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Articles of 2005

Ezzard Charles: Subtle Greatness

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Greatness is a word used too often in boxing. For instance, Corrales vs. Castillo was a great fight, but are Corrales and Castillo great fighters? In my opinion, they showed elements of greatness in their epic war, but the true test of greatness entails that a fighter puts up great performances against great fighters over a long period of time. It remains to be seen how long Corrales and Castillo will last in this game, and whether either can be appropriately deemed great fighters by the end of their careers.

Muhammad Ali crowned himself “The Greatest” early in his career, and he proved it over the long haul. He was the first three-time heavyweight champion, and defeated the best of heavyweights of the 1960s and 1970s in some of the most famous bouts in history.

Ali also met the best heavyweight of the 1980s: Larry Holmes. Holmes was a former sparring partner for Ali, and it was a sad September night when the shell of Ali was dominated by Holmes. From that time on, Larry Holmes became a great fighter as well, but he suffered from a syndrome first manifested thirty years before Holmes defeated Ali: The Ezzard Charles Syndrome.

When Ezzard Charles easily outboxed Joe Louis for the heavyweight crown in 1950, he was almost never forgiven for it. It simply didn’t matter how beautifully Charles feinted, countered, slipped, and jabbed. What mattered is that the public wanted a dynamic champion who transcended the sport, and Charles was too subtle and pure a sweet scientist to capture the public’s imagination.

Born into poverty in Georgia on July 7, 1921, Charles’ family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio when he was a youngster. Ezzard Charles was almost a natural born fighter. As a teenager, Charles took up boxing and was undefeated as an amateur with a record of 42-0.

Charles turned pro on March 15, 1940 as a middleweight with a third round knockout of Medley Johnson in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Fourteen months later, Charles had already compiled a record of 21-0 with 15 KOs.

Like many of fighters of the 1940s, Charles was thrown in against experienced and accomplished opposition early in his career. In Charles’ twenty-second pro fight, he was matched with former middleweight champion Ken Overlin. Overlin was a veteran of 140 pro fights and fought a who’s who of the middleweight division since the 1930s. He outpointed the nineteen-year-old Charles over ten rounds in Charles’ hometown of Cincinnati.

After losing to Overlin, Charles jumped right back into the fray. A few months after losing to Overlin, Charles won a ten round decision over former champion Teddy Yarosz, and then knocked out light heavyweight contender Anton Christoforidis on January 12, 1941. Six months before being knocked out by Charles, Christoforidis lost a fifteen round decision to future undisputed light heavyweight champion Gus Lesnevich.

Charles reputation was growing, and even though he was experiencing difficulty making the 160 pound limit, some were wondering if the precocious star would land a title shot in the near future.

In 1942, all questions about Charles’ prowess were answered. The Cincinnati Cobra was matched in back-to-back bouts with the great Charley Burley. Burley was feared, avoided, and revered during his career. Burley made a habit of beating bigger men, and he was the pure acid test for the young superstar.

Both of the Burley vs. Charles bouts occurred in Burley’s hometown of Pittsburgh. The first bout occurred on May 25, 1942. The second bout was on June 29, 1942.

Burley was a 3½ to 1 favorite for the first bout. The twenty-four-year-old Burley was a veteran of almost sixty fights at the time they met, and was on a twenty bout winning streak. Charles scaled 161½ pounds, and Burley weighed 155. The bout occurred on the undercard of Fritzie Zivic’s ruthless tenth round stoppage of former lightweight champion Lew Jenkins.

Charles easily defeated Burley in the first bout. In his great book, Charley Burley: The Life and Hard Times of an Uncrowned Champion, Allen Rosenfeld gives Pittsburgh Press reporter Bill McElwain’s account of the action:

“Charles started out by staggering Burley with a right to the mouth in the opening session, and although the second was even, Burley didn’t take a round until the fifth. Charles smashed home two hard left hooks in the bristling fourth that had Burley hanging on.

“In the fifth and six (sic) Burley went to work and cut inside of his opponent’s mouth, but was just about finished after that. Ezzard came back to belt Burley dizzy with right across (sic) and a right uppercut in the seventh, and Charley was in plenty of trouble.

“Burley went out for the knockout in the tenth but ran into a right hook that dropped him to one knee. Charles had started another punch and couldn’t stop it before striking Burley while he was on the way to the canvas. Burley got up at three but the fight was over then.”

Charles won a huge ovation from Burley’s hometown crowd. Rosenfeld reported that Charles was elevated to the number three slot in the middleweight rankings while Burley dropped to fourth.

For the second bout, Charles scaled 160, and Burley came in at 151. The odds for the bout were about even. Just six days before the rematch, Burley won a ten round decision over the slick and crafty Holman Williams in Cincinnati. Nevertheless, Burley announced that he was in superb condition, and would concentrate on boxing Charles instead of trying to slug with him this time around. Rosenfeld gives Sun Telegraph reporter Jimmy Miller’s account of the rematch:

“Charles won seven of the 10 rounds and Burley managed to win the second and sixth which was the best session of the battle for action. In this round Charley, who was told by his manager, Tommy O’Louglin, to cross his right when Charles dropped his left hand, caught the Cincinnati bopper with the first punch a smashing right hand to the head. The punch shook up Charles, but before Burley could make it stick Ezzard was back in stride. The opening round was even.”

Charles became the number one middleweight contender for a short time thereafter, and actually tried unsuccessfully to secure a title fight with Tony Zale. Zale, however, ended up serving our country in WWII, and the bout never materialized.

