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Articles of 2005

What the alphabets are doing to boxing’s glamour division

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Rating heavyweight fighters has always proven controversial. Sanctioning bodies, boxing magazines, and guys at your local tavern will never agree with precision on a firm top ten. In times past, however, disputes were usually settled in the ring. Indeed it is difficult to point out a top heavyweight since the Joe Louis-era began who was widely seen as deserving of a title shot only to be denied. What has changed of late is that today there are four sanctioning bodies operating with separate titlists who are not obligated to meet each other in the ring. Some would suggest that certain belt-holders are unwilling to do so. Because of this state of affairs, an entire era may pass where the top two, three, or four heavyweights – fellow contemporaries – may never compete with each other.

The purpose of this article is to examine the simultaneous top ratings of the four sanctioning bodies and the major deficit their ratings present when defining the best, most qualified fighters contending for a world heavyweight title.

The inordinate control of boxing by the more well known worldwide sanctioning bodies, often referred to as the alphabets, is the subject of much derision among fans, fighters, managers, and most promoters who do not control some aspect of the ratings.

Most of the ill feelings are well deserved. Fighters who toil in obscurity, skipping encounters with ranked – and feared – contenders all too often find their way into so-called mandatory title defenses only to lose and fall back into the shadows of the boxing world.

It is useful, therefore that we compare, contrast and analyze the top ratings of the heavyweight division of the four most talked about sanctioning bodies: the World Boxing Council; World Boxing Association; International Boxing Federation; and the World Boxing Organization.

(One could successfully argue that the plethora of other sanctioning bodies carries as much validity as those listed here, but you’re not here to read a book).

The four sanctioning groups have titlists that most of the boxing community, if not the wider sports public, know: WBC – Vitali Klitschko; WBA – John Ruiz; IBF – Chris Byrd; and WBO – Lamon Brewster. All four have successfully defended their respective belts.

The fact that they have avoided each other is a continuing source of frustration of boxing fans and all the more reason that a comparative analysis is necessary.

For our purposes here, however, the titlists are not the focus. We’re concerned with the top contenders in each of the ratings.

The ratings were taken from the respective sanctioning bodies’ Internet websites on October 7th.

Comparison of the various ratings proves difficult. There is little baseline agreement between the sanctioning bodies. A total of 22 fighters inhabit the various ratings. There is no consensus on the top rated fighter. In fact we cannot say “number 1” fighter because quite oddly the IBF and WBA list their number 1 slot as “Not Rated.” Odder still is the fact that only two names, Calvin Brock and Samuel Peter, appear on all four top ten lists.

Each body lists a different top contender: WBC – Hasim Rahman “interim” titlist, and Sinan Samil Sam, number 1 contender (we’ll explain later); WBA – Nicolay Valuev; IBF – Ray Austin (although Wladimir Klitschko in defeating Samuel Peter is now supposedly the next mandatory challenger for titlist Chris Byrd); and WBO – Luan Krasniqi (since the ratings Krasniqi has challenged for the WBO belt and was stopped in 9 rounds by titlist Lamon Brewster. Further, Wladimir Klitschko is now the next mandatory challenger for Brewster with his win over Peter).

Rahman, the WBC’s “interim” titlist, scheduled to face V. Klitschko on November 12th, is of course the former world champion. His interim status came with his victory over Monte Barrett and it affords him a title shot or the title outright should the champion refuse to meet him. It also affords the WBC the opportunity to charge a sanctioning fee for interim belt fights.

Rahman holds knockout victories over the likes of Lennox Lewis, Corrie Sanders, Kali Meehan, and of late a decision against Monte Barrett. One could argue against his top rating due to losses to an aged Evander Holyfield, John Ruiz, Oleg Maskaev, and of course Lewis in their rematch, but at least there are significant wins to support the claim.  Score one for the WBC.

However, his name no longer appears as the number 1 contender, that position is now occupied by Sinan Samil Sam, the WBC’s international titlist. Confused? You should be.  Rahman, a worthy title challenger for anyone, is actually above number 1 but below Klitschko. The interim title is apparently of higher value than the international title. If you can figure that one out please drop me a line. You can remove the positive score for the WBC from the paragraph above.

The Germany-based Turkish Sam’s biggest wins have come over journeymen Danny Williams and a way over-the-hill Lawrence Clay-Bey. He also has losses to Luan Krasniqi and Juan Carlos Gomez, the former cruiserweight titlist. He holds no wins against fighters generally accepted as top 10 material. None. Yet he is considered better than all other heavyweight contenders in the world – including Gomez who pitched a near-shutout decision against him.

Rahman is not in the top 10 of the WBA and IBF, and is rated number 4 by the WBO.

Sam is rated number 10 by the WBA and number 9 by the WBO.

