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Articles of 2005

The Comeback

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Every era in boxing is an era of the comeback as fighters endlessly cycle through their optimal periodization only to later recycle themselves – their reputations still marketable, their worn skills exploitable – adding their names and fates to an endless ritual.

On March 1, 1997, a 40-year-old Sugar Ray Leonard suffered the humiliation of being dropped and stopped by the faded figure of Hector “Macho” Camacho in Atlantic City. Leonard – heir to Muhammad Ali as king of the comeback – earned a remarkable 4 million pay-per-view dollars for his one-legged stand-in. Leonard had not even sparred during the bulk of his training camp, due to a leg injury, and was coming off of a six year-plus hiatus after being pummeled for 12 rounds in Madison Square Garden by Terry Norris, but it was truly of no matter. Leonard privately admitted that like his old nemesis Roberto Duran, he was entitled to earn some serious coin, if his loyal fans still thrilled at the very sight of him with gloves on anyway; call it part of the senior’s tour if you must, he mused.

His secret wish had as much to do with winning a prize fight in the very year he was scheduled to enter the Boxing Hall of Fame. Leonard and showmanship and ego and money – well, those words always did go together. He wanted to do something amazing and unexpected, and make his timing perfectly symbolic. Instead he had to endure being kept at bay by Camacho’s telegraphed right jab, which he couldn’t counter, being beaten to the punch, cut and then driven to the mat, his lips fattened from the taste of white leather. The Sugar Man proved there was nothing perfect about his boxing any longer, his timing was video fed for memory; need we mention he really was the ancestor of Sugar Ray Robinson, in most all things unto the end.

Marvin Hagler, Leonard’s most improbable victim of circumstances, never did make a return to the ring. His life became tied to Italian culture, the legendary middleweight king playing the cinematic heavy as an action star of sorts. And yet Leonard, almost in the spirit of Floyd Patterson, minus the beard, fishing cap and paranoia, told audiences of ESPN in the US that he was not really retired and this was certainly not his last fight; he would not go out on this kind of performance. With his body whole, two good legs, he’d get his bearings straight after a tune-up fight.

“Sugar” Ray Leonard never did fight again professionally. Somewhere in the recessed rationality of his mind, over the weeks and months living with the experience of his having been tamed, shamed and drained, Leonard came to internalize his athletic diminishment, his singularity spent. For even Ray Leonard’s luminous talent turned to apathetic fog under the ring lights; in the squared circle, the bell having rung, where once he stalked and savaged with speed and cunning, he was merely posing, a well built man attempting to deny being mortal, artificial.

One could name this generation’s Sugar, Shane Mosley or Roy Jones or Riddick Bowe or Evander Holyfield or Mike Tyson or Vernon Forrest or even the derailed Francisco Bojado. There’s no shortage of names we might invoke in exploring the vagaries of the comeback. Each fighter’s reasoning for renewal and continuance, quest and redemption are literally the stuff of what tempts us to think of valiance, vanity and vulnerability intricately stitched into their foreheads as targets.

Since January of 2002, Mosley has entered the ring seven times. His record over the last four years reads 2 wins, 4 losses and 1 no contest. Sadly, no one seriously looks at Shane Mosley as the fighter who out-sped and out-punched tough down the stretch against fellow Los Angeles native Oscar De La Hoya before a lively Staples Center sellout crowd on June 17, 2000.

If one could read minds, one suspects even Mosley’s ex-trainer, his father Jack, doesn’t truly believe his son is anything like the fighter he used to be. And against a pedantic David Estrada, in winning, Mosley himself appeared frustrated at times with the manner and method of his boxing. The staccato speed gone from his leg movement, his punches firing where once they scorched, Mosley now puts the best face possible on his performances. He recites the timeless litany of things he needs to do to improve. His spangling eyes not signaling incontrovertible confidence. Weighing in at just one pound over welterweight was not enough to regain his diminished hand speed against Estrada, let alone the continuous ability to punch accurately via combinations. Benching pressing nearly 300 lbs., running the lake at altitude up in Big Bear, then descending to vanquish foes with supreme efficiency, seems like a lost era already.

Perhaps Alton Merkerson, the longtime confidant and guiding light of emotional stability for Roy Jones, knows exactly the perplexing reservations born by Jack Mosley. Boxing writers are frankly amazed that after watching from ringside one of Antonio Tarver’s best, most sustained performances as a professional, Jones decides to have at the light-heavyweight champion for a third time. Coming off of successive knockout losses to Tarver and Glen Johnson, Jones offers us the rationality of boredom. He confesses to having lost focus and drive and interest in all things boxing, having sustained excellence for so long, having dispatched challenges with unparalleled athleticism for a decade. He fails to understand the irony of his admission. Being focused and prepared and in the zone of his athletic brilliance was Jones’ greatest asset, his quantum leap when compared to his generation.

