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Articles of 2005

Boxing, Boston and Tony DeMarco

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I was at the Mohegan Sun covering the fights not long ago and it was as festive as only live boxing can be, yet the occasion got a special charge when a special award was given to a special fighter named Tony DeMarco. The former champ was wearing a tux, looked like a million bucks, and appeared sturdy, sane and dynamic.

Tony DeMarco was born January 14, 1932 in Boston and grew up in the North End. DeMarco told me “the North End is the Little Italy of Boston, at that time particularly.” Tony’s father Vincent and mother Jiacomina (Jacqueline) came from Sicily. I wondered if DeMarco had any brothers and sisters.

“I do. Rather I should say I did. I had two brothers, one before I was born, just before I was born, and I took his name. He passed on when my mother was pregnant with me. In viewing the body at the home in those days, my dad in a quirky way believed in reincarnation, hoping it would be another boy to take over the name of the boy at the wake. He was also named Leonardo,” Tony DeMarco said. “That’s my name. But they called him Nardo. And sure enough I became the Nardo they hoped to have.”

Tony’s real first name is Nardo. DeMarco’s real last name was Liotta. I asked the former Leonardo Liotta, aka Tony DeMarco, how he and boxing first met.

“I kind of owe my career to the Boys Clubs,” he said, “the Parks Department. That’s how I got started. You go to the Boys Club and you pick up a pair of gloves and you’re not serious about it but you slap each other around and you’re only eleven and then all of the sudden you start getting serious about it – and that’s how it happened with me.”

Was it because he liked boxing or because he was skilled at the sport?

“Both,” DeMarco said. “I took a liking to it – and in the beginning it was such fun – and I started to pick up the techniques out of it and I stayed with it. I was winning championship after championship as a young boy in different tournaments. And of course you always want to become the champion. I was a champion a million times – in my dreams – and finally it came to be.”

Like most of the greats, Nardo Liotta started when he was young.

“Maybe ten, maybe eleven. When I was 95 pounds, 95 pounds,” DeMarco repeated. “I entered the tournaments at the borough’s Newsboy Foundation, which was a Boys Club downtown near the courthouse. We got started over there. I was 95 pounds and I won the Greater Boston Tournament, of all the Boys Clubs in Boston. It was a three-day tournament where we boxed each day – a process of elimination – and I knocked out three kids in three days, which, as you know, is quite difficult to do where you’re 95 pounds.”

I wanted to return to the subject of the champ’s name and how he became Tony DeMarco.

“When I was young, I wasn’t able to receive a boxing license unless I was eighteen. Consequently, I had to borrow someone’s name, and I borrowed Tony DeMarco’s name,” Tony DeMarco said. “He was 18 years old. That’s how I became Tony DeMarco  . . .  and I stuck with it!”

DeMarco had his first professional fight when he was sixteen years old. It was October 21, 1948. He kayoed Mestor Jones in one round.

“I don’t think it was the right thing to do,” DeMarco said about turning pro so young. “Not at the time, but now. I realize it wasn’t the right thing to do because I still could have used the experience. I would recommend youngsters stay in the amateurs and get a lot of experience. I had many fights in the Parks Department and many fights in the Boys Club as a youngster, but then I turned amateur and only had maybe 12 fights, which is very little experience. But the people I was with were not exactly the most sensible individuals and they thought, really, sincerely, that I would do good in the professional ranks. And I did. But I think I would have been better off to have waited a couple more years. But, as it stood, we fought 4-rounders, 6-rounders, and eventually the 8-rounders, and Tony DeMarco was the focus. I had lots of ups and downs – I had a lot of downs – going nowhere fast – because I think I had bad judgment in my management. They weren’t bad people, but I think they left a lot to be desired when it comes to management.”

Bad management in boxing is one of the things that plague the sport today. But good fortune was about to smile on DeMarco.

“Then a change came with my management and I ended up with someone who knew more about it. I start to have more meaningful fights and I became a main eventer in no time and I continued on and I became boxing champ of the world. I’ve had 71 fights and knocked out 33 guys of my 58 victories. And that’s where I am.”

DeMarco won the welterweight title on April 1, 1955 with a fourteenth round TKO over Johnny Saxton.

“Johnny Saxton was a good fighter, a colorful fighter,” remembered DeMarco. “He beat Kid Gavilan and he beat Carmen Basilio – who beat me by the way – and he fought other champions. He fought Gil Turner. Joey Giardello he fought too, the middleweight champion. He beat Virgil Akins, who also beat me. So Saxton was no stumblebum.”

Because Tony DeMarco is from Boston, a city as charming as it is tough, the former champ, once the toast of New England, fought in the old Boston Garden.

DeMarco smiled and said “I had 31 fights there. In fact, 21 of them were main events. I fought in Mechanics Hall. And then there was the Boston Arena. I fought there. I fought twice in Fenway Park. I also fought in Braves Field on the card of Rocky Marciano. I was still just getting started.”

I asked DeMarco to describe his skills for those who missed him in action.

“I’m a puncher, number one,” he said. “I’m a puncher. There are times when I fight on instinct. Sometimes I’m able to counterpunch, and sometimes I’m able to box, but mainly I would consider myself a slugger. But I did have the skills enough to box some boxers occasionally – like Vince Martinez, like Kid Gavilan – but the overall picture of me as a fighter, I would say I was a puncher.”

The former welterweight champ continued: “I had kind of a walk-in style. Jake LaMotta was one of my favorite fighters growing up, and I related to him. I looked up to him as a fighter. He’s quite a guy.”

DeMarco grew tight with some other legendary fighters.

“I was very friendly with Marciano. He’s from Brockton and I’m from Boston. We hit the same places several times. In fact, he trained at the Catskill Mountains and once or twice we ran into each other. He was training at Grossinger’s Country Club and I was four miles away from him at Kutsher’s Country Club, and we would visit each other, with our fathers no less, and they had a lot in common. They were both shoemakers. They were both like five feet two,” DeMarco recalls, “and they were very compatible.”

The fathers were compatible. So were the mothers.

“My mother went into a beauty shop and the next thing you know there’s a woman next to her and the conversation came where they were speaking about their sons. My mother says, in Italian, ‘Il mio figlio e campione del mondo.’ Which is, ‘My son is champion of the world.’ And the woman next to my mother says ‘Mio figlio e campione del mondo.’ And my mother says ‘What’s your name? Como se chiama tu?’ ‘Io sono Marchegiano.’ And Marchegiano is Marciano, the original name. ‘Io sono DeMarco. My son is Tony DeMarco.’ And of course they had a great celebration in Lee’s Beauty Shop in Hanover Street. My mother and his mother got to be friendly, and his father and my father got to be friendly, so we all knew each other.”

Was there anyone else he remembered from those days?

“I met Carbo,” DeMarco said. “Those guys were wiseguys and they loved to own a fighter. It was like owning a racehorse.”

All in all, it sounds like Tony DeMarco feels good about the game.

“Boxing’s been good to me. I’ve become well known. I’m still reaping my benefits from boxing because of my reputation. I’m a very fortunate individual. I didn’t make a lot of money, unfortunately, unlike today where you fight today and you make a million. In my day we fought, we were lucky to make a couple thousand. So it was a different status then. But boxing has been good to me. I’ve been faithful to it, and I was determined to be and did and I became,” DeMarco said. “But I also had lucky streaks too.”

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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