” Judah said. “He did exactly what I thought he’d do. He was running from my left hand, which made him pull back and let me take him to the body.“

When asked where Spinks made his biggest mistake, Judah retorted, “When he signed the contracts for the rematch.”

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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