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Articles of 2005

Joan Guzman: King to a Republic



Boxing is filled with stories of troubled, rebellious kids finding hope and opportunity at obscure, dilapidated gymnasiums. The history books regale us with the triumphs of hungry young men driven to escape the slums and the poverty that created them.

Typically, these wilful, often irresistible fighters are born to the urban jungles of Philadelphia, emerge dark eyed and predatory from the ghettos of Mexico or perhaps the dusty shantytowns of Africa; but from the rough Guachupita neighbourhood of Santa Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic, boxing has unearthed another rough diamond: Joan “Lil’ Tyson” Guzman.

Perched between the boxing hotbeds of Puerto Rico and Cuba, the Dominican Republic is better known globally for its all-inclusive resorts and Caribbean climate. Whilst Guachupita doesn’t have the infamy of Mexico City or Brooklyn, New York according to Guzman, the former WBO super bantamweight champion, it breeds a similar type of hunger. “It’s a very tough area,” Guzman says. “You have to know how to fight. It’s part of every day life growing up. My childhood was rough. I was poor. If it was raining, my home’s roof had so many holes, I would get more wet on the inside than out!”

Few escape the type of streets Guzman describes, of those that do, sportand particularly boxing is often the saviour. For some it serves as just a fleeting diversion from a descent into crime and despair, for others like Joan, it provides opportunity to escape for good, something he grasped with both hands. “I was a rough kid. I remember, on my block, parents of other children would not let them play with me, [because] they were sure I would grow up to be a criminal, a low life, a nothing. I was always in the gym working. That kept me out of trouble. Also, seeing how other people ended up when they lived a ‘street life’ – dead, in jail, injured – looking at that, it kept me motivated to stay out of trouble and to succeed.”

Now aged 29, and on the cusp of a breakthrough into championship class in the lucrative featherweight division, Guzman can look back on the responsibility he had as a youngster and the different responsibilities he carries now. ‘I have two sisters and three brothers; at an early age I had to cook my own food and look after my brothers. I didn’t work much because I was very dedicated to boxing and stayed in the gym, but when I did I sold bread or candies on the street. But [despite the hardship] the people of the Dominican Republic are loving and love life,” says Guzman. “It is a beautiful island and has a vibrant culture and I want to be a Dominican boxing idol, something like Julio Cesar Chavez was to Mexicans.”

Guzman certainly isn’t afraid to aim high, but despite the baseball obsession that grips his country he’s already beginning to carve a place in the consciousness of the Dominican Republic’s people, even though he spends much of his time in Queens, New York. “Without sounding snobby, I am pretty famous down there, something of celebrity in the Dominican Republic,” Guzman points out, a little uncomfortable with the revelation. Given his outstanding amateur career and professional success it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Clearly proud of his achievements, Guzman outlined his career before turning professional. “I had over 300 amateur bouts. I was a three time Central Americas Champion, Pan-American Champion and represented the Dominican Republic in the 1996 Olympics. What inspires me now is to be an idol to the Dominican Republic people, someone they can look up to and be proud of.”

Usually fighters fall into two broad churches of personality. There are the loud, brash, self-promoting types, and the quiet, confident magnanimous professionals. On the evidence of this interview at least, the unbeaten former champion clearly falls into the latter category. Pressed about his contribution back to the society that created him, Guzman is refreshingly reserved: “Well, I love working with the young kids in the Dominican Republic. I do some things, but I am not really into bragging. I do those things from the heart. I am interested in working with young boxers when I retire and further developing the Dominican Republic’s boxing program.”

His own introduction to the local boxing program was indicative of his surroundings, from baseball to boxing in a single afternoon. “The first time I fought I was eight years old. I was playing baseball out in the streets. When some guys from a local boxing club, asked if I wanted to fight for them … that was it. I was fighting another kid with the gloves the exact same day.”

