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Articles of 2005

From Ghana to Gleason’s: The Journey of Kwame Asante

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“The moon travels slowly, but it crosses the town.” This Ghanaian proverb belonging to the Akan people accurately describes one of their own, boxing trainer Kwame Asante.

Asante was raised in a mountainous eastern region of the country called Kwahu, where they speak Twi and are historically known as shrewd businessmen, especially in trading.  His childhood reflected the relative prosperity of these parts; he remembers being “very comfortable” in the relaxed, bucolic surroundings.

But Asante was a feisty kid, and although his chosen sports were track and soccer, rarely did a day go by when he wasn’t in a fistfight. Even more rare were any telltale scars from his many battles.

“I was not angry,” says the mild-mannered 47-year-old. “I just liked fighting—a lot.” So it seemed like divine intervention when Asante’s father, who held an atypical job as a state corrections officer, was assigned to a facility in Accra, the nation’s capital and the wellspring of Ghanaian boxing. 

A neighbor of Asante’s, who had been a former heavyweight champion of Africa, noticed the aggressive teenager’s preference for brawling during soccer matches rather than scoring goals. The ex-fighter encouraged him to check out the neighborhood boxing gym and offered to teach him the basics. The young man agreed, even though his father was unsupportive, hoping his son would focus on his studies instead. Admiring girls feared he would mess up his “handsome face.”  (When asked if he was that handsome, Asante smiled, “Oh, yes!” his unmarked, Buddha-like features shining like polished black onyx.)

At 147 pounds and after a year of training, “no one could take me,” he says matter-of-factly.

He produces a weathered black and white photograph of himself competing in an international tournament.  He is the most imposing welterweight I’ve ever seen, almost six feet tall, heavy-boned, and exceptionally muscular with shoulders and arms like great loaves of twisted black bread. Kermit Cintron would get an inferiority complex standing next to this guy.

Yet as far as confrontations outside the ropes, boxing tamed the beast in him. His personality changed and he never struck a person again.

“The idea they (his coaches) put in my mind was that as a boxer your hand is a weapon.  So when you beat someone, they’re going to arrest you. I don’t ever want to put myself in that situation. You see me in the normal world, I’m very cool.”

Within two years Asante made the Ghanaian national team. Soon thereafter he was elected captain, a position he held for three years. By this time Asante had a job in the corrections department, but was essentially a full-time athlete, spending the majority of the year competing against elite amateurs all over Africa, Europe and in boxing strongholds like Cuba. He compiled a record of 53-3, most of his victories coming by knockout.

“I’m actually a boxer,” Asante says in the present tense, as if speaking of the current version himself and not the one 20 years younger and 70 pounds lighter. “I box and I have the power. I don’t just go in for the knockout, I work for it, I set traps.”

But he was hampered by ill-timed injuries that prevented him from going to the ‘84 Olympics in Los Angeles, and politics, such as with the ‘86 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland, which were boycotted by 32 countries, including Ghana.

Still, Asante’s career might be likened to a street ball legend that never made it to the NBA, but whose exploits on the blacktop have become mythic. His bouts were always the last on the card, the main event to which everything else was the warm-up. Top brass in politics and sports would flock to see him.  Once, the sports minister had him fight two top prospects the same night: the first one was knocked unconscious within a round; the second guy, a weight class above his, never saw the third round. The audience went wild.  “The place was . . .” he looks away as if in a momentary reverie. “I don’t forget that.”

Not only could he dole out punishment, but when called upon his threshold for pain was astonishing. He broke his right hand in the second round of an important national tournament, against a fighter who had represented Africa in the World Games and was considered the hardest junior middleweight in the land. Asante refused to quit, knowing this opponent would never let him forget it. He punched with the damaged hand till the end of the third and final round, disregarding the pain. “When they took the gloves off,” he recounts, “the bone was out of the flesh and the whole glove was soaked with blood.”  His hand is still warped, the bone pushing at the skin like a spur.

