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Articles of 2005

Boxing News: Ricky Hatton Talks About Kostya Tszyu

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In a matchup that has the makings of a classic, IBF junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu (31-1, 25 KOs, 1 ND) will defend his title against the enormously popular, undefeated hometown favorite, Ricky Hatton (38-0, 28 KOs), in the most hostile of environments – the challenger’s backyard before 18,000 fans at MEN Arena in Manchester, England on Saturday, June 4, on SHOWTIME at 9 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast). The highly anticipated event, yet another potential Showtime Championship Boxing Fight of the Year, begins live at 2 a.m. in England.

Ricky Hatton spoke with the boxing press and he was candid about his chances against Kostya Tszyu.

Hatton:  I have been waiting a long time. I think it is long overdue. I have had several big fights fall through over the last 12 months, but obviously, after securing the biggest fight that is out there in the end, it turned out better than I could have imagined. So I am hugely looking forward to it.

Question:  How do you prepare for a fight that starts at 2 a.m. in England?

Hatton:  The previous two weeks, I have been doing my road work at 2:00 in the morning, the same time at which the fight will take place. To be honest, the first three or four days were a little bit awkward and tiring until my body got into the swing of things. This is my second week now and it just feels like second nature and we have two more weeks to go. This week I will go in and do a couple of gym sessions because working out at 2:00 in the morning is very different, doing sparring and pad work. Obviously, your brain needs to be taking over to do the pad work where with road work, to a certain degree; you can just basically get your head down and get on with it.

Question:  Do you feel this is the fight that is going to finally silence your critics once and for all?

Hatton:  I think probably so. When you think of the best names on my record, I would probably say they are Ben Tackie, Vince Phillips, Ray Olivera – all good names – but obviously, there are bigger names out there. Through no fault of Ricky Hatton those fights have not taken place. So I put a little bit more pressure on my promoter to secure those fights because of the criticism I was receiving. I found it was getting me down terribly because I was crying out for those fights and people were starting to believe that I did not want the big fights. But now after securing the biggest fight out there, I can sit back and say that it has all turned out for the best.

Question:  The 140-pound weight class is probably the deepest and most talented in boxing.  Do you see this fight as maybe the launch to some sort of tournament to see who the best 140-pounder in the world is?

Hatton:  I hope so. Obviously, I think with what Kostya Tszyu achieved with his last result, to come out and put the performance he did against Sharmba Mitchell, I think he deserves to be universally recognized as the No. 1 boxer. As if that was not a big enough scalp to go for, I think what makes it more exciting is what could be down the line  – fights with either Arturo Gatti, Floyd Mayweather or Vivian Harris. The victor of this fight not only wins the IBF belt and will be universally recognized as the No. 1 rank, is also guaranteed a shot at one of those guys. So the incentive is even greater. That is a role that I would certainly like to go down to if I win, and I believe I will do so.

Question:  You will be fighting before a very pro Ricky Hatton crowd. When the bell rings, it is just you and Kostya Tszyu. How much of a home ring advantage do you have?

Hatton:  I think it could be an advantage, but only a very slight one. I think Kostya Tszyu is so effective that if anybody can deal with going into somebody’s backyard in a hostile atmosphere, I think he can. My crowd is a little bit different. I have been to fights in the States and the atmosphere is definitely different. The atmosphere at a Ricky Hatton fight tends to be more what you would relate to as a soccer match. It can be very vocal, very loud and very passionate. So it may give me an advantage because I think no matter how experienced you are, I think you have to be a very tough man for it not to affect you.

Question:  Do you think that a reason why a couple of your fights fell out was that (promoter) Frank (Warren) felt the criticism was affecting you too much?

Hatton: No, I do not think so. It is just that I had reached the stage where I was facing decent enough names, but obviously not the cream of the crop in the junior welterweight division. Like any champion when you first win a belt, you like to make several defenses and enhance your reputation likewise. But when so many of these big fights fell through, it was getting me down. You cannot help but see what people are writing and they were saying I was running away from the big fights. If anybody wanted the big fights, it was me. At the end of the day the fights falling out paved the way for me to get the biggest fight out there.

Question:  If you win, do you feel like you would still need to come to America to fight a Gatti or Mayweather to really put your name on the map?

Hatton: If I beat Kostya Tszyu, I do not think I will need to go to America to prove myself. It has been a dream of mine ever since the day I laced on gloves to fight in the United States. Without a shadow of a doubt, if I beat Kostya Tszyu, which I am confident I will do, I will insist that we go over to the States because it is another stage of my career which needs doing. I do not want people to think that I just stay in the comfort zone of Manchester.

Question:  Mike Tyson’s fight in 2000 sold out in two days; this fight sold out in two hours. You even had to scramble to get tickets, did you not?

