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Articles of 2005

Hopkins & Mayweather: Discipline from Different Angles

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On most pound-for-pound lists, Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are ranked as the top two fighters in the world today. Hopkins and Mayweather have ascended to the top from different backgrounds and pedigrees. They are drastically different people outside of the ring as well. Some would deem Hopkins as a rebel with a cause who beat the establishment, while some would deem Mayweather as a rebel without a clue. Regardless of the differences, as it applies strictly to their chosen profession, they are the most disciplined and focused champions today. In an age when fighters balloon 20-30 pounds over their weight class between fights, Hopkins and Mayweather are always in shape, and can concentrate on strategy and tactics instead of rapid weight loss while preparing for high profile fights. Hopkins and Mayweather, more than any other top fighters in boxing today, come to the ring in better mental and physical condition than their opposition. They work harder in the gym than their opponents, and both are in control of pre-fight psychological warfare.

To understand the breadth and depth of similarities and differences between Hopkins and Mayweather, it’s important to examine the pre-fight hype, actual ring action, and post-fight analysis of their signature fights. Hopkins’ signature win to this day is actually his delayed coming out party against Felix Trinidad. Mayweather has been in tougher fights in the past compared to his destruction of Gatti last week, but it’s indeed the Gatti fight that has catapulted him into the consciousness of the buying public for many reasons. All told, in comparing and contrasting Hopkins and Mayweather, it’s a study of discipline from different angles.

Bernard Hopkins TKO12 Felix Trinidad – September 29, 2001

Prior to facing Trinidad almost four years ago, Hopkins stated that Trinidad was a fighter who never had to go to plan B in his career. Bernard’s belief was that Trinidad was a one-dimensional “left hook guy,” and if you took away his main weapon, Tito wouldn’t be able to adjust. As Bernard was analyzing Tito’s style while planning his own game plan, he said that he would present Trinidad with a diverse set of styles. In separate interviews, The Executioner said that Tito would see elements of Bennie Briscoe, Gypsy Joe Harris, Jersey Joe Walcott and Marvin Hagler. The most important thing to realize about the aforementioned fighters is that Oscar De La Hoya’s name wasn’t mentioned. Many boxing people, including HBO commentator Jim Lampley, mentioned that Hopkins’ strategy was simply a “blueprint” that was established by Oscar De La Hoya in his bout with Trinidad in September1999. In reality, Hopkins’ multi-faceted destruction of Trinidad couldn’t have been more different than De La Hoya’s controversial loss to Trinidad in 1999.

First, Hopkins beat Trinidad before they ever stepped into the ring. In the months prior to Hopkins vs. Trinidad, the press built Trinidad up, and tore Hopkins down. Ironically, it was Hopkins who was in charge the entire time. He played the role of the villain, but it wasn’t a mindless game. The boxing establishment outlandishly disrespected Hopkins and his advisor at the time, Lou DiBella. The crux of the tournament was transparent. Put Trinidad into a position where he could unify the middleweight belts, and step up to fight Roy Jones Jr. in the biggest mega-bout of the new millennium.  In the eyes of the powersthat be, Hopkins was just a pawn in the grand scheme of things. HBO commentators were mentioning Trinidad in the same breath as Sugar Ray Robinson while Tito concussed William Joppy in May 2001. Trinidad was the star of the show regardless of the fact that he only had one middleweight fight under his belt, and Hopkins was shooting for his fourteenth defense.

While Hopkins’ status and credentials were being skeptically scrutinized, he went on the offensive from various fronts. He was too smart, too disciplined, and too resourceful. As the press heaped praise on Tito, Hopkins took control of Tito’s psyche. Hopkins’ antics at the press conferences in New York, Philadelphia, Miami, and the infamous riot in Puerto Rico are well documented. What many don’t remember is that Hopkins actually got physical with Tito in Miami. Sporting a washboard stomach and looking near the middleweight limit, Hopkins actually had the audacity to call out his more heralded opponent’s physical condition by aggressively grabbing Tito’s flabby love handles. It was a smart move. Tito was probably somewhere between 175-180 pounds and seemed to be living the life of a contemporary spoiled superstar while he was out of training. It was a not-so-subtle attempt at intimidation, and Tito appeared both shocked and surprised by Hopkins’ aggression and disrespect. It also demonstrated that Hopkins was the more mentally and physically prepared opponent. Tito had no recourse but to complain. He never attempted to turn the tables on Bernard during face-to-face psychological warfare.

