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Articles of 2005

From Baronet to Sanchez: Who’s to Blame?

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The boxing world was again rocked last weekend at the news of the death of Mexican boxer Martin Sanchez as a result of serious head injuries sustained in his bout against Russian boxer Rustam Nugaev in Las Vegas. Whenever a fighter dies we are reminded that boxing is not a game and that tragically some are made to pay the ultimate price for participating in this dangerous sport.

There are those who go as far as to say that these men who participate are victims of a system intent on gaining entertainment from what is nothing more than a blood sport. I didn’t know Sanchez and won’t assume to know what his circumstance was. I see by his record that all of his previous 20 fights took place in Mexico and that this encounter in Las Vegas was his first outside his home country. He won 13 fights, 10 by KO and lost 8. Including this fateful stoppage, Sanchez had lost by KO on 5 occasions. He was only 26 years old.

While there are many boxers who are only in the sport as a means to improve their life circumstances and perhaps fighting is their only means to do so, that’s not boxing’s fault; it never made the economical circumstance which has driven these men into the ring. In contrast, it has provided “a way out of the ghettos” for many. It is not only the hard-pressed, however, who enter the ring. Many boxers have abilities and talents which could give them other career outlets, but they are drawn to the squared circle.

One such man who could have been anything he wanted in the world, yet chose to be a boxer, was former world title contender Brian Baronet. Tragically he shared the same fate as Sanchez. The South African was one of the biggest draws of his era and attracted full houses almost every time he fought – right up to and including his fateful last bout.

A good looking man, Baronet had his own clothing line and would also lend his hand to modeling on occasion. He exuded charisma and was always popular amongst the fairer sex and men alike. A popular fighter amongst his peers and even with his opponents, Baronet brought a sense of class and charm to the sport which few others could equal.

“He had something very special about him.” says promoter Mike Segal. “Enormously popular and exciting to see in action.”

Brian’s father Ernie was himself a former national feather – and bantamweight – champion. He was also a clever scientific boxer. Brian was also a smooth boxer, but in addition he was far more aggressive than his father and a terrific two-fisted puncher. Baronet scored an impressive ten knockouts in his first twelve fights and seemed invincible as he easily demolished the highly rated Aladin Stevens, who later himself went on to win two national titles.

After impressive victories over the likes of Juan Rondin and Ali Karim Muhammad, a murderous body puncher from Chicago, Baronet became a contender for the WBA junior welterweight world title. A match was made for him to meet Gene “Mad Dog” Hatcher early in 1985. Hatcher lost the title in an upset to Ubaldo Sacco on a ninth round stoppage and Baronet’s title shot was sidelined.

He persevered however and scored a sensational ninth round stoppage of the highly rated Domingo Ayala after he himself had been knocked down in the third and fifth rounds. This amazing comeback from the jaws of defeat made the gutsy Baronet even more popular and it seemed only a matter of time before world honors would be his. A warm-up fight was arranged between Brian and veteran boxer Arthur “The Fighting Prince” Mayasela.

Most people regarded the outcome as a formality – few gave the older Mayasela a chance against Baronet. “Even though Mayasela was also one of my heroes,” says former 3-time world champion Dingaan Thobela, “I favored Baronet to win. Because of his fighting style, I thought he was going to give Mayasela a beating.”

Against all expectations Mayasela turned the tables on Baronet and systematically gave him the beating of his life. A rejuvenated and motivated “Fighting Prince” displayed a potent defense and outfought a man who approached this bout as if it would merely be an exhibition of his talents.

By the eighth round Baronet was bleeding profusely from a cut between his right eye and nose and by the ninth he was fighting on instinct alone. His heart would not let him falter, but the body can take only so much.

Realizing that a world title opportunity was at stake the referee Stanley Christodoulou – who had earlier shot to world fame with his handling of the Arnold Taylor vs. Romeo Anaya and Victor Galindez vs. Ritchie Kates world title fights – gave the popular Natalian the benefit of the doubt. It soon became apparent, though, that all Baronet was doing was soaking up punishment and the bout was stopped.