Experiences like this inspired him to move towards what others would flee. He had heard that a young featherweight named Azumah Nelson couldn’t find sparring partners. Even professional middleweights refused to spar with him—or if they worked with him once, they never showed up the next day. When he wasn’t punishing them with his shocking power, he was humiliating them with dazzling ring savvy.

Nelson had recently become a national hero, having fought Salvador Sanchez in Madison Square Garden, and giving the Mexican legend all he could handle. Although he got stopped in the 15th round, it was a phenomenal showing for the Ghanaian who had a mere 13 professional fights and was a late substitute expected to get squashed.

“’I want to spar the champ!’” Asante told the national team’s coach, F.A. Moses. The coach scoffed at this, but the amateur kept bugging him until he relented. Nelson’s team invited Asante to the national stadium in Accra where his sparring took place. Asante’s teammates and the local boxing community couldn’t believe the kid’s nerve. What made him think he could lay a hand on mercury?

“Oh, the sparring was beautiful,” Asante recalls. I boxed. I boxed Azumah, and I made him miss a lot!” It became a matter of mercury catching him.

They went about eight rounds in front of a stadium that was nearly full. He was paid 600 cedi for the day’s work (which can’t get you a candy bar in New York today but was a lot of cash back then in Accra.). Nelson’s managers were so impressed they offered to take him on when he turned pro. He was promptly made Nelson’s regular sparring partner.  “Azumah gave me a lot of respect,” Asante says, examining the skin on his hands, as coarse as elephant’s hide. “He was a nice guy.”

When Nelson beat Wilfredo Gomez for the WBC Featherweight Title in 1984, he quickly became an icon to his people, like Pele to Brazilians. Nelson, who had acquired the moniker “The Professor,” developed a friendship with Asante independent of the gym.  The champion would pick up Asante at his home and they would stroll around the city.  You can only imagine the cachet this association conferred upon the amateur.

In spite of his promise and obsessive dedication to training, ironically, Asante never longed to turn pro. Maybe it was his contented childhood, or the fact he never experienced the pang of hunger like so many of his countrymen? His dream had been to teach, once his amateur days were done. And now he yearned to fulfill what he believed to be his ultimate calling.

                                                          * * *

While Ghana produces a disproportionately large amount of prizefighters for a country of only 21 million, nearly all of them come from the southern coastal city of Accra. More specifically, nearly all hail from a shantytown on the outskirts of the city called Bukom, and are members of the Ga tribe.

That Asante became involved in boxing, and excelled at it, is remarkable. Members of the Akan people, and those from Kwahu, are not raised to be pugilists. His success is analogous to an affluent kid from Greenwich, Connecticut, showing up at a P.A.L. in Bed-Stuy and whooping everyone’s a**. It’s a long shot.

The men of Bukom are traditionally poor fishermen who toil in boats with no machinery, pulling in their catch with a simple net and the strength of their bodies. Children are often put to work when they ought to be entering grammar school, and never end up visiting a classroom. And fighting in the streets among the young is not merely tolerated but a ritualized activity virtually encouraged.

“It usually starts with kids going out and picking on other kids,” said Rexford Azumah Koffi, a boxing manager in Bukom. “It’s an accepted form of bullying, whereby you have to take it. The more you get bullied, the more important it is to your development.”  Those tough enough to reach the top of the bully food chain are revered. “Once that happens,” says Koffi, “you’re only destined for one place—the ring.”

A roll call of Ga warriors that survived Bukom’s mean streets and wicked days fishing on the Atlantic, begins with the late Roy Ankrah. He refined his ring skills while serving in World War II with the British, and went on the claim the Commonwealth Featherweight Title in 1951. David Kotey (a.k.a. DK Poison) made his mark in the mid-70s, most notably taking the WBC Featherweight Title from Ruben Olivares in 1975, and losing gamely twice against Danny “Little Red” Lopez. But it was Azumah Nelson’s epic career, spanning from December 1979 to July 1998, that established the benchmark to which all African fighters are compared. He defended his WBC Featherweight and Super Featherweight titles a total of 20 times, defeating the likes of Wifredo Gomez, Juan LaPorte, Jeff Fenech, Calvin Grove, Gabriel Ruelas and James Leija; all first-rate battlers.

