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Articles of 2005

Still Waiting for Bernard Hopkins to Grow Old?

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“This could very well be the night where age catches up to Bernard Hopkins.”

It seems like that phrase has been mentioned before every Hopkins fight for the past four years. Every time I hear it, I’m reminded of a Snickers commercial. “Gonna be here a while…?” Lately, it’s been offered as the best scenario for undefeated challenger and alleged heir apparent Jermain Taylor to knock Bernard off of his perch this weekend (Saturday, July 16, 9PM ET, live on HBO PPV from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas).

The long-reigning middleweight kingpin turned forty this year, but it’s the rest of the boxing world that has grown old waiting for Hopkins to start showing his age. Sure he’s slowed down some. Some try to suggest that he’s still in the prime of his career. A comparison of his win over Howard Eastman this past February on HBO to that of his dismantling of then-undefeated Glengoffe Johnson on CBS eight years helps dispel that myth.

But a legend like Hopkins doesn’t rely on frivolous matters such as optimal prime, speed and power advantages, or youth to carry him through the day. You get older, you get wiser.

The difference between Bernard and most people is he didn’t wait for middle age to settle in before exuding his wisdom. He has been forced to make adjustments his entire adult life, in and out of the ring.

His incarceration as a teenager has been well-documented. After serving nearly five years at Graterford State Penitentiary for armed robbery, a then-23-year-old Hopkins was faced with a choice: return to the mean streets of Philly and live the same life that earned him the trip behind bars, or make an honest – if far less lucrative – living.

Bernard chose the latter, fulfilling the first of many promises he would make in the years to come. The prison warden made it a point to greet Hopkins on his way out of the pen. “I’ll see you again when you wind up back in here,” was his final comment to soon-to-be former prisoner number Y4145. “I ain’t ever coming back here,” was Bernard’s response.

Seventeen years later, he remains true to his word.

He found gainful employment as a roofer, but quickly gravitated to the gym. Bernard started boxing at an early age, but took to the sport far more seriously while behind bars. “Boxing was my best therapy,” says the champ. “It saved my sanity.”

It wasn’t enough, however, to parlay into a successful pro debut. Hopkins entered the ring as a light heavyweight, dropping a four round decision to Clinton Mitchell.

Lesson learned immediately. It was the first, last and only time he entered the ring as a light heavyweight. He would only lose once more in seventeen years – a points loss to fellow all-time great Roy Jones, Jr. twelve years ago for the vacant IBF middleweight title. After the loss – a lackluster affair from both sides – Hopkins would make another promise: “I will never lose on my feet ever again.”

Twelve years later, Hopkins stays true to his word.

Segundo Mercado would find this to be true, not once but twice. Hopkins traveled to Mercado’s hometown of Quito, Ecuador in December 1994 to once again challenge for the vacant IBF middleweight title. Not even Hopkins’ inability to properly acclimate himself to the high altitude would lead to defeat; nor would a pair of knockdowns early in the fight. Hopkins arose from adversity and battled back well enough to escape Ecuador with a draw.

All parties involved claimed robbery. Mercado and promoter Don King believed Hopkins lucky to leave with a draw, while Hopkins and then-promoter Butch Lewis considered the decision to be along the lines of the hometown variety.

All questions would be answered four months later. Bernard took full advantage of the second opportunity, overwhelming Mercado in seven one-sided rounds to kick off the middleweight reign.

Joe Lipsey would also find this to be true – in emphatic fashion. The undefeated southpaw was supposed to offer the then-31-year-old champ his stiffest test to date. Four rounds later, Lipsey made his way to the highlight reel – on the business end of one of the more spectacular knockouts in recent memory. A right uppercut toward the end of the fourth round nearly beheaded the Massachusetts native. Lipsey remained frozen, as Hopkins put the finishing touches on his second defense of the crown with a final four-punch combination that sent his foe down and out. Referee Mitch Halpern slid across the ring to prevent Lipsey’s head from crashing against the canvas, waving off the bout without a count.

The loss was Lipsey’s first and only. He never fought again after that afternoon.

Glen Johnson would fight on after suffering the first loss of his career at the hands of The Executioner. In fact, he would go on to win a world title at light heavyweight and earn “Fighter of the Year” honors last year. But seven years earlier, he earned an introduction to big-time boxing, losing nearly every round of their June 1997 bout on CBS before being mercifully stopped midway through the eleventh.