Bernard got under Tito’s skin at all of the press conferences. From the time Tito went into serious training, to the 9/11-related postponement, and just before the men stepped into the ring on 9/29/01, Tito was a different person than we’d been accustomed to seeing. Even though he was guaranteeing victory and revenge, Tito was admitting that he might need to change his game plan against Hopkins. He was working on lateral movement, holding, and clinching. He was averse to press attention, whereas he was normally open and engaging in the past.

Tito Trinidad was worried about Bernard Hopkins.

What Tito didn’t know was that Bernard’s pre-fight rhetoric and open disrespect was a misdirection play. Tito thought Hopkins was going to work an inside game like he did with Keith Holmes, but Hopkins and Bouie Fisher were actually working on a different strategy the entire time. The design was to set the bait, and lure Tito into a game he didn’t expect.

It worked.

To add to Tito’s pre-flight plight, just an hour before Hopkins and Trinidad entered the ring at Madison Square Garden, Hopkins’ camp rattled Tito further by asking the New York State Athletic Commission to re-examine Tito’s wraps. The NYSAC noticed an irregularity, and asked Tito to re-wrap. At one point, the Trinidads reportedly threatened to pull out of the fight, but ultimately relented.

Score another pre-fight point to Hopkins.

The story of what happened in the ring between Hopkins and Tito is well known. It was one of the best performances of the decade, and I’m still stunned to this day that Hopkins vs. Trinidad wasn’t part of HBO’s stellar series, Legendary Nights.  Hopkins utilized purposeful lateral movement, a punishing jab, and jolting, short right hands to get Tito drunk, and drown him in the late rounds.

I attended Hopkins vs. Trinidad at Madison Square Garden, and it reminded me of a fight I attended almost twenty years before in Las Vegas: Holmes vs. Cooney. The eastern Pennsylvania fighters defused the vaunted left hook of their more popular opposition, and used a better rounded skill set to dissect and destroy them in the late rounds. Certainly, Trinidad was a more accomplished and decorated fighter than Cooney, but the styles and tempo of the fight were eerily similar. Like Holmes, Hopkins was cool and collected under enormous pressure, whereas Tito and Cooney didn’t know what to do when their power was nullified. They kept trying, but ultimately wilted under the accumulation of punishment. Both Tito and Cooney were never the same. They were beaten both mentally and physically.

In the end, Hopkins outsmarted, outboxed, and outfought Trinidad. The twelfth round stoppage was both devastating and definitive. Bernard Hopkins, an underdog who bet $100,000 on himself, upset the odds and the boxing establishment. Tito Trinidad was a tough fighter and a tremendous puncher, but he simply wasn’t as disciplined or prepared as Hopkins to assume the throne as the best middleweight in the world on September 29, 2001.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. TKO6 Arturo Gatti – June 25, 2005

Floyd Mayweather Jr. might be the best fighter in the world today. Like Hopkins, he is known for outside-the-ring problems. Scrutiny reveals that Pretty Boy Floyd’s problems aren’t so pretty. His problems are actually much different in nature than Hopkins. Mayweather’s problems typically land in criminal court, whereas Hopkins’ cases are determined in civil court. Since being released from prison in 1987 at the age of twenty-two, Bernard Hopkins has never been involved in a criminal proceeding.  In most of Hopkins’ legal cases, he’s challenged promoters and prevailed. He beat both Butch Lewis and America Presents in court, and the combined awards from both cases totaled over two million dollars. To date, the only man to beat Bernard Hopkins in civil court is Hopkins’ former advisor, Lou DiBella. Arbitration with Don King is still pending.

As stated above, Pretty Boy Floyd is no stranger to the criminal justice system, and that’s part of the reason he’s been so difficult to market. Hopkins was hard to market because he was challenging the establishment while trying to get ahead. The combination is difficult to achieve in the labyrinth of politics in professional boxing. Hopkins’ plight was based on principle, whereas Floyd’s plight is one-dimensional and self-inflicted. Whether it’s a domestic dispute or a bar altercation, Floyd makes the news in the wrong way. However, to this point in his career, Floyd’s problems outside of the ring haven’t interfered with his performances or pre-fight preparation. Like Hopkins, Floyd is mentally tough, but not in an activist mode. Floyd is more narcissistic, and perhaps his narcissism works for him. He’s able to concentrate on the task at hand because the attraction of external rewards of money, jewelry, cars, and other forms of ostentation define his persona. You won’t hear Floyd talk about Bill Russell or Curt Flood. Floyd Mayweather Jr. represents the hip hop generation.

