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Articles of 2005

History Lesson for Bernard Hopkins?

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At roughly the time junior welterweight king Kostya Tszyu quit on his stool last month in England – a shocking TKO victim to the young, powerful fists of hometown hero Ricky Hatton – hotshot Jermain Taylor's chances in his title fight against middleweight champ
Bernard Hopkins seemed to improve without “Bad Intentions” having thrown a punch.

Tszyu, the junior welterweight's top dog for the previous four years, was also among the best pound-for-pound fighters in boxing. His reputation was that of a classic, classy destroyer.

But that made no difference to Hatton, who was fiercely determined and, perhaps more telling, nine years younger. As a result, Hatton dominated the aging king – right up until that unceremonious conclusion before the final round.

Tsyzu, like hundreds before him, learned that only Father Time is invincible.

Hopkins could be due for the same history lesson when he meets Taylor Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Certainly, Hopkins is a physical marvel. He's 40 years old, but has the lean, muscular body of a man 20 years younger – an indication of his Spartan-like lifestyle. He has made 20 defenses of the 160-pound title – a record – and has dethroned the best competition of his era, including Glen Johnson, Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya.

But, as the saying goes, every dog has its day.

How will “The Executioner” cope with a fighter 14 years his junior, a fighter equipped with blazing fists and the same fierce determination that exulted Hatton? After all, the Philadelphian hasn't faced overwhelming competition lately.

In recent years, he has enjoyed significant advantages in dethroning fighters who were either limited (Howard Eastman), smaller (De La Hoya), aged (Carl Daniels), or outright pathetic (Morade Hakkar).

That's why Taylor represents Hopkins' most formidable challenge since Felix Trinidad in 2001.

Who will win? For the answer, perhaps it's best to examine “Experienced champion” vs. “Youthful contender” showdowns of the past.

Thomas Hearns KO 2 Pipino Cuevas, WBA welterweight title, Aug. 2, 1980, Detroit, Mich.: Cuevas was perhaps the most feared puncher in boxing going into the 11th defense of the WBA welterweight strap he won from Angel Espada four years earlier. Ten of those 11 championship victims never heard the final bell, a result of Cuevas' devastating left hook. The punch had been responsible for broken eye sockets, busted ribs, shattered noses and enough ripped-up speedbags to fill an Everlast morgue. His tremendous power and ferocious killer instinct made up for a serious lack of boxing skill. His two left feet made him look as graceful as a newborn calf. But that didn't matter much to the Mexico City native. He was a killer in the ring, seemingly unconcerned with feints and parrying and bobbing and weaving. He was there to knock the other guy flat. But Cuevas turned pro at 14, won his first world title at 18, and was a well-traveled 22 by the time he met up with the “Hitman.” Hearns, only a year younger but much fresher, was also a devastating puncher – strange for a guy who stood 6-foot-1 and weighed 147 pounds. But, under the tutelage of trainer Emanuel Steward, “The Hitman” had become a right-handed gunslinger since his stick-and-move amateur days. His challenge of Cuevas was much-anticipated because of the TNT both fighters flaunted, and oddsmakers figured it was a pick ‘em affair. As it turned out, only one fighter got to detonate their bombs. Because of the unbeaten Hearns' size advantage and amazingly quick reflexes, a shell-shocked Cuevas never came close to connecting. Detroit's Hearns, meanwhile, turned Cuevas into his own personal punching bag, bouncing right hand after right hand off of Cuevas' previously impenetrable chin. In the second round, two right hands made Cuevas an ex-champion, and Hearns became boxing's new star. Cuevas was later enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Hearns, one of boxing's most entertaining practitioners, will be elected into it as soon as he stops this ridiculous comeback talk. Advantage: Youth.

Alexis Arguello KO 14 Ray Mancini, WBC lightweight title, Oct. 3, 1981, Atlantic City, N.J.: Going in, the stage seemed set for a young, charismatic matinee idol to take the reigns from the distinguished veteran. “Boom Boom” Mancini had captured America's heart with numerous appearances on national television. And sitting at ringside every fight was his father, Lenny – whose own promising boxing career was cut short by World War II. Mancini, of Youngstown, Ohio, set out to win the title for him. Not that he was in easy. Arguello was a three-time world champion and considered one of the best fighters in the game. Like Hopkins, he didn't seem at all ready to be toppled – despite his long career. For a while, though, it appeared Mancini might be successful. He used his strength and boundless energy to bull his way inside and bang away at the taller Arguello's midsection. And, for seven rounds, the fight was competitive. Then Arguello's experience and class began to show itself. Soon the Nicaraguan great began exploding right hands off of Mancini's chin, and “Boom Boom” had no answer. Once the fight entered the championship rounds, Mancini began to gulp for air in the deep waters. Arguello was in complete control when he almost decapitated poor “Boom Boom” with right-handed barrages in the 13th and 14th rounds. Referee Tony Perez eventually came to the rescue and, afterwards, the gentleman boxers embraced. As it turned out, Lenny Mancini didn't have to wait much longer for his world championship. His son beat Arturo Frias seven months later for the WBA title, and went on to enjoy a solid career. Advantage: Experience.