Johnson didn’t just lose; the eleven-round trashing changed the way he viewed the sport.

“The Hopkins fight was the only time I ever felt overwhelmed in my career,” Johnson admitted last year in recalling the first loss of his career. “After that fight, I realized that I was doing so many things wrong. I thought I could get away with what I had, and Bernard removed those thoughts immediately. I had to rededicate myself to the sport after that fight.”

Robert Allen thought he had the answers when the two fought for the first time in August 1998. Described by many as one of the dirtier fights in recent memory, Allen did all he could to frustrate Hopkins in his eighth defense of the title. The foul-plagued affair came to a crashing halt late in the fourth, when Hopkins dislocated his shoulder after being accidentally shoved out of the ring by referee Mills Lane. The occurrence came when Lane was attempting to break up one of many clinches in the dogfight. In doing so, he sent Hopkins flying through the ropes, and crashing onto the arena floor.

It was the closest Hopkins came to defeat and the only title defense in which he would trail on a scorecard at the end of the fight.

Allen looked to bring more of the same in the rematch six months later. He found himself climbing off of the canvas repeatedly, twice from legitimate knockdowns, and several other times due to alleged low blows. Some did stray south of the border, in fact, enough for Hopkins to lose a point on the cards. Others were borderline and just above the belt, though Allen collapsed to the canvas all the same each time they landed. Referee Rudy Battle eventually had enough, waving the bout off in the seventh round when it was obvious Allen wanted no more.

He would get some more six years later, though making little attempt to derail the 39-year-old Hopkins. The two waltzed to a twelve round decision. Allen disappeared from the title picture once and for all. Hopkins remained.

Once wasn’t enough for Antwun Echols, either. He started and ended strong in their December 1999 encounter on FoxSportsNet. The bookends were his lone bright spots, as Hopkins put on a clinic during every round in between. Echols earned the shot in racking up a series of high-profile knockouts. In fact, all of his wins to that point had come inside the distance. Twelve rounds later, he earned a boxing lesson from Hopkins, one month away from his thirty-fifth birthday.

The IBF decided one year later that Echols deserved another shot at Hopkins, who would receive a then-career-high $650,000 for the rematch. He would also receive a separated shoulder midway through, as one of many wrestling exchanges resulted in the weight of Echols’s body driving Hopkins to the canvas. Bernard got up, and was given the opportunity to accept a win by disqualification. Most fighters – never mind one at age thirty-five – would have nursed the injury and accepted the easy way out. Hopkins bravely elected to fight on, and stopped Echols midway through the tenth after pitching yet another shutout.

Once was all it took for Puerto Rican legend Felix “Tito” Trinidad to learn his lesson. He and promoter Don King believed Hopkins to be a mere speed bump on the road to immortality. Such was why the 2001 middleweight tournament was pieced together. Hopkins was forced to sign with King in order to gain entry. Through the assistance of then-advisor Lou DiBella, Bernard worked out a deal which would finally allow him access to the other divisional belt holders after five years of failed attempts to secure unification bouts.

Once allowed through the door, Bernard found his way around the room just fine. In collecting the WBC and WBA titles, Hopkins barely lost a round against Keith Holmes and Trinidad. Very few gave Hopkins-Holmes much thought; it was the lone bout of the middleweight series that didn’t make its way to the main room at Madison Square Garden. The 5,000 or so who crammed into the Theatre watched Hopkins fend off a seemingly disinterested Holmes, becoming to the first fighter since Marvelous Marvin Hagler to win a middleweight unification bout.

The good fortunes were supposed to end five months later, when the 36-year-old was to face the streaking Trinidad. The legend of Cupey Alto, Puerto Rico was coming off a 2000 campaign that earned him two-thirds of the junior middleweight crown and near-unanimous selection as Fighter of the Year by the boxing media. Tito carried the momentum over to 2001, blasting out William Joppy in five to capture the WBA middleweight title in front of a near capacity crowd at the Garden.

The win over Joppy accentuated Trinidad’s status as the star attraction of the tournament. Hopkins knew the score, and looked for ways to absorb some of the spotlight leading up to their September 2001 encounter. His actions would be the first peek on a worldwide scale into what truly made Bernard tick.

Determined to prove that he would not succumb to the hype, Hopkins showed Trinidad how little he regarded him at press conferences in New York and Puerto Rico. Not once but twice, Hopkins would grab “la bandera” – a/k/a the Puerto Rican flag – and toss it to the ground. The act in Puerto Rico led to a near riot, as Hopkins was forced to run for his life, and change into a disguise in order to flee from the hostile crowd.

