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Articles of 2005

Young Mitchell … Boxing Rough-and-Tumble

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(This article is co-authored by Bill Schutte)

In the late 1800s, when prize-fighting was a much more rough-and-tumble game than today, the only fights John L. Herget lost happened outside the ropes. And then the other guys cheated.

One hundred fourteen years ago it was written of Herget, whose ring name was Young Mitchell, that he was “perhaps the best middleweight in America in his time, Jack Dempsey not excepted.”

The reference was to the renowned 19th century middleweight champion called “The Nonpareil.” By definition, nothing tops a nonpareil (“Something of unequalled excellence”), but since Dempsey lost three fights in his career and the worst Mitchell ever got was a draw, maybe the nickname went to the wrong fighter.

They never did put it up for grabs in the ring, because Dempsey was Mitchell’s mentor and best friend, and a highlight of the latter¹s career was avenging the famous and controversial “pivot punch” KO suffered by Dempsey at the hands of George LaBlanche.

Born in San Francisco in 1868, Herget was 16 and barely weighed 100 pounds when he and his friend Dinny Sullivan pooled their money to buy a set of boxing gloves. A few weeks later, they were in opposite corners at Harry Maynard’s downtown boxing club. After introducing “Young Sullivan,” Maynard decided on the spur of the moment that his opponent deserved a famous fighting surname, too, and introduced Herget as “Young Mitchell,” after British heavyweight champion (and future John L. Sullivan opponent) Charlie Mitchell.

Birth may have given Dinny the brighter marquee billing, but nature compensated for that and the 5’6¾” Mitchell's fairly dainty appearance by endowing him with attributes that, in those days of skintight gloves and fights-to-a-finish, counted a hell of a lot more than a macho handle.

It took them ten minutes to revive Bob Turnbull after Mitchell flattened him in seven rounds on May 29, 1885, and one of the loser’s seconds lammed out of the Wigwam Theater fearing his man was dead. It was Mitchell’s fifth KO in six fights (the other he won on a foul), and what happened to Turnbull – who’d twice stayed the limit with Dempsey – convinced the other West Coast featherweights that there were healthier ways to make money than fighting Mitchell.

So from the East came Jack Kennan, recognized as American lightweight champion, whose advantages over the 17-year-old Mitchell in size, experience and skill seemed so overwhelming that before their fight the police made them switch to gloves with more padding than the standard three-ounce mitts.

For thirty rounds, Mitchell’s backers probably wished that headgear and full body armor had been ordered, too, as the kid took a pasting. But then those bigger gloves must’ve felt like anvils to Keenan, and with the great Dempsey egging him on from his corner, Mitchell started doling out the hurt. In round 35, the champion went down for keeps.

Over the next eight years, Mitchell would fight up to 47 rounds at a crack. But his longest contest ever, and one that made news all over the world, only lasted 34 rounds.

Make that three days and 34 rounds.

On November 29, 1885, Mitchell and Billy Hamilton of San Jose were to fight to the finish in a popular picnic area near San Rafael, California. Too popular, it turned out, because among the thousand or so people who made a beeline for the site was Sheriff Jake Gordon, who stood up as the fighters got ready to rumble and announced that no illegal prize-fighting would be done in Marin County as long as he wore a badge.

The ring was dutifully dismantled and the following day it went up again in a barn in Berkeley, in next-door Alameda County. Mitchell and Hamilton waged a heated battle for ten rounds, but not as frenetic as the dash for cover when, in round eleven, the county sheriff showed up to restore law and order in his domain.

A day later, the Mitchell-Hamilton roadshow landed in Alviso, in Santa Clara County, and the fighters went at it for 23 more rounds. As Mitchell was belaboring Hamilton in the latter's corner, a Hamilton backer brandishing a butcher knife jumped up and announced that he would rip Mitchell a new one if he knocked Hamilton out. Some accounts say that Mitchell did it anyway, while others gave the only fight in recorded ring history fought over three successive days in three different counties to him on a foul. (In either case, that business with the pigsticker certainly proved that there's never a cop around when you need one.)