Bukom spawned several splendid boxers in Nelson’s wake during the ‘90s and into the new Millennium. Nana Konadu earned a bantamweight title. The still active Alfred “The Cobra” Kotey was also an immensely gifted bantamweight titlist during that time. Recently unretired Ike “Bazooka” Quartey was a dominant welterweight then, defending his WBA strap eight times before losing it to Oscar De La Hoya. Ben “Wonder” Tackie proved himself a worthy contender against the best junior welterweights of the last few years. Emmanuel Clottey is now a wily gatekeeper in that same class, capable of an upset on a given night, and his younger brother, Joshua, is a gifted welterweight on the cusp of a title shot.

There are countless other Bukom-bred prospects—James Armah, Ray Narh, Charles Adamu, Joshua Okine, Abdullai Amidu, Ossie Duran, Jackson Osei Bonsu, Daniel Sackey, Ablorh Sowah, Joseph Agbeko and Osumanu Adama—who might distinguish themselves.

                                                          * * *

In 1987, Ghana sponsored Asante’s studies for a year at Deutsche Hochschule fur Korperkultur (The German University for Physical Culture) in Leipzig, Germany. While this institution is infamous for being the nerve center of the GDR’s doping practices from the late 1960s through the ‘80s, it also pioneered legitimate work in training and conditioning techniques. Asante promises that everything he learned there was on the level, and invaluable to his education as a boxing trainer.

He arrived home in 1988, not long before the Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea. He and his former teammates—which included future world champions Alfred Kotey and Ike Quartey, and hardnosed journeyman Alfred Ankamah—anticipated that he would serve as one of their main coaches. However, a dispute with bureaucrats in the national sports counsel led to Asante being forced to stay home. Embittered and disillusioned by the experience, fed up with politics and eager for a change, he and his wife decided to move to New York.

During his first year in the States Asante wanted nothing to do with boxing. The sculpted welterweight transformed into a Macy’s Day float, ballooning to 250. He worked nights as a security guard at a men’s shelter in Fort Washington. Then a friend mentioned a boxing gym in Midtown Manhattan called Kingsway. It was run by onetime Nigerian lightweight champion Michael Olajide, whose eldest son—Michael “The Silk” Olajide, Jr.—had been a popular middleweight contender.

Olajide, Sr. gave Asante a job, which included any humble task that needed doing. Many days he spent more time wielding a mop than punch pads. All the while he kept his night job, getting less sleep than President Clinton. Few knew his boxing resume, and he wasn’t the type to enlighten the ignorant. Today he is still shy and reserved, a man of few words unless he knows you well.  Back then, bashful about using his modest English, he seemed to communicate solely with his eyes.

He began working out intensely, and whittled himself down to a solid light heavyweight.  He sparred with many pros, got them ready for fights, but sometimes nearly pummeled the fight out of them in the process.

Tokunbo Olajide, the gym owner’s youngest son and a teenage boxing prodigy at the time, recalls Asante clashing with fellow Ghanaian and world-class cruiserweight Napoleon Tagoe.

“Tagoe was rough,” Tokunbo explains. “His face was like a Michelin tire. Hit him with a hammer and you’re still gonna get it. Probably walked around at about 205, and Kwame’s going to war with this mother[bleep]er—blow-for-blow. He starts pulling out every experienced trick in the world, too. Talk about guile and knowledge and balls.”

Asante handled himself so well on such occasions that he briefly reconsidered going pro.  Then he thought better of it.  It was time to lay off the ring wars and accept his next stage of life, as a teacher. Training fighters was where his ambition lay. He felt that in passing his knowledge down to others, he would create a legacy greater than anything he could produce alone in the ring.