Salvador Sanchez KO 15 Azumah Nelson, WBC featherweight title, Aug. 21, 1982, New York, N.Y.: No one had any idea about this Azumah Nelson guy going into his challenge for Sanchez's WBC 126-pound title in the summer of '82. He was undefeated at 13-0, but completely untested. Sanchez, meanwhile, had reigned as king featherweight for the previous two years, after taking the crown from old warhorse Danny “Little Red” Lopez and reeling off nine title defenses. The Mexican had already established himself as a legend, most notably by destroying Puerto Rico's previously undefeated Wilfredo Gomez in a battle of little giants in 1981. A year later, Sanchez had grown so dominant that he was considering a jump up to lightweight to challenge Alexis Arguello. But first he had to get past this unknown from Ghana, Africa. And it was almost the end of his reign. Nelson jumped out to an early lead with a tremendous work rate and a skill-level that no American boxing authority suspected he possessed. Except for a mid-rounds knockdown, Nelson was taking the fight to Sanchez, whose silky-smooth counterpunching skills were being negated by Nelson's pressure. But, as the fight wore on, Nelson began to tire – and like a true veteran, Sanchez took advantage. He finally stopped the gritty Nelson in the final round, as he saved his title in the most dramatic fashion possible. Three weeks later, Sanchez died in a car accident in his native Mexico at the age of 23. Nelson won Sanchez's old belt a little more than two years later, and became a two-division champion – and a Hall of Famer. Losing to Sanchez only made him greater, and turned him into “The Professor.” Advantage: Experience.

Larry Holmes W 12 Tim Witherspoon, WBC heavyweight title, May 20, 1983, Las Vegas, Nev.: Holmes had already etched his name in the history books by the time he faced the green Witherspoon in the desert in 1983. He had made 14 defenses of the title, turned back every conceivable challenge, and become an all-time great in the process. At age 33, he was considered just past his peak after turning back the challenge of undefeated power puncher Gerry Cooney a year earlier. And though he looked uninspired in a decision over Lucien Rodriguez two months before facing Witherspoon, he was still installed as a big favorite over the undefeated (15-0) challenger. “Terrible Tim” was considered a talented fighter, but was thought to be more prospect than contender. He had power and ability, but hadn't exactly been sensational in his march to his first world title shot. In fact, there were times he looked downright bored. He was ready for his challenge of Holmes, however, and provided the champion with one of his most difficult evenings. Witherspoon boxed evenly with the multi-talented champion, and even rocked the Easton, Pa., native in a ninth round that is one of the greatest three minutes in heavyweight history. Holmes, as always, showed grit, and used his guile to pull it out in the championship rounds. A lot of people thought Philadelphia's Witherspoon was ripped-off, but the split decision seemed fair. Holmes faced a similar challenge from Carl “The Truth” Williams two years later, and won that one by close decision as well – in what would be his final title defense before losing to Michael Spinks. Witherspoon won both the WBC and WBA titles, but never enjoyed the outstanding career that seemed inevitable in his special night with Holmes. Advantage: Experience.

Barry McGuigan W 15 Eusebio Pedroza, WBA featherweight title, June 8, 1985, London: Pedroza was boxing's longest-reigning champion, along with heavyweight king Larry Holmes, and was making the 19th defense of a crown he won in 1978. In beating a roll call of the era's best featherweights – Juan LaPorte, Rocky Lockridge, Jose Caba – he had developed a reputation as one of boxing's most resourceful champions. Whether he boxed, punched or threw an assortment of illegal tactics at his opponent, he always won. But the once-beaten McGuigan represented his most dangerous challenge in years. Not only was he a big puncher, he was a swarming fighter who liked to get inside and punish the body. And while Pedroza could box, he often ignored his physical advantages so that he could rumble on the inside. Against McGuigan, however, it really didn't matter whether he tried to box or not, because the Irishman was simply too young and strong for the old veteran. McGuigan dropped him hard in the middle rounds, and it was a tribute to the Panamanian's heart that he lasted the full 15 rounds. The decision was a formality. McGuigan, the beloved “Clones Cyclone,” won going away – and ended one of boxing's all-time great title reigns. Pedroza fought a few more times, but was never a factor again. McGuigan lost his title a year later in a huge upset to Texan Stevie Cruz – and was never the same. Advantage: Youth.

The final tally: 3-2 for experience. This speaks well for Hopkins, who is perhaps the smartest fighter in boxing – and will surely use that intelligence to confuse Taylor and take him to the late rounds where he is most vulnerable. Nothing, however, lasts forever. And Arkansas' Taylor could be the Hearns and McGuigan of his era.

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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