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Articles of 2005

Pete Spanakos Was a Diddly Bopper



On the streets of the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York, in the 1950s and ‘60s, identical twins Petros (Pete) and Nikos (Nick) Spanakos were known as the “Terror Twins,” although there was nothing terrible or terrifying about them.

The sons of Greek immigrant parents, they began boxing solely as a means of survival.

“One day we’d get beat up by the Italians, the next day the Irish,” Pete recalls. “In Red Hook, if you were a good street fighter you were called a bopper. If you were extraordinarily good, you were a diddly bopper. Both my brother and I were diddly boppers.”

The brothers racked up impressive amateur resumes. Pete won ten New York City Golden Gloves titles, and Nick won seven. Pete won a bronze medal at the 1959 Pan American Games, while Nick represented the United States on the 1960 Olympic team. His roommate in Rome was Cassius Clay, who later gained greater notoriety as Muhammad Ali.

It was the height of the Cold War and Nick lost a questionable decision to a Russian in his very first bout. “My brother swallowed that loss like he was swallowing poison,” said Pete. “However, the next night 15 of the 30 judges were fired for showing unfair favoritism. All were from Communist nations.”

Pete usually boxed at 118 pounds, while Nick competed at 126 pounds. All in all, the twins cumulatively engaged in over 200 fights, and won 40 national, regional and local titles. Boxing also garnered them invaluable college scholarships, at a time when collegiate boxing was at its apex. Pete initially attended the University of Wisconsin, but later joined his brother at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, which is now known as Albertson College of Idaho.

“They always won on sheer energy,” veteran fight scribe and cartoonist Bill Gallo of the New York Daily News told the New York Times in 1996. “And they both fought the same: busy, their hands always going. They were real crowd-pleasers.”

One person they didn’t please was their father Michael, a hardscrabble man of traditional Greek values who wanted nothing more than all seven of his sons to be college educated.

“Back then, fighting was so popular in Brooklyn, if you asked a kid in Red Hook if he wanted to be a boxer or President of the United States, he’d say boxer,” said Pete. “But in my father’s mind, you were either a doctor or a bum.”

The twins each had one pro fight each, and have no regrets about not taking their sporting careers further. Choosing more cerebral pursuits, Pete received a law degree but later became an educational counselor, and Nick earned a doctorate in business administration. Three brothers were practicing attorneys, while another was a stockbroker.

Pete and Nick, who are now 67 and still Brooklyn residents, are both retired from careers in education. They are involved in numerous charitable endeavors, including many that are boxing related.

Pete is co-chairman of the New York Police Athletic League Alumni Association, and the twins are active members of the Ring 8 Veteran Boxers Association. Being New Yorkers through and through, they enjoy an iconic status as elder statesmen of the local boxing scene. Several years ago their family was even the subject of a PBS documentary called “The American Story: The Spanakos Family.”

“There are no words to describe how much boxing did for us,” said Pete. “It helped us go from being poor and on the wrong side of the tracks in Brooklyn, to where I have a law degree and Nick has a doctorate. If not for boxing, who knows what would have happened to us?”

Still, there is some anger when Pete talks about his collegiate career, and how the boxers were treated by uncaring administrations. In a book he is writing to be called “NCAA Boxing and Me,” he describes a myriad of abuses he suffered in college.

“In Brooklyn we had coaches that were genuinely concerned about us,” he said. “In college we were just a commodity, a piece of meat on a hook. We were often forced to fight at heavier weights to maintain our scholarships, and once my coaches wanted to give me painkillers so I could fight with an injured hand.”

Things took a tragic turn at Wisconsin when Charley Mohr, an extremely popular roommate of Pete’s, was killed in a college championship bout in 1960. “Charley was a boxer who wanted to be a priest,” recalled Pete. “He was conflicted over the two. He even transferred from one Catholic high school because they didn’t want their students to be boxers. He was a brilliant defensive boxer, but couldn’t punch hard. If he hurt you by accident, he’d back off rather than risk hurting you.”

Pete says the Mohr episode was the last straw that finally broke the back of collegiate boxing. Shortly after Mohr’s death, the NCAA banned the sport completely. However, Pete says there were other abuses that could have easily resulted in tragedy.

“I can’t tell you how many times under-qualified boxers were forced to fight boxers like me who had a plethora of fights,” he explained. “And boxers had to lose or gain weight instantly if they wanted to keep their scholarships. At most I was 119 pounds, but I often fought at 132 or 139 pounds. If I didn’t, I’d lose my scholarship.”

Moreover, two of Pete’s teammates, Orville Pitts and Vinny Ferguson, the latter of whom Emanuel Steward once described as “the greatest amateur” he’d ever seen, had over 100 fights and were far too experienced for their collegiate opponents, many of whom were donning gloves for the first time. When Ferguson was recruited by Wisconsin, he was undefeated in 70 fights.

“The NCAA matches made Don King’s overmatches look like Boy Scout stuff,” said Pete.

Although it would have appeared that Pete was much too talented to be hurt at the collegiate level, he remembers being concerned enough to ask difficult questions. One time, in 1957, he asked his coach who would be responsible for the burial expenses and care of his elderly parents if he was killed in the ring. The coach dismissed the argument as “impossible” and “sophomoric” which, given Mohr’s death three years later, proved to be “profound and prescient,” according to Pete.

Oddly enough, by 1961, four boxers who at one time or another roomed with one of the twins was killed in the ring. Among them were Mohr and Harry Campbell, a young pro who had also fought on the 1960 Olympic team.

“None of these guys fought with their face,” said Pete incredulously. “These were the last guys you’d think would get hurt.”

Although the twins chose not to become professional boxers by vocation, they have great admiration for fighters and still respect the sport. While they can sometimes sound like harsh critics, Pete says that their vast experience gives them that right.

At a recent lecture and book signing by three authors of boxing books at an independent bookstore in lower Manhattan, Pete took each writer to task. His biggest question to all was how they could credibly describe boxing if they had not experienced the sport from a competitive standpoint.

Not initially satisfied with the responses, he prodded on; not as an arrogant bully but as a polite but firm inquisitor. “I’m very appreciative that I’m here and my brains are unscrambled enough where I can ask those kinds of questions,” he explained.

“As much as I’d like to say boxing doesn’t make you punch drunk, in many cases it does. Some writers tend to simplify the sport. As a former boxer who got so much out of the sport, I think it’s my right to make sure that doesn’t happen. I earned the right to ask difficult questions and expect satisfactory answers.”

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More



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

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06



Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




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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