Tokunbo Olajide and Asante had formed a close bond over the years at Kingsway. When the teenager was preparing for the Golden Gloves, their fighter-trainer relationship began to gel. When the kid turned pro—he elected not to work with his father—the two officially became a team. They moved to a new gym, Church Street, and worked like hungry dogs for a year. When he wasn’t working the graveyard shift or training Olajide, he was cultivating a sizeable white-collar clientele.

“I have to work hard in order to survive,” says Asante, who continues to do security work at night, but at less threatening places than a men’s shelter. “Hard work has always been a part of my life.” He and his wife have four kids, two of whom they had very young. He jokes that when he got off work back in Ghana, he was able to “go chill somewhere before I go home.” The New York grind affords him no such luxury.

As Tokunbo Olajide’s career progressed, different trainers were brought in; Tommy Brooks worked with them briefly, then Tommy Gallagher came aboard. But Asante has been the one mainstay throughout Olajide’s impressive 20-2 career.

For years, as soon as he got off work at 8 am, the trainer would drive straight to Olajide’s apartment and pick him up for training. When Brooks was in the picture, they commuted to Rocky Marciano Gym in Jersey City. Later, when Tommy Gallagher moved into the corner, they made the morning trek to Gleason’s in Brooklyn.

In Asante, Olajide found something beyond an exemplary coach able to teach technique or get him in shape; he found a soldier and an ally. In what’s often regarded as a dirty, treacherous business, he stands for loyalty.

“Kwame is the quintessential West African man—all the good qualities of that kind of man,” comments Olajide. “He is a mixture of hardness and softness.”

The hardness is on view when Asante is working with a fighter, or in the way he goes about his demanding routine. Laziness appalls him. He deems it one of the most despicable qualities a person can have. But the softness is manifest in the nickname Olajide gave him, and even had stitched into his satin corner jacket: Kwame Love.

                                                          * * *

For the past six years Asante has set up shop at Gleason’s Gym. Gleason’s is more than just a place to box, it’s like a meeting of the United Nations—with a spit-bucket in the corner.  Every color, creed, ethnicity and religion seems to find its way to this sweaty warehouse beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.  Guyanan boxers and trainers dominate one corner of the gym, playing dominoes during downtime. Immigrant fighters from another dozen Latin American countries are regularly on display. In the back of the space, a Russian trainer instructs his troops in his native tongue. Next to them is a clan of newly arrived Irish. In the middle of this global gumbo, Asante and his stable of Ghanaian fighters represent Africa (though South Africans, Nigerians, Ugandans and Kenyans make appearances, too).

Asante’s fighters—Ben Tackie, Alfred Kotey and Joshua Clottey—are famous in their native country. Here they’re just regular guys on a train, squeaking by on their way to Gleason’s. There’s also a couple of middling heavyweights whom Asante works with, but derides as “lazy.” And he used to train and manage Joshua Clottey’s older brother, Emmanuel, back when he upset Olympic gold medallist Muhammad Abdullaev two years ago.

The fighter in the group with the most promising future is Joshua Clottey (26-1, 18 KOs), though he is relatively unknown and is desperately seeking a career-defining fight. Some cognoscenti consider him the best-kept secret in the loaded welterweight division. He looks so good in the gym that world champion Zab Judah, who also trains there, doesn’t inspire more ooh’s and aah’s when he steps through the ropes to hit the pads or spar.

“What I like about him,” Asante says of his charge, “is it’s not like he just wants to go for the money. He wants to win a world title. He’s very serious about his training and improving fast. Anytime he jabs or punches the pads, I feel it. Before it was not the same.”

If Asante has any concerns about Clottey, it’s that he desires success so badly he might damage himself in his hungry pursuit of it. “He runs every morning. And even when he comes to the gym, he has to run before he starts shadowboxing. I tell him he has to take it easy, because if you try to rush you won’t go anywhere.”

This last line typifies the speaker. He is hardworking but not in a rush. He is content making slow, steady progress toward his destination. Here is a man that knows the moon will eventually cross the town and shine on him.

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

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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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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