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Articles of 2005

Hurricane can't wash away New Orleans' boxing history

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It has been more than a week and the devastation that Hurricane Katrina has wrought upon New Orleans still cannot be fathomed. How can one begin to tally losses when there are still homes underwater and people being rescued?

The grim reality will arrive soon enough. The loss of human life will be numbing. The amount of survivors left homeless will be staggering. The costs to repair damaged property will be astronomical. The loss of the city’s soul – the French Quarter, Bourbon Street and the beautiful Plantation homes on River Road – may be immeasurable.

This was the place where Southern Elegance met Mardi Gras decadence. It was The Big Easy, but nothing may ever come easy to New Orleans again.

Of course, to a far lesser degree, there is the loss of athletics. Officials are estimating that it will be 30 to 60 days before the city drains. Only then, will reconstruction begin. Only then will one ponder where to play the games. For now, the New Orleans Saints will play elsewhere and the NCAA is already considering a new home for the Sugar Bowl.

Buddy Embanato, the chairman of the Louisiana State Boxing Commission, canceled a fight card scheduled for the PontchartrainCenter the Saturday before Katrina struck and can’t imagine a boxing show in New Orleans for the remainder of the year.

“People have been saying for a decade that a category four or five hurricane would ruin New Orleans,” said Embanato. “People predicted that the levees would break. The city is under sea level. What happened doesn’t surprise me. I can tell you that all the gyms in New Orleans are destroyed. The small gyms, where the kids go to start out, they are gone.”

Embanato lives in Monroe, Louisiana, in the Northeast corner of the state, about four hours from the devastation. It was more than a week after the storm before all of his referees, inspectors, judges and officials in the New Orleans area were accounted for. Thankfully, they all survived. Sadly, he does not have an update on most of the city’s fighters or their whereabouts. Right now he has four evacuees staying in his home. “You do what you can with what you got,” he said.

New Orleans lost its grip on the fight game well before Katrina, giving way to small fight clubs and Indian casinos throughout the state. There was only one fight card in the city last year and two were scheduled for later this year that Embanato says have already been canceled.

The last major card in New Orleans was Roy Jones Jr. light heavyweight title defense against Eric Harding in 2000. Even then, the weather left an impression on an outsider in town for the fight.

“I was in New Orleans for that fight,” said Harold Lederman, a New Yorker and HBO’s fight judge. “It was raining like heck, there were cars floating down the street. The drainage is so poor in New Orleans. I could see something like this coming. It’s one of the great American disasters.”

In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, the Louisiana Superdome, the proud symbol of the city’s sporting culture, was used as a shelter for thousands of people displaced from their homes by the rising floodwaters.

As the evacuation effort stalled, tails of horror emerged from the Superdome. The storm ripped off portions of the roof and, without electricity, the lack of air conditioning left those seeking refuge to endure sauna-like conditions. As the days passed, toilets inside the arena backed up and the stench of human waste was inescapable. Still, the news got worse. Television stations and newspapers reported alleged murders and rapes inside the dome as marauding gangs harassed those seeking shelter.

The Superdome, home of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, has hosted six Super Bowls, four Final Fours and the Sugar Bowl over the course of its 30-year existence. One of the nation’s most prestigious sports venues turned into a house of horrors.

Boxing would make an impact during the dome’s early years. On September 15, 1978, Muhammad Ali became the first man to win a portion of the heavyweight title three times when he defeated Leon Spinks. The card also featured three other world title fights, with Danny Little Red Lopez, Mike Rossman and Jorge Lujan victorious that night.

“I was in the Superdome for the Ali-Spinks fight,” said Fielding Lewis, a member of the state’s boxing commission for 23 years. “It was packed. Between the seats, at the end of each aisle, people were standing. I had someone sitting on the arm of my seat. There were a pile of celebrities in the crowd. When Ali won, everyone tried to get down to the floor to get to Ali. That’s what Ali did to people. It almost got out of hand. They needed the state police to calm the crowd. But other than that one incident, the atmosphere for fights at the Superdome was great.”

“The tradition of the Superdome plays a big part of the mystique when you arrive in New Orleans for a fight,” said Lederman, who was once assigned a world title fight inside the dome. “And at that time I worked there, the dome wasn’t even that old. It was relatively new. It was brutally hot in New Orleans. But they had a heck of a crowd at the dome. It was an entirely different atmosphere. It wasn’t that antiseptic casino atmosphere. There was so much yelling and screaming. I thought it was great for big fights.”

 In November of 1980, Sugar Ray Leonard earned his measure of revenge and cemented his reputation as a master boxer when he induced Roberto Duran to turn his back and utter “No mas” in the eighth round of their welterweight title fight. Two years later, Thomas Hearns decisioned Wilfred Benitez and Wilfredo Gomez knocked out Lupe Pintor in a title fight doubleheader.