“It was a great shock,” says Thobela. “Mayasela didn’t outbox Baronet, he just caught him. It was a big upset.”

Returning to the ring after his devastating defeat by Mayesela, Baronet set off to campaign in the USA. He scored three successive victories before being stopped in the tenth round by Harold Brazier, a durable, highly rated fighter he had previously beaten. He returned to South Africa towards the end of 1986 and retired from the ring with a record of 32 wins with 19 knockouts and only 3 defeats.

“The Golden Boy,” as Baronet was called, made a comeback in 1988 and scored victories over Sammy Rivera and Davey Montana, but they were disappointing bouts. Baronet no longer had the grace, the style and the power he had before. His poorer performances did little harm to his popularity, however, and the crowds still flocked to his bouts.

“The problem was that Baronet went over to the USA alone,” says veteran trainer Norman Hlabane. “Guys in the gyms, anywhere in the world, always look out for their own. They gave Baronet hard guys to spar with and they hurt him in the gym. It wasn’t a fight that hurt him. He got a lot of punishment in the gym.”

On the 4th of June 1988, Baronet met Kenny Vice in Durban in front of a capacity crowd of twelve thousand, in a fight screened live on television. Unbeknownst to those at ringside, it was to be his last fight. Throughout the bout it was clear that something was wrong with Baronet. It was as if he was merely going through the motions of boxing. He went down in the tenth and last round after a few glancing blows from Vice.

Although he stood up, he collapsed a few moments later and went into a coma. The nation held its breath as photographs of Baronet were featured on the front pages of all the major newspapers. The prayers of his fans helped little, however, as he died a few days later. After his death there were rumors of him having been in a motor car accident a few days before the bout and that he’d been found unconscious behind the wheel at the scene of the accident.

“Going to the weigh-in Brian had been in an accident,” says Mike Segal, who promoted all of Baronet’s comeback fights. “He was putting a tape into the tape deck – in those days we never had CDs – and there was a car in front of him which he only saw when he looked up. He braked quickly and hit his head against the windscreen and that must have affected something. He only told us this the night of the fight. When we got to the change room before the fight he was fast asleep. His trainer, Doug Dolan, said it was fine, he can sleep before a fight; some fighters do that. He went out there and he just didn’t do anything. I was sitting ringside and looked up at him because he looked at me after every round. I said ‘Brian you’re not fighting at all’ and he said ‘You’re crazy. I’m winning this fight.’”

“I believe that he had a blood clot on the brain as a result of the car accident” says legendary SA boxer Andries Steyn and former trainer to Baronet. “I think that should have been looked into. Vice never landed any effective punches when Brian went down. Before the fight he also looked a little incoherent.”

Baronet’s tragic death did ironically have a positive effect on the safety of future generations of boxers. It lead to the introduction of the punishment index, whereby doctors at ringside monitor and record the amount of punishment a fighter receives in a bout.

“South Africa became the world leader with regard to safety regulations introduced after the Baronet tragedy,” says Stanley Christodoulou, who was at the time the CEO of the SA boxing commission. “We’ll never be able to bring him back, but that’s one good thing that came about as a result of and can be ascribed to Brian Baronet.”

“If things were jacked up like they are today with regard to safety for the boxers, then perhaps Brian could have been saved.” says Segal. “I mean we didn’t even have oxygen at the ringside at the time. If we had known the real facts around his car accident then perhaps we would have postponed the fight. He didn’t make a big thing about it and never complained about a pain, dizziness or anything.”

Those who were close to Baronet all agree. Irrespective of the way his life ended, if he were given the choice again, Baronet would have chosen to be a boxer, because that’s who he was – a boxer.

A tragic tale of a man who loved the sport of boxing and seventeen years after his death we’re still faced with circumstances in which our fighters are being killed. Are current safety measures and precautions enough? Are we doing all we can to ensure that in seventeen years time someone else won’t be recounting the life of Martin Sanchez, following the death of another noble warrior?

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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