The WBA’s next mandatory challenger (though rated number 2 behind the mysterious “Not Rated” at number 1), is the 7-foot, 300-plus pound Russian Valuev who holds an eye-popping 42-0 (1 NC) record that would seem on the surface to make him a top contender.

However, his significant wins, over 38-year-old fringe contender Larry Donald (a very controversial nod), and Cliff Etienne (who was coming off a knockout loss to Calvin Brock), are hardly the stuff of legend.

Watching him on Boxen.com leaves one with the impression that he belongs in the top 15 to 20 world-rated heavyweights, but inasmuch as he has not taken the full measure of a legitimate top contender, his claim to the top spot is dubious.

His tremendous height and reach advantage notwithstanding, he is very easily hit. He is fairly athletic for a man of great size but his versatility pales in comparison to the likes of many top heavyweights.

He is tentatively scheduled to challenge John Ruiz in December.

Valuev is not rated in the top 10 by the WBC, IBF or WBO.

Ray Austin has climbed to the top-rated spot in the IBF (remember, the IBF lists its number 1 spot as “Not Rated” so he’s officially number 2 behind no one) on the strength of a recent win over Owen Beck. He also holds draws with Larry Donald and Lance Whitaker. Only three fights back he fought a 6-rounder. The 34-year-old, like Sam and Valuev, has never beaten a consensus top 10 fighter.

Austin, however, will have to wait in line for a shot at the titlist Byrd. W. Klitschko is mandatory, though number 4 rated behind recent challenger and loser to Byrd, DaVarryl Williamson. Klitschko gained the mandatory challenger position by beating the IBF number 5 rated Peter. Again, if you are confused by all of this you should be.

Of course if you want to be confused further, just realize that Williamson received the mandatory title shot by climbing over Klitschko in the ratings after losing to him.

Austin is rated number 7 by the WBC, and is not in the top 10 of the WBA or WBO.

Lamon Brewster, as mentioned, recently stopped the number 1 rated WBO contender Luan Krasniqi.

The Kosovo-born German Krasniqi, a former Olympic bronze medallist, had also never beaten a real top 10 fighter in his career. A solid win over former fringe contender Lance Whitaker, in a WBO-sanctioned title eliminator, propelled him into the Brewster match.

His backers will of course argue that a previous win over Sam should also credit him with a win over a highly ranked contender. Given the facts about Sam, however, the claim is not supported by ground-truth.

Krasniqi is not in the top 10 of the WBC, WBA, or IBF.

In fact, several other fighters appear on only one of the four sanctioning bodies’ top 10 ratings:  Corrie Sanders; David Tua; Jameel McCline; Juan Carlos Gomez; Lance Whitaker; Larry Donald; Oleg Maskaev; Oliver McCall; Owen Beck; Sergei Lyakovich; and Sultan Ibragimov.

Puzzling rankings, meaningless mandatories and ludicrous title eliminators are having a stifling effect on the perceived state of the heavyweight division.

Are the fighters in the division today really a step down from past eras? It’s not likely when eras are studied closely and not through sentimental eyes. But with titlists clearly avoiding each other, the dilution of the talent pool in title fights diminishes the health of the division.

Today, each time one of the current belt holders defends his title, he effectively completely overlooks three top fighters when looking for a suitable contender – all with the complete backing of a self-created, self-interested sanctioning body. This twisted situation is the one critical element that distinguishes this era from all others during or since Joe Louis’ reign.

Certainly pre-Joe Louis, many black fighters were bypassed for hard-earned rankings and title shots and it was a clearly disgraceful.

Today’s situation is not of that magnitude but it is equally indefensible.

Promoters in the U.S. and Europe will continue to diminish the drawing power of heavyweight titlists with four championship belts afloat. Just inspect the purses of Vitali Klitschko and Hasim Rahman, two truly top fighters, and compare their take home pay with that of Bernard Hopkins, Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones et al.

Chris Byrd pulled in a relatively low-wage of $425,000 as a titlist defending against a mandatory challenger, DaVarryl Williamson, in an undercard bout for Toney’s fight with Dominick Guinn.

Slowly but surely, heavyweight title bouts, have slipped in importance. When was the last pay-per-view event with a heavyweight title as the anchor? Tough to recall, huh? Brewster-Krasniqi was unseen by American audiences. Who will pay big money for Ruiz-Valuev? That, friends, is a troubling pattern.

Boxing fans can see what is happening and they do not like it.

Heavyweight fighters in championship bouts should draw heavy paychecks and large, worldwide audiences. They should own pay-per-view dates. They should pull other weight divisions into greater recognition by capturing the imagination of casual as well as hardcore boxing fan.

One unified heavyweight champion – not belt holder, not titlist – can lift the sport’s popularity and restore luster to the title “champion.” Now is the time to set things right. .

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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