The obvious question looms. One can only wonder why, having been concussively stopped twice, knowing his inability to move for twelve rounds and diminishing hitting power and being financially secure, why Jones would so brazenly tempt a three-peat butchering. A rhetorical question, for which, we sadly know the answer.

Yes, we all know. We all know Jones’ ego simply cannot go gently into the good night of anonymity of the HBO broadcasting team; only Jones would see a media job with HBO as a virtual vanishing. Perhaps, it’s the banishing, the indignity of having been drummed from the ring by a fighter he feels so inferior to himself. Him of 2000 maybe, maybe not, that’s an incalculable hypothetical. Still, we recognize that to view oneself in the now, in full perspective of one’s past being, is characteristic of a champion’s mindset. Jones disdains the very image of Tarver as his equal and subsequent superior. Standing out of time, Jones contemplates his best self enacting the ritual of revenge. For the rest of us, we who will be the onlookers, Tarver-Jones III has all the markings of a suicide mission for Team Jones. The issue of Jones’ fate as a boxer, from here on in, looks crystal clear.

Few, if any, bother to consider the comeback of former world heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe as anything except a man, marginally haunted by illusions, working himself back into the calling of his youth, his now expired youth. Mostly, we fear for his basic state of health. His basic health being the subject he spends the bulk of his time proving to commissions across the US remains unencumbered. Mostly without media scrutiny, the once formidable Bowe waltzes through the pretense of a resumed career. The fact he used boxing injuries to his head as part of his legal defense during his trial for kidnapping his family, he now tells us, is tantamount to taking the factual record out of its own context.

We know Arturo Gatti, recently hided by a prime Floyd Mayweather, will resurface yet again. We don’t consider his fighting again a comeback; we reserve that for his next sacrificial defeat, live on, and under contract to, HBO. He’s waged so many campaigns of return and rebuilding, he’s only lacking the official retirement press conference to make him a candidate for “Sugar” Ray Leonard’s mantle. Gatti fights for the love of it, because he’s a fighter. Period. What else would Gatti do? One almost asks for what else does Gatti live? Arturo himself says as much in the run up to all his fights. Mike Tyson, perhaps having found the porn industry to help him pay off the national debt of his life’s work as a fighter, until recently loved to fight, winning having become, after Holyfield, all but optional.

What of the Prince? No comeback in boxing has been more anticipated and prognosticated than the return of featherweight wrecking ball Naseem Hamed. Having been taught who his boxing daddy really was by the cryptic boxing of a reborn Marco Antonio Barrera, boxing’s most flamboyant showman folded his tent. The fact he surfaced in May 2002 to prove the point of his existence, left the boxing community with the void of his non-career. Yet the hope associated with his impending return never seems to fade. Endlessly, rumors drift from Sheffield, England down to London and across the pond to North America confirming a sighting of the rambunctious, and today very corpulent, Hamed. Hamed made his money, becoming a star and a celebrity and a champion. Add to that he won his last fight; let Barrera stay and take the beatings, says the Prince of never-never-again-land.

Fighters do come back to glory, not as before, but occasionally as adaptive, reconstituted by realism, hurried by time’s inevitable progress. Champions often demand of self the pain endured just to have their pockets lined and to hear their names screamed out in adoration, a sensation of mind beyond price. Some return to the ring because they have lavished all their treasures on friends, family and their past selves and need a final security boost with old age taking possession of their athlete’s physicality.

Some fighters come back because they are commanded by their egos to once again breech the fortress of championship boxing, all the glories, all the sex, all the attention, an entire lifetime lived out in the course of taking one's training camp readiness into the gnarling crucible of a big-time fight. And you go in with faith seemingly restored, willing to have you face rearranged as payment for your necessity.

Riddick Bowe came back because beyond the money he had no direction in his life; he felt as if he was no one, always nowhere, bored out of his mind. Johnny Tapia lives with the fear of not being a disciplined boxer every day of his life. How does one fill the emptiness that the industry of a life as a boxer, especially a championship boxer, ending begets? Partly, the answer is to be loved, understanding you within the frame of the present, literally seeing yourself. When an aging, aged champion looks in the mirror what does he see?

Of course, there was Ali in 1974, in Zaire. As irony would have it, Ali’s victim from Africa, Big George Foreman, completed a cosmic circle of improbability against Michael Moorer.

But then again, those were miracles of a kind and miracles are ultra exceptional phenomena, evading reason and predictability. Comebacks, typically, are all about evading reason and being totally predictable.

Of course, Roy Jones and Shane Mosley and Riddick Bowe know, in boxing, it isn’t the chips that fall where they may.

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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