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Articles of 2005

Heavy thoughts in A.C.

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Atlantic City – Welcome to town. Just past the toll pavilion on the Atlantic City Expressway, a huge billboard announces the Wladimir Klitschko-Samuel Peter and Miguel Cotto-Ricardo Torres fights.

While the anticipation of a great show usually generates a buzz, it is hard for me to escape thinking of former IBF lightweight champion Leavander Johnson, who died September 22 after losing his title to Jesus Chavez five days earlier. Atlantic City was Johnson’s hometown. The specter of his death remained a constant throughout the weekend.

Friday

Undercard weigh-in. Far less fanfare than the Klitschko-Peter weigh-in, which occurs 2 days before the fight. Cotto makes the 140-pound weight limit, does the perfunctory pose with Torres and then ascends the stage and guzzles pedialyte and some sort of orange sports drink. It is approximately 27 hours before they will step into the ring. Remember the days when fighters weighed in the morning of the bout?

Entourage. No, not the great HBO series that stars New Yorkers Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Adrian Grenier and Kevin Dillon. I'm talking boxing entourages. You can't miss them. The Cotto crew travels en masse at Caesars. Where else besides a boxing card can you find a dozen guys in matching sweatsuits swarming a buffet?

A.C. vs. Vegas. The buffets. If you find the right restaurant, the food is good in either town. However, they are usually cheaper in Vegas.

Convention. The American Association of Ringside Physicians held their annual convention during the weekend. I asked Dr. Ralph Bohm, of the New York State Athletic Commission, what was said about the death of Leavander Johnson. “Sometimes there is no one to blame,” he said. “It appears that the officials in Nevada responded quickly. He was taken to the hospital right away. Surgery was performed right away. It was just a terrible tragedy.”

Play Ball. The Friday night before a major fight card is usually reserved for a smaller card somewhere in A.C. No such card this time. Instead, I venture to “The Sandcastle,” a minor league ballpark on the west side of town to see the Atlantic City Surf play the Bridgeport Bluefish. Tom Goodwin, a 14-year major-league veteran, plays outfield for the Surf and is hoping to find his way back to the Bigs. The Surf helped send current New York Yankee Ruben Sierra back to The Show after his stint with the club in 1999. There is a nice ceremony honoring the Negro Leagues prior to the game and both teams where Negro League throwback uniforms. Atlantic City was once the home of the Bacharach Giants, who played in the Negro League World Series in 1926 and 1927.

A.C. vs. Vegas, part 2: The sticky humidity of a seaside city or the blistering dry heat of a desert city. I'll pass on both.

Saturday

Calling all media. The afternoon of the fight is spent attending press conferences for a pair of upcoming bouts. The first is Vitali Klitschko’s November 12, WBC title defense against Hasim Rahman.

When asked about his brother’s chances later that evening, Vitali said, “To be honest, for me, it’s much easier to be in the ring than to be in the corner watching my brother. Many people try to make predictions. But nobody knows. I know that my brother is in very good shape. I have a good feeling.”

He was asked about Rahman as an opponent.

“Every fight of my career, I have to prove myself,” said Klitschko. “Before I fought Lennox Lewis, everyone said I had no chance. After that fight, everyone said if Lennox was in shape he would beat me. But it’s not just the Lewis fight, it’s every fight. Someone will always say, the opponent was not so strong. Can they say that about Rahman? After this fight, let’s see.”

No Class. Bob Arum opened the press conference by asking all to stand for a moment of silence for Leavander Johnson. Nice touch. Then, when it was Rahman’s turn to speak, he took the podium and said, “I know boxing is a tragic sport. They only way I’m going to lose this fight is if Vitali Klitschko kills me.”

To say that in Johnson’s hometown, just two days after the fighter’s death, was tasteless.

The presser ended with the standard photo op of both fighters squaring off. After striking poses they finally came nose-to-nose for the traditional stare down. This was a combustible situation because the fighters have already traded verbally jabs through the press. In what some in the room were calling the “best stare down ever,” Rahman and Klitschko remained inches apart long after the photographers got their pictures. After several minutes passed, publicist Kelly Swanson, perhaps the bravest individual in the room, stepped between the fighters and separated them.