“The Gomez-Pintor fight was the greatest fight I ever saw,” said Lederman, who judged that contest and had Gomez ahead before the bout ended. “It was the semifinal to Hearns-Benitez but to tell you the truth, after that fight, no one could watch Hearns and Benitez. It made them look dull. You had the reigning WBC 118-pound champion in Pintor against the reigning WBC 122-pound champion in Gomez. They were killing each other for 13 rounds. In the 14th round Pintor was counted out. I think he fell from exhaustion. Gatti-Ward was a great fight, Kennedy McKinney-Marco Antonio Barrera was a great fight, but nothing compares to Gomez-Pintor. These were two guys looking to kill each other.”

Prior to the salad days of Superdome boxing, the sweet science was a constant in Louisiana for decades. The state produced champions like Joe “Old Bones” Brown (lightweight title, 1956), Willie Pastrano (light heavyweight, 1963) and Ralph Dupas (junior middleweight, 1963) each of whom had title fights in New Orleans.

“Until recently, New Orleans always had great fights,” said Lewis, who is 74 and boxed in the Air Force. “The best fighter we ever had was Joe Brown. I used to go to the Coliseum Arena in New Orleans to see him fight. It was an old wooden building and the best thing about it is that the seats were built straight up. So no matter what kind of ticket you had, you had a great seat. It was so damn hot in that building. They used to bring in huge blocks of ice and cover them with canvas. People would sit on them to cool down.”

But the history of boxing in The Crescent City dates back over 100 years. If Madison Square Garden was once known as the Mecca of Boxing, that tag would certainly have fit New Orleans in the late 19th Century.

The centerpiece of the city’s boxing scene was the Olympic Club on Royal Street. It was founded in 1883 and within a decade had established itself as a major boxing venue. Although, boxing wasn’t an easy sell. At the time, prizefighting was outlawed in much of the United States. Private athletic clubs would skirt such legislation by staging exhibitions that required the combatants to wear gloves. The political landscape of the time painted the sport as barbaric and immoral, but even then New Orleans was a bit more tolerable when it came to vices. Boxing seemed a natural for this country’s original “Sin City.”

On March 14, 1890, the New Orleans city council authorized boxing under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules. Soon after, members of the Olympic Club challenged another law that prohibited fights contested for a purse and waged until a finish. When the membership won this legal battle the last hurdle had been cleared and the club’s 3,500-seat arena was free to charge admission for a professional prizefight.

The first major bout occurred on January, 14, 1891, when Bob Fitzsimmons knocked out middleweight champion Jack “Nonpareil” Dempsey over 13 brutal rounds to win the first of his three world titles. While the fighting was legal, the New Orleans police still monitored the crowd to enforce laws against betting and drinking alcohol.

The success of the Fitzsimmons-Dempsey fight led to the greatest show in New Orleans boxing history and arguably one of the greatest three-day periods in boxing. The heavyweight title fight between James J. Corbett and John L. Sullivan would be staged at the Olympic Club on September 7, 1892.  It would be the first time a heavyweight championship bout would be contested with participants wearing gloves.

And while landing the historic heavyweight fight was a major coup for the city, the promoters upped the ante by staging three days of championship boxing. It would become known as boxing’s first “Carnival of Champions.” [Some 90 years later, Don King would borrow the nickname for his Hearns-Benitez and Gomez-Pintor card in the Superdome.]

To prepare for the event, organizers renovated the Olympic Club so it was completely wired with electricity and the seating capacity was increased to accommodate 10,000. Still, the high society types looked down from their plantation mansions and voiced moral objections to the event. The local press editorialized that hosting the bouts would do little to diminish the area's reputation as a “city of sin.” But the fights were a boon to the local economy. One railroad sold 3,000 tickets to people attending the fight from out of state and saloons, brothels, hotels, and bookmakers profited nicely from the fight crowd.

Leading off the extravaganza on September 5, lightweight champion Jack McAuliffe retained his title by defeating Billy Myer. Then, on the 6th, featherweight champ George “Little Chocolate” Dixon knocked out Jack Skelly in eight rounds. It marked the first time African-American fans were allowed to attend fights at the Olympic Club.

Then came the main event and Corbett made history by upsetting Sullivan with a boxing display worthy of Sugar Ray Leonard almost a century later. The difference, Sullivan went on his shield while Duran did not. Corbett, a 4-1 underdog, ruined the Sullivan-McAuliffe-Dixon parlay bet and cost fight fans thousands of dollars. And if the Carnival of Champion was indeed a three-day carnival of excess and indulgence, it clearly established New Orleans as the fight capital of that time period.

The Olympic Club is no more, gone long before the devastation of Katrina. In a local park, there is a statue near the site that commemorates the early days of boxing in New Orleans. Like much of everything else, it is underwater.

The next fight card in the state of Louisiana will take place in the city of Kinder on September 17 with DeMarcus Corley in the main event. “That is just far enough inland,” said Embanato. “I just got the fight fax information on all the fighters. That card will come off.”

He paused a moment to think about the future of boxing in New Orleans. It may never rival its glorious past. But he was confident that it will return.

“I promise you, as soon they find a building, they will have boxing matches in New Orleans,” said Embanato. “Some of these people are really, really in a world of hurt. We’re scratching and clawing. But we’re going to get through it. If I could chose anyone in the world to be in a foxhole with me, I’d take someone from New Orleans. They’re just tough. People in New Orleans are a special breed.”

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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