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Articles of 2005

Farewell to a Champion

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When paging through the annals of boxing history there’s something reassuring when those listed are still with us. We can tap into the time they lived, but once they have passed from this life, we are left only with what was captured on camera or recorded for posterity. The doorway to the past closed this week on a boxer who lived in what many feel was one of the most controversial eras of boxing. Johnny Arthur may not be a familiar name in world boxing, but the 1948 Olympic bronze medal winning heavyweight was in the thick of things and scratched the underbelly of international boxing at a time men were men and boxing was a lot more brutal than it is today.

Arthur, who would have been 76 on August 29, slipped and broke his ankle on Wednesday and sadly died the following morning in hospital after complications set in. He was reportedly not well for some time. I had the privilege of meeting Arthur a few times and interviewing him at his home many years ago and remember vividly his enthralling stories of a world which I never knew: his trip to the Olympic games, meeting the Queen, his campaigns in the USA and Canada, including bouts against fistic legends Willie Pastrano and George Chuvalo, as well his brush with mafia influence in boxing.

Arthur had no interest in boxing until the age of 18, and then he only got involved to toughen himself up for the upcoming rugby season. He had a natural aptitude for the sport, however, and his size and strength convinced selectors to include him in the Springbok team which went to London to contest the 1948 Olympic Games. “I never really though anything of it,” said Arthur “They were having trials for the games so I just went along and tried out. It was a tremendous honor however to go and represent my country in London.”

Arthur knocked out Jean Gallie, a 25 year old Blacksmith from Alsace-Lorraine in the first round without working up a sweat. Then he beat Jay Lambert, a student from the University of Utah, who was a heavy favorite to win the gold medal. Arthur lost in the semifinal to Argentinean Raphael Inglesias, the eventual winner of the gold medal, by a narrow margin, one of the judges scoring the fight for Arthur.

The South African boxing team that year was a formidable one. Besides Arthur’s bronze, Gerald Dreyer took gold in the lightweights, George Hunter took gold at light-heavyweight, and Dennis Shepard took silver in the featherweights. Hunter also won the Val Barker trophy as the best boxer at the games. Another member of the 1948 team who was controversially eliminated early on was Vic Toweel, who later went on to claim the bantamweight world title by defeating the legendary Manuel Ortiz over 15 rounds.

“We were a good group and we had a lot of fun,” said Arthur. “One of the highlights was definitely being invited to meet the Queen, who became the Queen Mother. She was wonderful and she treated us very well. She made some comments about and apologized for the Anglo-Boer War and was definitely trying to make us feel welcome.”

On his return home, Arthur remained in the amateur ranks to gain some experience and claimed the national title before turning pro. It was never going to be easy for Arthur to win over the public in his home country. Even though he scored fourteen knockouts in his first seventeen fights and was an incredible tough and durable heavyweight, he was following in the footsteps of the nation’s darling, Johnny Ralph, as the new heavyweight hope. Ralph enjoyed an incredible following and was one of those magical characters who had the ability to captivate an entire country with his every move. It didn’t matter how talented Arthur was, he could never replace Ralph in the minds of the paying public.

Ralph’s career was cut short due to a car accident, so the two could never meet in the ring. Arthur claimed the national heavyweight crown, and then realizing that he was not receiving the accolades he deserved on the home front, campaigned in Britain, Canada and the US. He challenged twice unsuccessfully for the Empire heavyweight title against Johnny Williams and later Don Cockel, who himself gave Rocky Marciano an entertaining scrap. In addition to battling through many of his fights, Arthur was diagnosed as suffering from Bilharzia, a debilitating semi-tropical disease, which made him sluggish and took the snap out of his punches. Although he received treatment, many theorized that the aftereffects of the disease dogged him for his entire career.

Arthur had eight bouts over eighteen months in North America and was completely convinced that boxing in the States was mob controlled: “I had to pay over 10% of all my purses to the mafia, and I can tell you stories of so called accidents which happened to fighters and managers who didn’t toe the line. While in the gyms I learned a lot. You’ll be surprised at the things you’re taught and just how tough things were. I was even taught how to break a man’s arm in a clinch.”

Arthur was well-bred and never resorted to these kinds of tactics.

“There was one guy,” he recalled. “Everybody feared him. If you wanted to challenge Marciano for his title, you first had to fight him. I’m not just talking about official matches either. If they wanted to keep it quiet you had to fight him in the gym. He was brutal. He’d either beat you so badly that you’d pull out of the fight with Marciano, or just hurt you real bad so that when you climbed into the ring for the fight you were still hurting. He was better than Marciano, but they never let him fight him. He was just the guy you had to go through to get a title shot.”

Among the men Arthur met on his stay in the US were Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo, who were both later imprisoned for manipulating boxing through corruption and strong-arm methods. He was matched with big names of the day – Willie Pastrano, George Chuvalo and James J. Parker – but lost on all three occasions. Arthur claimed he was forced to throw the fight against Chuvalo, who later went on to meet the likes of Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

“I knew Chuvalo well and had sparred against him on many occasions,” Arthur said. “There was no doubt that I would have beaten him, but as the fight approached I received threats that my wife would be badly hurt if I won the fight. At first I didn’t believe it, but then I got a phone call which left me cold. They told me in detail how they would cut my wife’s face up. It was terrible and I decided there and then that we would leave the US. I just went through the motions with Chuvalo. I was even scared that I might catch him by accident so tried to pull my punches. I just wanted to get out of there.”

Arthur returned to South Africa, scored three good wins, and retired in 1957 with a record of 33-8 (27 KOs).

During his career, Arthur was in a league of his own as far as local competition was concerned, but never received the spotlight he deserved. In his day and age people were afraid to be outspoken about things like corruption, and if his willingness to talk kept many away from him. When he finally hung up his gloves, Arthur became a widely respected businessman. He had four sons and a daughter.

And while the above story is by no means an epitaph for the man, it is a reminder that he was here and that he was part of the history of a sport we love dearly. Something which has stayed with me over the years about Arthur is when I asked him if I could see his Olympic medal. He answered: “It’s in a box somewhere. I’m not even sure where it is. You know it wasn’t the biggest thing in my life. It was just something I did. I’m a lot prouder of my family. That’s just a piece of metal.”

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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