During the pre-fight build-up to his WBC light welterweight battle with Arturo Gatti, Mayweather blatantly denigrated his more popular opponent. To be sure, Mayweather was considered the better fighter by most boxing experts, and was correctly installed as a 4:1 favorite. However, the disrespect and disdain he showed Gatti was over-the-top. He was cocky and egotistical. As we all know, he called Arturo a C+ fighter, and claimed that Gatti would be easy money.

Like Trinidad, Gatti was visibly upset. He was so angered by Mayweather’s bombast that he requested separate pre-fight press conferences. Mayweather, sensing vulnerability and realizing he had gotten under Gatti’s skin, crashed Gatti’s press conference by showing up about a half-hour before he was scheduled to take the podium. Floyd was loud, obnoxious and boisterous. Gatti and his crew left minutes later. It wasn’t pretty or respectful, but nobody ever accused Mayweather of playing by the rules.

Score another pre-fight psyche job for Mayweather.

Two days later, separate weigh-ins occurred. Mayweather didn’t show up early this time, but the tone was set. Gatti didn’t want anything to do with Mayweather. Mayweather had established psychological control regardless of whether Gatti knew it or not.

More importantly, Mayweather was better prepared physically for this fight than Gatti. Mayweather was reportedly at weight about a month before the fight. In contrast, Gatti entered camp at 168 pounds and lifted weights during camp. Naturally, it’s more difficult to lose weight when you’re building muscle mass, and Gatti appeared drained and somewhat disoriented at the pre-fight press conference just days before the fight. He admitted to reporters that he was wearing sunglasses to hide the fatigue in his eyes.

Arturo Gatti was probably going to lose to Mayweather last Saturday regardless of his preparation. Realistically, he made it a lot easier on Mayweather by not being 100% physically and mentally prepared to do battle. He barely made the weight, was depleted in the process, and actually entered the ring with the wrong game plan. In this fight, Gatti had a puncher’s chance. He attempted to box the boxer, and that allowed Mayweather to establish control of the fight from the opening bell. Even the eccentric Washington, DC counterpuncher, DeMarcus Corley, attacked Mayweather more effectively and aggressively.

In the end, Gatti was completely embarrassed by Mayweather, and Buddy McGirt stopped the slaughter after six one-sided rounds. In the opinion of this writer, if Arturo Gatti was better prepared, both mentally and physically, he probably would’ve lasted to the tenth or eleventh round while providing some anxious moments along the way. Arturo Gatti is not a C+ fighter. He’s beaten some good fighters. If he would’ve entered camp aerobically fit at 150 pounds, and concentrated on old school training instead of lifting weights, he would’ve been capable of forcing a war at times in this fight. He should’ve thrown that left hook until his shoulder required rotator cuff surgery. Ultimately, he would’ve been outgunned, but at least he might’ve been able to make the fight more interesting.

All told, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was more disciplined, both mentally and physically, than his opponent in his biggest fight.

Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are both similar and different. Bernard Hopkins comes from a family of fighters, but none of them made it to the big time before Bernard. Pretty Boy Floyd comes from a family of fighters as well. His father, Floyd Sr., was a welterweight contender and is considered a top flight trainer. Floyd’s uncle Roger was a world champion, and is his current trainer. Floyd’s other uncle, Jeff, held a third-tier world title belt, and is also a trainer. Bernard had a 95-4 amateur record, but his amateur career was cut short by incarceration. Mayweather had a great amateur career, and was a 1996 Olympian. Prior to their highest profile fights, both men engaged in psychological warfare that drew a collective frown from the boxing public. After dominating their respective foes in the ring, both showed respect to their conquered opposition after the fights were stopped.

Bernard Hopkins railed at the establishment during much of his career, but it was done in the voice of activism instead of narcissism. Both men are individualists, but you won’t hear Floyd enter the ring to Sinatra’s “My Way.” Rather, you’ll see him advertise “Philthy Rich Records” on his trunks. When all is said and done, however, both men are experts at physically and mentally preparing themselves for combat, and that is why they’re considered the top two pound-for-pound fighters on the planet today. The only question that remains is: How much longer can Bernard maintain his status considering his age, and how much longer can Floyd keep the chaos of his personal life from interfering with his professional life? In the end, age will probably derail Bernard Hopkins, whereas the only opponent who can beat Floyd Mayweather in the future is himself.

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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