Calling all media, part 2. The scene then shifted down the hall at Caesars to yet another ballroom where Cedric Kushner and Warriors Boxing announced another heavyweight-laden card. The pay-per-view show will take place October 21 at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Florida.

The top of the card features comebacking David Tua against Cisse Salif and Jameel McCline against Zuri Lawrence. Tua, who has wins over Rahman, John Ruiz, Michael Moorer and Fres Oquendo, may be the best heavyweight of this era to never win a title.

The undercard has junior middleweight Yuri Foreman and middleweight Edison Miranda in separate bouts. Miranda, who is from Colombia, does not speak English. He is managed by two Floridians who do not speak Spanish. Yet, Miranda had a lot to say. Mike Borao, McCline’s attorney, was enlisted to translate. The unbeaten Miranda said he was upset with both Jermain Taylor and Bernard Hopkins because he traveled all the way to Vegas and paid for a hotel room only to watch a dull fight.

Miranda then went on another long rant and as the English-speaking press awaited the translation, Borao said, “He essentially said he will beat Jermain Taylor.” Much laughter followed.

Nice Touch. Shannon Briggs and trainer James Ali Bashir visited the family of Leavander Johnson when they arrived in town. Bashir, who assists Emanuel Steward in training Wladimir Klitschko, is one of the best quotes in boxing. He was talking about the evening’s main event, which featured a pair of big punchers. “Hard punchers plant the seeds of doubt,” he said.

Indeed. When a fighter feels an opponents’ power, the game plan often changes. “They start second-guessing themselves,” said Bashir. “Maybe I’ll try this, maybe I’ll try that. Maybe I’ll box over here.”

A.C. vs. Vegas, part 3: On the boardwalk in A.C., pedestrians are entertained by mimes and magicians. On the Vegas strip, pedestrians often dodge people handing out coupons for all-you-can-eat buffets or strip clubs. I’ll take the entertainment.

Undercard. It's not often that a major heavyweight bout between foreign fighters (Klitschko, Ukraine and Peter, Nigeria) takes place in America. The last time was Lennox Lewis' 1997 title defense against Huggin' Henry Akinwande, who was DQ'd for holding. Ironically, Akinwande, also from Nigeria, was on this card in a scheduled six-rounder. He stopped Tipton Walker in the second round. Young heavyweights J.D. Chapman (with Michael Moorer in the corner) and Michael Massone (with Lou Duva in the corner) both remained unbeaten. Leavander Johnson is given the 10-bell salute.

Cotto vs. Torres. All seven of the rounds either had a knockdown or a fighter staggered. They entered the fight with a combined record of 52-0 with 46 knockouts. It seemed Torres had a chance to achieve the upset, but he let it all hang out trying to finish the fight in the second round. Who could blame him? It’s what punchers do when they smell blood. Cotto, however, paced himself just a bit more and had enough left to finish the job in the seventh round. A great fight.

Klitschko vs. Peter. Another puncher’s delight. This one could have been as explosive as Cotto-Torres. It wasn’t. Some wondered why Team Klitschko would take a fight against a puncher. We found out why. The new Klitschko jabbed, bounced on his toes and held. There was a lot of criticism over Klitschko clutching (say that 3-times fast), but tying an opponent up has been part of boxing strategy for decades. Ali did it often. The problem in this fight is that Klitschko looked awkward doing it. But the old boxing adage says, “Win tonight, look good next time.”

Klitschko opened the fight tight, but landed enough of left-right combos right down the middle to carry the day. Klitschko could have thrown more punches. Double that for Peter. He fought with little urgency. Klitschko is now the mandatory for IBF champion Chris Byrd, whom he has defeated, and WBO champion Lamon Brewster, who has knocked him out. I’d still steer him away from punchers and go after Byrd.

Klitschko still doesn’t look like the man we all thought was the next star of the heavyweight division. He lost something in after those knockouts and still hasn’t gotten it back. Perhaps some of the confidence will come back when this win settles in.

A.C. vs. Vegas, part 4. A six-hour plane ride home (usually the red eye) or a three-hour drive home. I'll take the drive and my EZ-pass.

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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