Hatton: When I turned professional at age 18, if you would have said that I would sell out a boxing venue quicker than Mike Tyson, who in fact is one of my all time heroes, I think I would have told you you were crazy. I feel very proud of that achievement.

Question:  How much respect do you have for Tszyu taking you on in your hometown? Not very many fighters would do what he is doing, no matter how much they are paid.

Hatton:  That is why he is No. 1 one in the division and pound for pound is one of the best. He is coming over to Manchester and fighting at 2:00 in the morning and he has not batted an eyelid – of course, he is getting very well paid for it – but this just shows why he is the champion that he is.

Question:  What is the key to beating Kostya Tszyu?

Hatton: Styles make fights. I am not going to go off his age because a lot of fighters get better as they get older and more experienced. Certainly, that seems to be the case with Kostya because he has never looked so good and in his last fight, he looked fantastic. I think a lot of fighters try to give ground to Kostya and so I think with my style of closing the distance, I think it is something different from what Kostya is used to. I know what the dangers are and I know what his strengths are, but I feel I have the tools to do the job.

Question:  Regarding Kostya’s inactivity in the ring the past two years, do you think your pressure is perfect for a fighter who has had a long layoff?

Hatton: I think ultimately my style, which is my body punching, my conditioning, my volume of punching, is the style to give Kostya problems. I believe the last time he fought Vince Phillips, Vince set a hot pace, stood his ground more and had it out with Kostya. I think the pace did catch up with Kostya Tszyu and although Kostya has improved immensely since that fight, I think that made him a better fighter. I know he trains meticulously and his training sessions are supposed to be some of the most grueling, but I am confident that I can match him in the stamina. I am going to need a little bit more than just my body punching and my strength to beat Kostya, but I believe I have got that in my armory.

Question:  Would you prefer the fight to not go to the judges?

Hatton: If it goes to the judges, obviously, it will go 12 rounds which makes the fight very, very grueling. Kostya is a big puncher. I just think at the end of the day, judges at this level sometimes can make mistakes, but I am not looking along those lines. I will just take each round as it comes. I expect Kostya to be very dangerous all the way through the fight and in particular the opening rounds because that is where they have had so much success early. But I am very confident. I think I have the tools to do the job and I think ultimately I have got to put the pressure on him and help to set the pace, but I think I have got to be very intelligent in the way to do that because you cannot just march into Kostya Tszyu and expect to walk free. That is just not going to happen.

Question:  Do you think this fight is going the distance?

Hatton: I think Kostya would rather it not go the distance. If anything, I think Kostya is the most sharpest and dangerous early on and I think with my strength-sapping style, body punching type, I would like to think it would shift in my favor the longer it goes. So there is a good chance of that, but I am just going to take each round as it goes.

Question:  Can you talk a little bit about your body work and how dangerous it is, the hook to the body against somebody with a big right hand like Kostya Tszyu?

Hatton:  Obviously, that is Kostya’s main strength, so all the training that we have done is geared around that right hand. I believe I have a lot more attributes. Obviously, every time I throw that left hook to the body, he is going to look to come over with the right cross. So we have been doing certain things in the gym to try and cancel out that. But I have a good right hook to the body as well and I have got a lot more things in my armory.

Question:  Are you Manchester’s boxing version of David Beckham?

Hatton:  Manchester United to me is like garlic to a vampire, to be honest with you. But I think in many ways, I suppose, I am boxing’s terms (version) of David Beckham because I am not a loud mouth. Most people see that I am down to earth. I just get on with the job. That is the way I would like to think a professional sportsman should be and that they like my style of fighting.

Question:  Are you concerned that there may be issues of safety for either you or Kostya this late at night?

Hatton:  That is hard to answer. When the fight was first announced that it was going to be 2:00 in the morning, I did have my doubts. But now that I have seen the lengths that the MEN Arena, the Manchester police and everybody have gone to, I feel better about it now. Alcohol is not going to be served in the Arena up to a certain time to help prevent that. There is extra police staff around the city, and around the MEN Arena, the security is going to be absolutely watertight. Basically, if the fans are drinking external to the venue and they are too drunk, they will not be let in. So I am not too bothered about what is going to happen. I think they have done everything possible to make sure that there will be security. I think the way it has all been handled has been absolutely first class.

Question:  Are you preparing for a full attack or just the right hand for this fight?

