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Articles of 2005

Shadowboxing with Dad

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I was trapped. I held my hands up near my face as I slowly moved forward. A leather headguard – designed to protect me – kept drooping over my eyes, making the journey that much more perilous. I was confined to this harrowing space by four ropes, each one stretched to make a 16-by-16 foot square boxing ring. I entered this domain voluntarily and would have to fight my way out. No one could come to my aide, particularly the man whose footsteps I was attempting to follow.

My opponent stood before me, but what I couldn’t escape, what was really suffocating me, was my father’s presence. His reputation loomed over the ring and this boxing gym like a 10-foot pugilistic altar. I, the first-born son of “Irish” Bobby Cassidy, convinced myself that stepping into the ring was not only my duty but my baptism.

But the headgear was too big. It kept creeping down, blinding me as I took my first unsure steps in my father's sport. I was 11 years old and was reluctantly following Patrick Brennan from ringpost to ringpost. Patrick was 14 and the best amateur boxer in the gym. He had just enough experience to differentiate between sparring and fighting.

“Welcome …” said his left jab, as it pounded against the Everlast logo that covered my forehead.

The headgear drooped again. I pushed it up with my glove.

“… to boxing!” said his right hand as it crash-landed in the exact same spot, finishing a perfectly executed, one-two combination.

My father, standing on the ring apron, encouraged me to “Throw the jab.”

I lunged with a left. Patrick pulled his head back as my jab fell far short of its target. He paused in a corner, I tried another jab, but he was gone. I followed, still blinded by my headgear.

“Here I am,” laughed Patrick's jab as it again met with the Everlast logo on my forehead.

“Throw the one-two,” my father said.

I complied. But the punches were thrown out of parental obedience, not aggression or instinct. I couldn't commit to my punches. My instincts told me that the moment my hands went into motion, Patrick's hands, quicker and stronger, would be crash-landing again somewhere in the vicinity of his favorite target — the Everlast logo.

I began to wonder: How long does a three-minute round last?

I continued to follow Patrick around the ring, my hands sinking to mid-chest, my feet shuffling awkwardly, trepidation constricting my muscles.

Patrick paused in a corner. I let go with a one-two that finally landed — on his gloves. He jabbed. I gathered myself. He jabbed again. I tried to fix the headgear. He jabbed a third time, his fist penetrating my gloves and landing on my nose.

My eyes began to tear.

“Sorry,” said Patrick through his mouthpiece.

“Punch!” said my father from his perch on the apron, his voice now rising, his torso leaning into the ring.

His words moved swiftly to my brain and then my fist. Acting on his demand, not my own, my left jab darted forward and struck Patrick on the nose. His eyes didn't tear.

I finally landed a punch, but it didn't feel good. I had hit Patrick out of anger, even though I really wasn't angry with him. I was angry because there were only two of us in the ring, yet I was surrounded. I was surrounded by Patrick’s jab, his right cross, my father’s reputation and my own expectations.

Patrick deftly pivoted out of the corner. I followed, tossing obligatory jabs into the air, biding my time until these excruciatingly long three minutes came to end.

Ding!

Round over. Back came the tears. The first time I entered a ring, I exited crying. As a young boy who was yearning for paternal approval, I had embarrassed myself and the very name that made me glow with pride.

My father pulled off the headgear and saw me crying. I wasn't hurt physically but my confidence was battered. It was clear to all that the son of the light heavyweight division’s No. 1 rated contender was not a chip off the old block. I thought he would be disappointed that I had disgraced him in his very own gym.

There was no sign of disappointment from my father, just a warm smile.

“This isn’t a game,” he said. “Boxing is a very tough business and that’s why I don’t want you and your brother to fight.”

Despite my failure against Patrick, my fantasy of being a fighter would remain for many years. Therefore, I would head to the basement and hit the heavy bag, round after round after round. I’d fight from my father’s southpaw stance and I’d wear his Kelly green boxing trunks. I never lost a fight in the basement.

As a righthander, fighting as a southpaw required practice. I would study my father’s fight films and rehearse his movements, copying the way he delivered his punches. There was one film that would always serve as a reminder of what boxing is and why I could never confuse this make-believe game with my other sports fantasy of playing shortstop in Yankee Stadium.

The footage was grainy and the frames of the black-and-white 16 millimeter film sometimes hiccupped, accelerating ahead of the action. As worn as the film was, there was no confusing what took place on October 13, 1970 at Sunnyside Garden in Queens, New York.