Charles moved to the light heavyweight division in late 1942, and fought three of Cleveland’s best light heavyweights in four months. On December 1, 1942 Charles distinguished himself with a ten round unanimous decision over Joey Maxim in Maxim’s hometown despite giving away eighteen pounds. Charles dropped a decision to another superb Cleveland craftsman, Jimmy Bivins, in his next bout on January 7, 1943. In his last bout before entering military service, Charles was dominated and stopped for the first time in his thirty-eight-bout career when Lloyd Marshall dropped him eight times in route to an eighth round stoppage.

Charles was inactive in 1944 and 1945 due to WWII. During Charles’ WWII stint, rumors circulated that Charles flattened Billy Conn while both were in the Army, but Charles gentlemanly denied that he and Conn ever met in the ring.

Charles returned to the light heavyweight division with a vengeance in 1946.

By all accounts, Charles was the best light heavyweight in the world after returning to action. Many historians rank him as the best light heavyweight in history, despite the fact that he was never able to gain a shot at the world light heavyweight title. Over the years, Charles’ ranking as the best light heavyweight of all time has been met with skepticism, but his accomplishments are stunning.

Charles avenged his defeat to Marshall with two knockout wins in 1946 and 1947. Charles swept three return bouts with Jimmy Bivins from 1946-1948. In the same time frame, Charles dominated Archie Moore in a three bout series, and knocked him out in their rubber match.

Ezzard Charles defeated every light heavyweight he faced in an era of great fighters.

More amazingly, from 1946 until mid-1951, Charles participated in 40 bouts, and would only lose once. On July 25, 1947 Charles gave away twenty pounds in a split decision loss to heavyweight contender Elmer “Violent” Ray. Charles avenged that defeat by knocking Ray out in nine rounds the following year.

Unable to secure a title shot as a light heavyweight, Charles began campaigning as a heavyweight on a full-time basis in the late 1940s. On June 22, 1949, he decisioned Jersey Joe Walcott for the first time over fifteen rounds for the vacant National Boxing Association World Heavyweight Title. Charles would defend the title three times in the next fourteen months before facing Joe Louis for the undisputed heavyweight title on September 27, 1950 at Yankee Stadium.

Charles weighed 184½, while Louis tipped the scales at 218. Charles easily defeated the slow and aging Louis over fifteen methodical rounds. The scorecards read 10-5, 13-2 and 12-3.

Tape of the fight reveals that the scorecards were accurate, but more importantly, Charles didn’t win spectacularly. Louis was stunned a few times in the bout, but was never in serious danger. Succeeding the great, but over-the-hill Joe Louis was a huge accomplishment for a former #1 middleweight contender, but the public was looking for a more colorful, dominating presence in the ring. Like Charley Burley, Ezzard Charles was a pure sweet scientist. He was so proficient in the art that the untrained eye couldn’t appreciate the subtle brilliance of his performances. Thus, it was only inevitable that that Charles would flirt with obscurity.

Indeed, Charles proved to be an unpopular champion. He was variously described as a blown up light heavyweight and a dull fighter. He successfully defended his title four times, but fans actually yearned for yesteryear as Charles carefully dissected his challengers.

When Charles lost his title in 1951 to the man he previously defeated twice, Jersey Joe Walcott, it marked a more significant moment in boxing history than when Charles assumed the throne from Louis. Walcott became the oldest man to win the heavyweight title.

After losing the title to Walcott, Charles unsuccessfully attempted to regain the heavyweight title three times. He lost a fifteen round decision to Walcott in 1952. In 1954, Charles lost a tough fifteen round decision to Rocky Marciano, and was stopped in the eighth round by The Rock three months later. Even far past his prime, Charles gave Marciano his toughest fights. He nearly regained the title in their second bout when Marciano suffered a severely split nose, and was on the brink of defeat when he stormed back to take Charles out in the eighth round.

Like many great champions who go on too long, Charles faded into obscurity after his last title shot against Marciano. From 1955 until his retirement in 1959, Charles would fight twenty four times, and only win ten of those bouts. Indeed, the last four years of Charles’ career severely diluted his final record.

Charles’ final ledger reads 96-25-1 (58 KOs).

Several years after his retirement, Charles became afflicted with lateral sclerosis, and was paralyzed from the waist down. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970. Ezzard Charles died at the age of 53 in Chicago on May 27, 1975.

Ezzard Charles is, in my opinion, among the top five fighters of the 1940s and 1950s. This is an especially high compliment, because I believe the sport peaked in these two decades, relative to boxing technique and depth of talent. Charles was the #1 middleweight contender in the early 1940s. He beat all of the best light heavyweights of his era. He dominated two of the greatest fighters of all-time: Charley Burley and Archie Moore. When Charles was past his prime, he gave the only undefeated heavyweight champion, Rocky Marciano, his toughest fights.

One of the best sports writers in history, Red Smith, took it a step farther. “Some day, maybe, the public is going to abandon comparisons with Joe Louis and accept Ezzard Charles for what he was—the best fist-fighter of his particular time.”

More intriguing is the notion that Charles might’ve held back in some of his most noteworthy bouts. On February 20, 1948 Ezzard Charles knocked out Sam Baroudi in the tenth round of their light heavyweight bout in Chicago. Baroudi died from injuries sustained in the bout, and many believe Charles was overly cautious thereafter. The impact of Baroudi’s death on Charles’ psyche might explain why he was less than dynamic when he became a heavyweight champion.

Ezzard Charles was too great for his own good.

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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