Hatton:  Well, Kostya is known for his right hand, but he can hit really hard with both hands. He has a good left hook to the body. So it is not one specific thing. We are working on the whole picture. We know what his strengths are and we see what weaknesses that he might have. My favorite punch is the left hook to the body and he is going to come over with right crosses. He likes to throw long right-handers, but I believe my short left hook might get there a little bit quicker.  I believe I have an edge in speed. Everybody is open somewhere.  I am not afraid of his right hand; I will not be backing away from the right hand. I will be trying to move inside the right hand, which obviously is very dangerous, but fighters who have tried to stay on the outside and keep out of the way of the right hand has not worked. Kostya does not normally have too many people that will stand there and have it out with him. The last person to do that was Vince Phillips who had a lot of success in doing that. I have got several plans.

Question:  Is your weight going to be a factor in this fight or your career?

Hatton:  This fight has been no different than any other. Maybe I was a little bit heavier than normal, but I think that was the longest break that I have had in between fights for some time. I was not worried. I gave myself a long preparation, a 14-week buildup. Because I got my weight down early enough in the first few weeks, the training has intensified and I have been able to train hard and eat well which is very important. I have always been one to put weight on very quickly, but it always seems to fly off when I start training. 

Question:  What will your tactics be?

Hatton:  I do not want to give away my top tricks, but I think I have got to be a lot more careful and cagey than what I have done in some recent fights. Sometimes I have left myself open to silly shots, but I think you will find that when I have done that is when I have been in with guys who have probably not got the punching power to hurt me. Certain fighters, you can take chances, but there are fights that you cannot take chances with and obviously Kostya Tszyu is one of them.

Question:  The weight gain has very much a part of your preparation. Was it a conscious decision to put on more to make you work out that much harder?

Hatton:  No, not really. It is just the norm for me and, with me being the short and stocky type, it tends to show a little bit more.

Question:  Can you elaborate about what you think of Miguel Cotto and how you feel that he stole a little bit of your spot in the division because of his promotion?

Hatton:  I was down to box Kelson Pinto for the vacant WBO title, and the week before the fight – even to this day I am not exactly sure what the problem was. I heard his wife was pregnant and then I also heard he had contract difficulties with his manager. So I am not sure what happened, but it was a big chance for me, a big fight, he was a big name opponent and a fight I was looking forward to. But like many fights, it unfortunately fell through for me at the last minute and a few months later he went on and boxed Miguel Cotto, who put on a fantastic performance. It just felt like the story of my career, of another missed opportunity.  So part of me thought that could have been me. So that is the main reason why I was frustrated. I am a Miguel Cotto fan really. I have to say if you are a boxing fan, if you are not a Miguel Cotto fan, you are not really a boxing fan in many ways. He is very good to watch and a wonderful talent and someone I hope to share the ring with down the line.

Question:  So if you win this fight, you will be looking forward to meeting Cotto in the future?

Hatton:  There would be so many great fights out there and if I beat Kostya Tszyu, which I am confident I will do, I will have no fear of fighting anybody and that includes Miguel Cotto. It is a fight I look forward to and every time he fights, he seems to get better. As well as he is looking, I do not think that it is a fight that I cannot win.

Question:  How do you feel about being called the underdog in this fight?

Hatton:  I am quite relishing the prospects really. Sometimes when you are expected to win every fight or you are the favorite for every fight, sometimes it puts you under pressure. Although I am under pressure still to win this fight, it is a nice pressure to be underdog. Not many people expect me to beat Kostya and rightly so with what he has done and what he has achieved and who he has beaten. So I understand I am the underdog and rightly so since I have not boxed anybody in the league of Kostya, but it will make the victory that much better when I achieve it.

Question:  Awhile back you said one of your main game plans was to attack him with a subtle swump. Can you expand on that?

Hatton:  I think my style – my volume of punches, my pace, my body punching – I think that is what I am recognized for and I think ultimately that is what will cause Kostya problems and could beat him. Obviously, someone as good as Kostya Tszyu and hits like Kostya Tszyu, I am not just going to beat him on that alone. So obviously, I have got to be very resourceful about the way I do it.  I have got to be very acute defensively. I cannot just steam in there 100 miles an hour and expect to win. Tactically, I have got to be very good as well. I do not think most people know how clever I am in the ring. They just see the obvious. He comes forward, he attacks, he body punches, but I have more than that and obviously I think that is what will make the difference in the fight.

Question:  Does it make you feel good that you have the biggest fish at 140 and it is coming at a time when every junior welterweight is going to be fighting right after you? 

Hatton:  Absolutely because, obviously, I will be gaining a fight with any of those guys. There is so much more at stake with a victory in this fight. It could not come at a better time. I feel that because of the age that I am, every time I have gone into training for a fight, I have gotten a little bit better and improved as you do with experience. I think because I got the fight that I always dreamed of and it is such a huge fight and Kostya is such a good opponent, from day one, it just seems I have gotten a little bit quicker, a little bit stronger and a little bit sharper. There just seems to be more purpose and more quality in everything across the board because I have secured the fight I have always dreamed of. I think that just made it a little bit more exciting than usual. I believe I will win it. I know people just think that I have to say that, but I believe I will win this fight 100 percent. There is no doubt in my mind.