Although now enjoying the fruits of his toil as a professional, a career blighted by inactivity at different times – Guzman has just 23 fights in 8 years – the heart of the youngster from the streets of Guachupita still beats strong. Boxing is natural to his personality. “Aside from it being my career, it is something I love to do an [is] very much alive within my soul. I do not think you could take boxing from within me.” On the subject of his inactivity Guzman is typically pragmatic. “I have had a lot of bad luck, and without getting into the negative aspects of my career, I like to look at the positive, I just say they were promotional and managerial issues.”

And so conversation turned away from the past and toward the future – specifically Friday’s WBO featherweight title eliminator against virtual unknown Terdsak Jandaeng. The fight will unveil a mandatory challenger for Scottish powerhouse Scott Harrison and a route to the top of the classic 126-pound division. I was grateful to learn that the fighter tagged “Lil’ Tyson’”knew little more than I about his opponent. “I know he is a lefty and he is tough. Watching him on video, he is tricky and will come to fight.”

Heavily favoured, Guzman is happy to discuss his aspirations beyond the fight, whether that leads to Scot Harrison, Juan Manuel Marquez, Injin Chi or the even greater attractions at 130 pounds.“I am looking for the biggest fights out there. The top guys at 122, Oscar Larios and Israel Vazquez, showed no interest in fighting me. Of course it is easier for me to make 126, but the bigger fights are there and at super featherweight. I want the big fights, with guys like Pacquiao, Barrera, Marquez, Harrison … I want my opportunity to shine,” explains a determined Guzman, adding, “I moved up because I want to fight men the quality of Chi, Harrison and Marquez. I want the biggest fights. Of course, I was the WBO super bantamweight champion. When I vacated the title and moved to feather, it put me in a good position to fight Harrison, if I win the upcoming bout.”

Harrison, a lightweight carefully squeezed into the 9 stone division, appears to be an increasingly hard fighter to match. Manager Frank Maloney has mooted profile clashes with Chi and Marquez for many months but neither appears close to materialising. What does Guzman, should he be victorious on Friday, think of the fight with the WBO champion? “I hope it (the fight) happens. Scott is a good fighter, and I just hope he will give me the opportunity to contest his belt. I’d be honoured to travel to the UK and battle him.” Harrison’s disappointing performance versus veteran Manuel Medina will not mislead either. “You cannot judge Harrison on one fight. Medina is a fine boxer. Harrison throws a lot of punches and is tough. He would present a difficult challenge, but one I would like to conquer.’

Style wise would Guzman cause problems? Harrison has notoriously struggled with movers like Medina and Victor Polo, against whom he was fortunate to escape with a draw, but his nickname “Lil’ Tyson’” suggests not. “It is fun (the nickname), but really, I do not like it too much because it focuses on my power. In reality, I love boxing, showing speed and movement and defense. But I take it as an honor. I was familiar with Tyson, but a bigger fan of Marvin Hagler. I am a slick boxer, with good movement, defense and speed. At the same time, I have excellent power. In all honesty, I believe I am the total package.”

Before anyone of this fanciful matchmaking can take place, Guzman has to negate Thailand’s unbeaten contender Terdsak Jandaeng, a fighter who this month enjoyed his second anniversary as a professional and has never fought outside his homeland. It looks like the gulf between the two will be evident from the outset, but Guzman has left little to chance. Training in Vegas, Guzman has dropped Roger Mayweather and teamed up with Don House and employed some quality southpaw sparring ahead of this crunch encounter. “I was training in Vegas, with Mayweather,” Guzman says. “After a few weeks, we respectfully parted ways; I started training with Don House. Working with him in Vegas has been great. We are working on fine-tuning my head movement and speed, not just a focus on power. Also, being in Las Vegas, I have sparred with southpaws Kevin Kelley and Steve Luevano.”

It seems the featherweight division is about to welcome a new force amongst its depleted ranks. Considering the deprived nature of his formative years, the established champions will struggle to repel this hungry product of Santa Domingo’s mean streets.

Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?

(I’d like to thank Jim Hunter for his assistance in setting up this interview and to Ricardo Lois for interpreting Joan’s responses, and of course Joan himself for affording me his time.)

Articles of 2005

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



A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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