As the film starts, two men come together at the center of the ring. Johnny Burnside is the man in the white trunks. My father is the man in the dark trunks, which I recognize as the green pair I wear in the basement. At the age of 26 and 163 pounds, my father is near his prime. His wavy black hair is cut short. His back is wide and his torso is funneled into the narrow waistband of the green trunks. Interpreting his body language is like reading an essay in confidence. He arrives at this fight, at every fight, savoring the conflict before him. When it is accomplished inside of a ring, the physical dismantling of another man can be elevated to art. My father was an artist, supremely certain about the beauty – the destruction – his fists were capable of producing.

Burnside, a Golden Gloves champion and unbeaten pro, was touted as the future of the middleweight division. This fight was an important steppingstone en route to being a contender. Burnside would solidify his reputation with a win.

The footage begins rolling by and the action is fast-paced. Burnside is bouncing on the balls of his feet, firing right crosses with an emphatic enthusiasm that illustrates his confidence and determination. My father, in his seventh year as a pro, is calm and patient. He counters with left hands. Burnside, full of youth, speed and adrenaline, is growing comfortable with the pace to which this violent ballet has been set. In the final moments of the fourth round, my father drives home a stiff left hand that causes Burnside’s legs to shimmy.

The blow should have served as some form of notice that, in boxing, your future can change with a single punch. But such warnings are often lost on the young and gifted. The fifth round begins with the same pattern. Burnside is moving nimbly, pumping right hands. My father is following. But now his posture changed from studying his opponent to stalking him. A weakness has been exposed and not even Burnside’s talent or enthusiasm can save him. It happens, suddenly, midway through the round. A left uppercut – boom — followed immediately by an overhand left – BOOM! — and Burnside is moving about the ring like a man who has one foot stuck in a bucket. Another left sends him tumbling backward to the ropes.

I watch the remaining moments again and again. The ropes prevent Burnside from falling. He is lying, motionless, at a 45-degree angle between the third and fourth strand. His arms are down, his chin pointing to the ceiling. My father moves closer to Burnside, his left arm swinging back. This will be the definitive blow of the fight, perhaps the final blow of Burnside’s life. There is absolutely no hesitation on my father’s part. The left hand starts to come forward when, seemingly out of nowhere, the referee grabs my father’s arm. But like a windmill, my father’s right arm is also in motion. Its destination is Burnside’s head. It is airborne; the referee is unable to rein it in. Somehow the momentum of the referee upsets my father’s balance and, luckily, the right hand sails harmlessly into the arena’s smoky air.

The referee begins to issue a 10-count but stops the fight at the count of five. The camera pans to my father, pacing the ring with his arms raised in triumph. Twice he glances to the corner where they are attempting to revive Burnside.

Johnny Burnside did wake up. He was escorted to his dressing room and wept when he was told of what happened. “I don’t remember any of it,” he said in the papers.

My father remembers all of it, every frenzied second. The adrenaline rush of scoring a knockout and the sense of satisfaction in derailing a popular young prospect. And yes, the consequences of what could have been if another left hand landed.

“It’s not something you think about,” he told me when, as an adult, I asked him about the fight. “As a fighter, you can’t afford to think about that. You have a job to do. You fight until they stop you. It’s instinct. He would have done the same to me.”

It was true. His profession did not allow him to contemplate his own mortality or that of his opponent. It was all part of the risk he willingly took in each fight. With two sons growing up in the shadow of his legend, he could certainly afford to think about the dire byproducts of boxing as it related to us. He pondered it often and was unwavering in his belief.

“My sons will never fight,” he told people and he stated it with pride.

My brother and I were taught the rudiments of boxing – stance, jab, right cross – in a very obligatory manner. They were prefaced by, ‘Do this if the schoolyard bully bothers you.’ We were encouraged to compete in all sports but my father simply told us we could not box. He explained that he could not stand to see another person strike us. While that was true, his feelings about allowing his sons to fight went deeper.

“Boxing is the life I chose,” he once told someone in my presence. “It’s not the life I wanted for my sons. It’s a tough, tough game.” He paused a second and looked at me, realizing what he implied.

Nothing more needed to be said. He was right. Today, I thank him for that. I thank him for being a warrior. And I thank him for exposing me to a sport where nobility and grace and honor are found in three-minute intervals at every fight card in the world.

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

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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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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