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Articles of 2005

Boxing in the Mid-South: Not your Grandfather’s Boxing Scene

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“The moment people hear that a fighter is from Tennessee, they automatically think he is some dumb, tough, unskilled hillbilly. It’s a bad stereotype surrounding fighters down here.”

So believes undefeated welterweight contender Tim “Spider” Webb, of Columbia, Tennessee. Webb did his part to help dispel that myth in scoring an upset stoppage win over highly touted welterweight Jose Celaya this past May. Fighting in Celaya’s hometown on national television (ESPN2 Friday Night Fights), Webb’s relentless pressure and superior work rate prevailed on a night where talent alone would not get the job done.

Celaya danced as hard as he could in what was believed to be a showcase bout for the Bay Area prospect. He found himself on the deck three times before fight’s end, and helped Webb put Tennessee on the boxing map – for all of the right reasons.

Webb is one of several fighters from the Mid-South who managed to work his way to the bright lights in the early part of 2005.

In the past, the only way for a fighter from this region to receive such accolades was in the role of handpicked opponent. Middleweight contender Jonathan Reid was forced to travel that road five years ago, when Don King offered him a last minute opportunity at a world title. Given only four days to train and travel to Vegas, Reid found himself on a pay-per-view card headlined by Felix Trinidad and Fernando Vargas in December 2000. He wound up on the business end of a four round shellacking at the hands of then WBA champion William Joppy.

Prior to 2005, it was the only moment most hardcore fans would instantly remember in dropping Reid’s name. Shortly after the loss, Reid believed the promises of his promoter, only to find himself dispatched back to the anonymous Southeast and Midwestern fight circuit.

Thanks to NBC’s “The Contender,” even casual fans now recognize Reid. Despite his early exit from the show (Reid lost a decision to Jesse Brinkley in Episode 2), fight fans were able to get a glimpse of his life outside the ropes. Removed are the images of an unskilled bumpkin; instead, we were able to see a proud family man, a husband and a father of five, who fights to provide for his family. We learned that Jonathan overcame a rough start in life (jailed for armed robbery attempt as a teenager), and through boxing and his belief in Christ has found salvation.

Two other fighters from Reid’s gym (Fitness One, located in Cummins Station in the heart of Nashville) also made their way to many a living room earlier this year. Brent Cooper joined Jonathan on “The Contender.” Though viewed as the weakest link among the cast of sixteen, Cooper’s career now reaps the benefit of guaranteed fights against quality opposition. As part of “The Contender” tour, Cooper will be seen toward summer’s end. His ability to fight his way into the cast has attracted a new fan base in a city that otherwise celebrates music, football and car racing.

Heavyweight contender Owen Beck traveled a separate path than did his stable mates. One of many heavyweights under the Don King banner, Beck earned a lofty position among the alphabet ratings. When he was summoned to fight Monte Barrett in a title eliminator this past February, many expected the more experienced Barrett to tear through Beck. Some cited Beck’s resume; others merely referred to geography, insisting that his undefeated record was due to “feasting on Midwestern farmers.”

Beck was stopped in nine against Barrett, but showed boatloads of heart. He twice climbed off the canvas, and was ahead on one scorecard, and within one and three points on the other two cards at the time of the stoppage. Valiant in defeat, Showtime informed Beck and his handlers that they would love to have him back on the network. Their PPV arm, SET PPV, will showcase his next fight, an IBF elimination bout against Sergei Lhyakovich on an August 13 pay per view card headlined by Barrett’s interim title fight with Hasim Rahman.

His career isn’t where he wants it to be, but Owen is now in the position to where opportunities are within reach. A win over Lhyakovich will eventually lead to a world title. It could also lead to a homecoming of sorts, as Beck would love to help bring big time boxing to Nashville.

“It’s been my dream to win a world title, and defend here in my adopted hometown,” says Beck, originally from Jamaica before relocating to Music City in 2000. “I want to do all I can to help bring some legitimacy to Tennessee boxing.”

Commissioner Dan Kelly, who serves as boxing administrator for the Tennessee Boxing and Racing Commission, has helped the moment he assumed control. Mismatches still serve as a problem in the state, as local promoters are forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel in stretching a buck. But the same can be said in any state. The areas in which Kelly has been a stickler for the rules are uniformity among all officials and stricter testing for fighters, particularly those of the “club circuit” variety.

Gone are the days of “anything goes.” Once upon a time, club shows were comprised of “fighters” literally dragged off the street and licensed on the spot. The prerequisite for officials was simply to provide the yearly membership fee.

Such nonsense ceased the moment Kelly assumed control. Now, all judges and referees are required to attend training seminars conducted by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC). Political favors and under-the-table dealings no longer exist. Officials need to earn their way to premium assignments.

Such was proven this past June in Memphis, which played host to the rematch between Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. As big of an event as the fight card was, which also featured the return of former welterweight champion Ike Quartey, many cited the commission’s nearly flawless night. In both the main event and co-feature, officials were all within a round of each other in the official scoring. A borderline blown call late in the ninth round of the Quartey-Verno Phillips fight was the only blemish on what was a standout night for the Tennessee Boxing Commission.

“All we can do is try our hardest,” said a modest Kelly days after the event in absorbing the overwhelming amount of positive feedback. “When I took this job, my mission was to turn this place into a respectable boxing commission. I’m well aware of what people think of the boxing scene down here. What my staff and I attempt to do is make it a little more credible each day. We want to give people something to talk about, not something to laugh at.”

Plenty were talking about the comeback of Riddick Bowe. Fight manager Jimmy Adams, who now resides in Williamson County (TN), announced in late 2003 plans of bringing “Big Daddy” to the Volunteer State once he was released from prison in Maryland. What he didn’t count on was resistance from a commission who had previously allowed anything to go forward.

Well before Bowe once again set foot in a boxing gym, the Tennessee Commission demanded the former heavyweight champion undergo a series of tests to prove he is still fit to fight. Concerns stemmed from Bowe’s trial, in which his lawyers argued that their client suffered from brain damage, in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence for the kidnapping of his ex-wife and children back in 1998.

Though Bowe himself never took the stand and said he had brain damage, enough evidence – or persuasion? – was offered for him to receive a light sentence. The Commission wanted to review the transcript to see what exactly led to the reduced sentence. The stance led to a back and forth debate between Team Bowe and the commission, featuring far more fighting in Davidson County courtrooms than in the ring.

When all was said and done, Bowe was granted the right to apply for a license in the state of Tennessee – the condition being that the Commission would be permitted to assign the physicians to perform the evaluations.

Bowe is likely to receive his license in the near future, though his handlers are unsure if he will bother fighting in the state of Tennessee. “It’s been an exhausting task just getting him to this point,” admitted manager Jimmy Adams. “Even if he gets his license, is it worth it to go through this much trouble just to secure a few comeback fights? He has to work harder outside the ropes than he does in the gym just to prove to people that he can fight.”

Get used to it. Such is the way in the new era of boxing in the Mid-South. Things may not be where they need to be, but they’re a lot closer than they’ve ever been in this neck of the woods. For the first time in a long time, “progress” can be associated with the Mid-South boxing scene.

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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