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Articles of 2005

Frank Warren: A Boxing Survivor

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If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools …
                                                           From “If” by Rudyard Kipling

In boxing, survival is key. From the ageing four-round journeyman, hugging and slipping his way to a 40-36 points defeat, through to the coiffed young prospect resisting the lure of the nightclub and their leg weakening patrons – its all about getting to the finish line, wherever or whenever that may be.

Promoters, usually lazily labeled the sharks in boxing’s murky waters, like everyone in the sport, struggle for survival too. For most in the boxing fraternity empathy with promoters is rare and, amongst the guerrilla internet forums where opinion is increasingly shaped and originated, nonexistent. But in the “dog-eat-dog” world of boxing promotion, surviving a debut show with the finance and will to plan a second is triumph enough. To survive and endure more than two decades of boxing’s incessant pressure, whilst permanently stalked by financial failure, demonstrates an appetite for survival as insatiable as any of the fighters showcased.

Frank Warren is one such survivor. A man harangued and chastised at every turn, pursued and denounced on a range of issues, most persistently on the contentious and entirely subjective notion that he matches his fighters too cautiously, Warren, for all his experience, remains sensitive to the accusation, and when pressed will vehemently defend his record and the respective wealth and health of his premier fighters.

As the guiding hand in the careers of Britain’s two leading fighters, Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe, his judgement on opponents and the speed of their development has been heavily criticised. Ultimately, many have grown impatient. SKY television grew tired of routine and faceless title defences for Calzaghe, and Hatton expressed concern at his own stagnation through 2003/2004.

But, survivors survive. Warren emerged from the debris of his SKY contract on the crescendo of Hatton’s victory over Kostya Tszyu, his Amir Khan trump card secured and a contract with terrestrial broadcaster ITV freshly signed. Once again, Warren “dusted” himself down and appeared better placed than ever to capitalise on the possibilities within his stable.

In a promotional career encompassing unlicensed fights in the capitol’s gritty “spit and sawdust” small halls to fluctuating roles in the Tyson, Benn and Hamed soap operas, Warren has countered every real and metaphorical bullet the sport has fired at him.

Despite these volumes of experience, Warren has been genuinely stung by the contractual developments that now seem close to depriving him of his prized asset. Embarrassingly, in the week before Calzaghe’s first appearance on ITV – the Welshman faces Evans Ashira, a fighter so obscure even the traditionally eccentric WBO rankings are an unlikely place to find him – Warren looks close to losing Ricky Hatton. The millions that saw Hatton and Warren side by side in the immediate aftermath of the former’s famous victory over Kostya Tszyu will find it hard to fathom the collapse of their relationship. Clearly, Hatton believes he graduated outside the ring as well as in it.

Frank Warren’s Sports Network directed Hatton’s career from the outset in 1997, shrewdly matching the youngster to nurture his natural talent and develop a loyal and mobilised fan base. When Kostya Tszyu failed to emerge for the final round in June, Warren could have been forgiven for glancing around the packed MEN arena and allowing himself a satisfied smile as he contemplated the fight fans across three continents who’d tuned in to witness Hatton’s arrival as a boxing superstar.

Hatton is unquestionably Warren’s defining work. The culmination of eight years management and investment and a lifetime’s experience of the nuances and pitfalls of the boxing business poured into a single career.

But the reality of losing that defining work whilst in the glow of his greatest promotional coup is closer than any informed observer would have dared venture as recently as a week ago. The timing of Hatton’s pursuit of greater control and remuneration could be described as unfortunate or cruel depending on your perspective. Warren’s partnership with ITV is still embryonic and hasn’t started well. Fresh from the disappointment of Danny Williams’ withdrawal from their opening show (and subsequently moderate viewing figures), widespread bemusement at the selection of Evans Ashira for Calzaghe in the second, Scott Harrison’s injury-induced withdrawal from what would have been the third, and the possibility of losing Hatton before he’s ever entertained their terrestrial audience will surely have rung alarm bells with the network. And caused Warren embarrassment too.

Such is the marketability of Hatton; conceivably every major promoter on the planet will seek an audience if his contractual freedom can be confirmed. Presently this remains a topic of passionate claim and counterclaim by Hatton and his father, Ray Hatton, and Frank Warren’s Sports Network stable.

In a fortnight of unprecedented drama, played out in excruciating detail and with the internet’s trademark immediacy, fight fans have been able to track the mood and increasingly bitter path taken by the negotiations (or lack thereof). As recently as mid-August the story could be dispelled as little more than a mischievous rumor, the type reported, discussed and dismissed on message boards and forums in a single afternoon.

But this rumor refused to wilt and Frank Warren, compelled to try and clarify the situation, succeeded in further fueling the credence of the story; speaking to the Steve Bunce on BBC Radio Five Live on August 18th Warren countered, “I've done a magnificent job for Ricky outside the ring and delivered him everything I said I'd do. He fought Kostya Tszyu in his hometown when it was very difficult to get the fight on over here. Ricky's done a fantastic job in the ring. He's a lovely fella. His dad's done a fantastic job advising him. Billy Graham's done a great job. And I don't see why that shouldn't continue to be the case.”

Despite his critics, few could argue with Warren’s view of the situation, but most revealing was Warren’s tone of resignation and the plea to Hatton’s loyalty and principled nature. For a man as seasoned as Warren to concede “I just hope everybody does the right thing” illuminates how serious the prospect of Hatton departing had become. Hearing the traditionally bullish promoter, a man accustomed to the unsavoury rigors of professional boxing, claim the moral high ground and implore the Hatton team to fulfil their obligation reeked of desperation. There was no other word for it.

The story quickly evolved and became a seemingly daily exchange of press releases and quotes as both sides desperately searched for the ethical and legal ascendancy. A key development further stoked the controversy: Ricky Hatton’s brother, welterweight Matthew, withdrew from a Sports Network promotion in which he was to headline against Ross Minter. Matthew now reappears on the Woods vs. Gonzales undercard, promoted by Fight Academy, and explicitly reported the move was to show unity with his brother.

Warren’s reply? To announce that not only did he have a binding three fight agreement with Ricky Hatton that he would legally contest if he had to, but he’d also sealed an exclusive agreement with the MEN Arena, home of Hatton’s greatest nights, for two years. Even if Hatton extricated himself from Warren’s clutches he wouldn’t be conducting his subsequent career at the MEN.

Suddenly, this was no longer a flimsy internet rumor. This story had substance and their relationship was clearly crumbling beyond repair. The cynics sneered; Warren’s failure to advance Hatton fast enough was coming home to roost. But is that really true? Hasn’t Hatton earned handsomely from his career? Hasn’t the level of risk been prudently managed? Hasn’t Hatton enjoyed home comforts for all his fights?

As fans pondered the possibilities, as writers wondered what tomorrow would bring, Hatton landed another punishing broadside. Hatton would seek to fight WBA champion Carlos Maussa with Dennis Hobson as the promoter later in the year.

Which bring the story almost up to date. Yesterday Warren reluctantly moved the argument to a legal level serving papers to prevent Hatton from fighting for any other promoter until he’d proved he was free to do so. A fact Warren vigorously denies.

The soap opera has entertained and sustained fight fans waiting for the return of British boxing to the sporting calendar. Both parties have much to resolve in the days and weeks ahead and boxing observers will hope Ricky Hatton’s career doesn’t suffer as a result. But whatever the outcome, Frank Warren will survive. He always does.

Now, have you heard about this Amir Khan kid? I forget who promotes 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

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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