Question:  What if Kostya throws all caution to the wind and tries to take you out early? Do you feel you can match his power and do you feel you have the same ability to knock him out early?

Hatton:  I do think I can match his power. I do not think I am a one-punch knockout merchant where obviously Kostya has proved that. But I am accurate. I hit hard and I hit often and I hit in the right places. I am physically strong. I have seen Kostya and he is very physically strong. He threw Mitchell all over the place in the first fight and it is hard to throw people like that. If he wants to get involved in that game with me, then I am sure I will be a worthy match in that department. If he does come out and try to finish me, we will go at it. That is right up my street (alley). I believe the close quarter stuff is something that I have an advantage over Kostya in. If he tries to box me, that will be a good thing because not a lot of people realize I like people giving ground. I am very good at covering the distance and covering the distance quickly. But if he wants to stay there and go toe to toe, I believe I have proven in the past I am very good at that. I am prepared for every outcome and every way which Kostya wants to come.

Question:  Do you feel people underestimate your ring skills as far as techniques and defense?

Hatton:  I do. I have to be honest. I understand why they think that because I have beaten some good men, but I have not fought anybody of the class of Kostya yet. Even though I have fought good quality fighters, I have never needed to dig deep and find that extra stuff that I have in the back. Even if you find my best ever performance, you still have not seen half of what I have got. Obviously, Kostya Tszyu is a step up in class and I think I will need everything I have got to win this fight and I believe Kostya will bring it all out of me.

Question:  Even though he had such a tremendous fight against Sharmba Mitchell, do you think that Kostya is ripe to be had and that you are the one that is going to take him?

Hatton:  He has not shown any signs of that in particular in his last fight, but the only thing I will say is I think Sharmba was more ready for the taking. I am not quite sure whether Kostya is yet, but I think Sharmba was probably ready for the taking in that fight. If that fight would have gone six to eight rounds, he would have probably got more knowledge of just how ring rusty he actually was, but because the fight was over early, we could not see that. But he has not done many rounds lately. So that could be a better thing for me or that could mean he is fresher. I do not know whether he is ready for taking, but I do believe he is going to get beat.

Question:  Will this fight turn into a slugfest at some point?

Hatton:  It has every chance of that because, obviously, Kostya Tszyu is a nice, genuine person like me who does not do a lot of bad-mouthing or running off at the mouth. I think he has a huge confidence and self belief and I think just the fact somebody saying to Kostya Tszyu that he might be fighting somebody who could match him strength-wise could mean we stand there and have a war. Anything could happen in this fight. If Kostya wants to try and hold me out for a few rounds, I think that will work in my favor. But if he wants to have a toe to toe slugfest with me, obviously, there is risk involved in that, but either way I can adapt my style. I have every confidence I can adapt my style.

Question:  Are you concerned about cuts or bruises any more than you would be for any other fight?

Hatton:  No, not particularly. It was interesting to hear that Kostya said that he has seen several fights of me that I cut and bruise very easily. That is a good thing from my point of view because if has watched the tapes like he says, he will know that I have not got cut in my last nine fights. I think that shows how much I have been improving. It is a little bit of a negative way to look at the fight. I am not overly concerned about that. If it happens, I will deal with it the best I can.

Question:  How do you feel about Frank Warren now bringing you the biggest fight of your career in your own backyard?

Hatton:  I always had faith that Frank Warren could deliver the big fight, but obviously Frank Warren was working to get the fights on the best terms for me. So at the time, I was totally fed up with boxing because of all the promised fights, but I was not getting the big fights. So it just got me down, that’s all. But now I can sit back and say it has all turned out for the best because obviously now I have got the biggest fight possible.

Question:  You are a very bright and articulate young man. Had you not chosen boxing, what profession would you have chosen?

Hatton:  I would have liked to been a football player and play for my beloved Manchester City. In the early days when I was a school boy, there was a small chance that I could have done that because I was on the city’s books at the FA School of Excellence when I was a 13-14 year old. About the time when I was boxing there as a young school boy, I could not get any fights. So I was out every night of the week weighing in at shows to try and get myself as much opportunity to get a fight. Therefore, I kept missing my training sessions and Manchester City let me go. That made the decision for me. It was clear to see that my talent was more in the boxing than it was in the football.

Hatton:  I am very confident. I understand that I am the underdog and it is a move up in class. Obviously, I have beaten some good men, but I have not beaten anybody along the lines of Kostya Tszyu. A lot of the people in America do not really favor me to win this fight, but just sneak off to the bookies and put just a few quiet dollars on me. You might surprise yourself.

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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