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Articles of 2005

The State of the Heavyweights: Clearing the Crossroad

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In the midst of the most muddled heavyweight picture in many years, the easy temptation is to write off the current crop of contenders, champions, and pretenders all as a part of a consortium of fighters who are unworthy of being in boxing’s glamour division.

Of course, if you dig out those old boxing magazines and read the contemporaneous news through most of the last century, you will find decade after decade of claims decrying the weakness of the heavyweights.

With the retirement of Lennox Lewis, we are in fact at a crossroads that has been seen by the boxing public only twice; following the real retirements of Gene Tunney and Rocky Marciano.

Add to that, perhaps, the three-plus years of Muhammad Ali’s exile that necessitated an awkward tournament and unification resulting in the emergence of Joe Frazier as “champion.”

Joe Louis and Ali retired (after the second Leon Spinks fight) with the title only to be lured back, thus clearing up the question of “who is the real champion?” Louis was thrashed convincingly by Ezzard Charles. Ali was whipped by Larry Holmes.

Tunney’s departure resulted in a single fight, Max Schmeling vs. Jack Sharkey on June 12, 1930, to determine a champion who was widely recognized as such. This was despite the fact that the fight ended in a highly controversial disqualification of Sharkey as Schmeling was sprawled on the canvas in pain from a low blow.

The title vacated by Marciano was won by Floyd Patterson (KO 5 over Archie Moore) on November 30, 1956, and, again, it was widely seen as legitimate.

Our current situation is far more complex than either the Tunney or Marciano retirements.

Naturally, there is disgruntlement as to the legitimacy of each of the champions:  Vitali Klitschko (WBC); Lamon Brewster (WBO); John Ruiz (WBA); and Chris Byrd (IBF). Legitimacy is just not possible given that situation.

Compounding this problem, each of the rating bodies has widely diverging views of who is the top contender for the heavyweight title.

Consider the recent ratings (I know, James Toney has thrown this all out of whack in winning, then being stripped of, the WBA title, but bear with me):  WBC #1 Hasim Rahman; WBA #1 Toney; IBF #1 Monte Barrett; WBO #1 Lance Whitaker.

Just to confuse you even more, with another example of the absurdity of the rankings, Rahman and Toney are not even in the top 15 of the WBO. Don’t look for Whitaker in the WBA or WBC rankings; his name isn’t there. I could go on, but I won’t.

Somebody has to have it wrong – don’t they?

Worse still, each organization refuses to rate the so-called champions of their competing sanctioning bodies, thereby never creating a forcing mechanism for the top fighters to meet. Each of the champions can effectively spend an entire career avoiding potentially troublesome opponents.

But, I’m not finished. The organizations have also taken it upon themselves to foist upon the boxing public “mandatory” defenses.

By the time you read this article, either Lance Whitaker (29-2-1, 24 KOs) or Luan Krasniqi (27-1-1, 13 KOs) will become a mandatory challenger to WBO titlist Brewster. Never mind that neither Whitaker or Krasniqi (who in fact fought to a draw two fights ago) have done anything to gain the respective rankings of number 1 and 2 in the division.

This is not an indictment of the relative abilities of either fighter. It is a simple statement of fact using virtually any criteria a serious person would apply.  Both may be world-beaters, but who in the world have they beaten to ranked at the top?

So is it all hopeless? Are the heavyweights of today a bunch of second-tier heavyweights slogging around rings?

First, it is not hopeless. Three unification fights can result in one champion – a feat that could happen within a year. Some people think Don King, holder of promotional deals with all the champions except Klitschko, is the obstacle.

That’s nonsense. Clearly King will come through when the deal is ready to be made and it looks like the time is drawing near as the major cable company HBO appears to be impatient with the whole process.

No, King isn’t the obstacle. The obstacle may in fact be not one, but two Klitschkos.

Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko have professed a desire to hold belts simultaneously. Wladimir is currently suing for the right to face IBF champion Chris Byrd (Klitschko is ranked #3) because the top two contenders, Hasim Rahman and Monte Barrett, have signed to vie for the chance to meet Vitali.

Should Wladimir prove successful in gaining a mandatory against Byrd, it sets up the possibility of a stone wall between the IBF title and all titles held by Vitali. (And Wladimir has to be considered a favorite against Byrd, who he wiped out when the two met.)

In the short term, Byrd will defend against Serguei Lyakhovich, from Belarus on July 23d. This is no walkover and a Lyakhovich win would undoubtedly continue stirring the pot.

Vitali Klitschko, once he recovers from back surgery, is set to defend the WBC belt against the winner of Rahman-Barrett (also scheduled for July 23rd).

Who knows the schedules of Brewster and Ruiz? Needless to say, if King wants to begin unifying, this seems to be the quickest hit – assuming the nasty WBO mandatory can be dealt with.

As to the question of the quality of today’s heavyweights, I would suggest that the current crop is sufficiently qualified to stand toe-to-toe with that of most other eras.

In reviewing many of the growing number of blog sites, there seems to be a gnashing of the teeth, particularly among American fans, about the relative skills of the contenders and champions alike.

It is certainly possible that with the tremendous strides athletes from Europe (primarily the former eastern-bloc countries) have made in boxing and the emerging status of African heavyweights, that we are becoming frustrated by what our homegrown fighters are doing — or failing to do.

The Klitschkos, up-and-coming stars such as hard-hitting Nigerian Samuel Peter, giant Ukranian youngster Alexander Dimitrenko, aging-but-dangerous South African Corrie Sanders, seven-foot, 330-pound Russian Nicolay Valuev, England’s Audley Harrison and others are beginning to creep into our boxing consciences.

Ultimately the quality of their punches will have to be proven in rings in cities such as New York and Las Vegas – because, let’s face it, America is still the place to prove a fighter’s real worth.

A shifting of the guard may be underway. Time will tell.

But American fans can look forward to the emergence of a talent like undefeated Calvin Brock (a winner over Jameel McCline). Other young fighters such as Chazz Witherspoon show some promise.

And don’t forget the newly invigorated WBO champion Lamon Brewster, Byrd and Toney. They still win a lot of fights.

Brewster may capitalize on his recent stunning knockout of perennial contender Andrew Golota.

We may one day look back on Byrd’s career and see with the beauty of hindsight how remarkable his title reign has really been.

Toney will soon look for redemption.

All in all it is an interesting time for the heavyweight division. More than all the other divisions, the big boys need a single, widely acclaimed champion. I suspect Vitali Klitschko has the goods, but he and he fellow alphabet champions have much to prove.

Unification will improve the division, improve the sport, and bring non-boxing people back to the big fights. Let’s hope it happens soon.

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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