Mitchell weighed just 130 pounds when he knocked out Tom Cleary for the Pacific Coast middleweight belt in 1886, and the year after that the pickings were so slim at home that he went to Australia and dazzled Down Under fans and foes alike with his skill and stamina. His fight with Jack Hall was only declared a draw after 46 rounds because after the 33rd round Hall, who’d been knocked down repeatedly, did nothing but sprint away from Mitchell.

Mitchell’s 40-rounder with Peter Boland for the national lightweight title, fought for three hours in a rainstorm, also ended up a draw. The American subsequently outpointed Boland, and upon his return stateside he successfully defended his coastal middleweight title by again knocking out Tom Cleary in a 30-round fight that raised eyebrows as soon as Mitchell entered the ring. Anyone who thinks today's fighters are the last word in sartorial splendor ought to have gotten a load of Mitchell in knee-length pink tights, brown stockings, and what the San Francisco Chronicle described as “a rather aristocratic-looking pair of check-tweed fighting shoes.” Around his waist was “a natty black velvet belt, ornamented with silk woven flowers.”

When a New Yorker called Sailor Brown couldn't beat Mitchell in the ring, he beat him to the Western Union telegraph office and sent out a widely-circulated story proclaiming him the winner of their fight. The man-bites-dog report was subsequently corrected.

On August 28, 1889, the boxing world was shook to its foundation when The Nonpareil bit the dust against LaBlanche, a roughneck from Quebec who was getting the worst of it until he used the backhanded “pivot punch” – subsequently declared illegal – to lay Dempsey out in their San Francisco fight.

Dempsey retained the middleweight belt because “The Marine,” as LaBlanche was known, came in one pound over the agreed-upon weight of 160. But the KO against him stood, and when LaBlanche and Mitchell were matched on February 20, 1891, the man the Police News called Dempsey’s “pupil, ardent follower, Baptist scholar, and most profound exponent” ran twelve miles and punched the bag for two hours and fifteen minutes daily to square accounts for his pal.

He did, stopping LaBlanche in 12 rounds. Trouble was The Marine was a thorough schnook who, in the middle of his fight with Dempsey, offered to lay down for $500. And there was ample evidence that he splashed in the Mitchell fight.

Mitchell was blameless, though, and after he stopped Reddy Gallagher in thirteen rounds it was widely said that the pupil had overtaken the master – Dempsey – as the best middleweight around.

Since neither man was interested in putting that to the test, Mitchell wound up his undefeated career dispatching a succession of lesser lights. However, his last official fight, against Jim Ryan on December 1, 1893, was declared a draw after the pesky police stopped it in the eighth round.

While unhappy with his own performance, Mitchell – who’d not fought in over a year – was even unhappier with that of referee Jack McAuliffe, the lightweight champion, and spent the next two months challenging McAuliffe to a fight. On February 9, 1894, McAuliffe called on Mitchell and suggested they bury the hatchet not in the ring but on a tour of San Francisco nightspots. Off they went for a convivial evening that went south when, as they left the last saloon on their itinerary, McAuliffe turned and sucker-punched Mitchell, and proceeded, with several confederates, to kick the stuffing out of him.

Mitchell was back in the news for another extracurricular fight that occurred on March 21, 1897. He was running a popular tavern himself then, into which walked an already soused Mysterious Billy Smith, whose reputation as the dirtiest fighter in boxing history has survived numerous determined challenges through the years. Smith rushed at Mitchell and took a swing at him. In the battle that ensued, Mitchell had the upper hand until Smith got hold of his right pinkie finger with his teeth and chewed until, reported the San Francisco Call, “he was almost black in the face” and Mitchell’s digit was almost severed. After finally prying Smith off, some other patrons chased him out of town.

As for Young Mitchell, he reverted to his birth name, was elected a county supervisor, ran a hotel, and died in 1945 at 77. For some reason he has always fallen through the cracks at Hall of Fame voting time – an injustice that, unlike that sprawling marathon battle with Billy Hamilton, has gone on way too long.

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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