The turn of events was the only competition Hopkins would receive in dealing with Trinidad. In a performance that confirmed his status as an all-time great, Hopkins finished what Oscar De La Hoya started two years prior, overwhelming Trinidad in front of a packed house at the Garden. He appeased the wishes of longtime trainer Bouie Fisher to “close the show”, finishing off the Puerto Rican superstar early in the twelfth and final round. To his credit, Trinidad attempted to rise and continue, only to be rescued by his father and trainer Felix Sr., who knew better.

Oscar De La Hoya didn’t know any better. His eye on greatness, the “Golden Boy” believed 2004 to be the perfect time to realize his longtime goal of winning world titles in six different weight classes. Forget for a moment that one of the six was the spurious WBO junior lightweight belt he racked up in 1994. What was considered more ridiculous was his belief that he could take out the long-reigning champ.

Oscar did more harm than good in showing up out of shape and barely escaping Vegas with a controversial points win over WBO middleweight titlist Felix Strum three months prior to his superfight with Hopkins. Still, many mistook Hopkins’ own lackluster performance against Allen in the co-feature as signs that perhaps he was ripe for the taking.

Whether or not Oscar believed it to be true was another matter. What he did believe was that a catchweight of 157 pounds would help enhance his chances of making history. Forcing Hopkins – four months from his fortieth birthday – to weigh in at his lightest weight in seven years was the best plan Oscar could come up with. Boxing certainly didn’t work, at least not once Hopkins decided to pick up the pace in the third round. The moment Bernard closed the gap between the two, the fight ceased being competitive. By round seven, it was clear that Oscar wasn’t going to win another round. He was eventually put out of his misery in the ninth round, when Hopkins would land the infamous liver shot which forced De La Hoya to roll around in pain while receiving a ten-count.

Oscar learned what so many others were taught over the years by The Executioner: Older does not always mean old.

Howard Eastman failed to realize this, as did many in the media. Long touted as the leading middleweight challenger, “The Battersea Bomber” was considered by many to have the best chance at unseating Hopkins heading into their title fight last February. It was insisted that the 40-year-old champion was finally facing a middleweight bigger than him, and that such would be enough to bring the longest title reign in middleweight history to an end.

Eastman believed the hype. He believed what many were selling – that his loss against William Joppy in 2001 was solely due to his clowning early in the fight. The suggestion was that a stronger start would force Hopkins to expend energy early, and that he would eventually wilt against the supposedly naturally bigger fighter as the fight wore on.

Someone forgot to relay the message to Hopkins, as the exact opposite turned out to be true. Eastman did start off strong, offering a decent account of himself after five rounds. But unless you score a knockout, five rounds does not win you a championship – nor does the assumption that Hopkins will eventually act his age. By fight’s end, it was Eastman who looked more like a 40-year-old fighter, as Hopkins put on the usual clinic en route to title defense number twenty.

So here we are this weekend, once again hearing the same “rationale” for Hopkins’ reign to come to an end. In Taylor, we are told that Hopkins is fighting a bigger man, one who possesses the skills to make Hopkins look his age. The 26-year-old former Olympian is supposed to be the fastest and strongest fighter Hopkins will have ever faced. Roy Jones, Jr. might have something to say about that. He can definitively claim is to be the last fighter to have defeated Bernard in the ring. The only loss Bernard has been dealt during his title reign has occurred in a courtroom, by Lou DiBella, Taylor’s promoter. DiBella won a $610,000 settlement in 2002, stemming from Hopkins’ claims of extortion and bribery that he suggested took place two years prior. 

Much like his pro debut and first shot at a world title, Hopkins can chalk up the courtroom loss to inexperience. He instead uses it as motivation for this fight, which he has hinted might be his last ever as a middleweight. A win over Taylor – to whom Bernard refers as “the last remaining middleweight worth fighting” – may lead to one last shot at a light heavyweight win. Hopkins plans on challenging light heavyweight kingpin Antonio Tarver in a superfight that should carry him into retirement. His forty-first birthday comes in January, 2006, and Bernard made a promise to his mother a long time ago that he would not fight past the age of forty.

Hopkins has kept his promises for seventeen years, so why should we expect him to start breaking them now? That would be like waiting around for Bernard to start growing old.

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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