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Articles of 2005

Raging Bull: 25 to Life (Act 1)

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“Let me tell ya a little story,” says Jake LaMotta in the recently released commemorative 2-DVD boxed set of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. “When it came out it was down the block here, a movie, two blocks here in my neighborhood right here where I live now. And I went with my ex-wife Vickie. And we get there, we watched the movie. And when I saw the movie I was a little depressed. I said to her, ‘Was I really like that?’ You know what she said to me? ‘You were worse.’”

It has been 25 years since Raging Bull, Scorsese’s film on the life of former middleweight champion Jake LaMotta, first hit the big screen. In celebration of its first quarter-century, the film was re-released in theaters and has appeared on DVD, making this the perfect time to revisit the best boxing movie.

Raging Bull was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Actor (Robert DeNiro), Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci), Best Supporting Actress (Cathy Moriarty), Best Cinematography (Michael Chapman), Best Editing (Thelma Shoonmaker) and Best Sound (Frank Warner). Raging Bull won statuettes from the Golden Globes, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review.

In other words, it’s one helluva film.

The curtain rises and the tremulous strains of the Intermezzo from Mascagni’s verismo masterwork “Cavalleria Rusticana” (“Rustic Calvary”) caress the ears and tug at the heart. The opening credits pop onto the screen. Everything is in black and white, except for the words RAGING BULL in blood red.

We see a shimmering slow-mo figure shadowboxing in a smoky ring. His features are hidden by a hooded boxing robe, a robe with a leopard-skin print.

According to Scorsese, “One of the few formal questions I can ever recall DeNiro asking me – about anything really – he asked me, ‘Jake LaMotta’s character, if he was an animal, what would he be, in your mind?’ I said, ‘I guess a leopard.’ He said, ‘That’s funny. I see him more as a crab.’”

Scorsese’s Raging Bull is based on the book by Jake LaMotta with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage. With a screenplay by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin, and with Robert DeNiro as LaMotta in a tour de force that is still on tour, the film begins where the book ends.

It’s New York in 1964.

We see a fat ex-fighter named Jake LaMotta (DeNiro) in his dressing room before his showbiz act. DeNiro gained more than sixty pounds to portray this version of LaMotta, the first Jake we’re introduced to in Raging Bull, and by all appearances it was worth every calorie.

DeNiro told the authors of Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards, “I can’t fake acting. I know movies are an illusion, and maybe the first rule is to fake it, but not for me. I’m too curious. I want to deal with all the facts of the character, thin or fat.” Putting on all that weight wasn’t easy for DeNiro. “It’s very hard. You have to [eat] three times a day. You have to get up in the morning and just eat. Eat that breakfast, eat those pancakes, eat dinner, even of you’re not hungry. It’s murder.”

According to the British critic Peter Ackroyd, regarding DeNiro’s weight gain to depict the latter-day LaMotta in Raging Bull, “The man without a soul has nowhere to go but outward.”

Robert DeNiro disappeared inside the character of Jake LaMotta, which is perhaps no surprise, since this project was DeNiro’s baby from the start. “There was something about it,” DeNiro told the New York Times in 1980, “a strong thrust, a portrait of a direct man without complications. Something at the center of it was very good for me. I could evolve into that character.”

The film’s producer, Irwin Winkler, remembers seeing “Bob DeNiro walking around with this shopworn-looking book; and he never told me what it was, but he always carried it around. And one day he came over to me and said ‘I want you to take a look at this book.’ And I looked at it and it was the book on which Raging Bull ultimately was based.”

“I never really understood sports, baseball, football, boxing,” Scorsese admits. When DeNiro pressed him about adapting the book into a film, the director said, “A boxer? I don’t like boxing.” Scorsese told his biographer Mary Pat Kelly, “The only logical fight I ever saw was a Buster Keaton film. He’s in the ring with this big guy. The guy comes out swinging. Keaton goes to the corner and gets a chair and hits the guy with it. That was the only logical boxing scene I ever witnessed. The idea of ‘Let’s get two guys into the ring and let them hit each other’ was something I didn’t – couldn’t – grasp.”

Although boxing ran contrary to Scorsese’s nature, he got the fundamentals down pat.

Jake LaMotta is backstage at the Barbizon Plaza bursting out of a tux and reciting poetry in front of a mirror. This isn’t LaMotta the middleweight champion of the world. It’s Jake the tubby troubadour in New York.

“I remember those cheers
They still ring in my ears
And for years they'll remain in my thoughts
Cuz one night I took off my robe
And what'd I do
I forgot to wear shorts.
I recall every fall, every hook, every jab
The worst way a guy could get rid of his flab
As you know, my life was a jab
Though I'd rather hear you cheer
When I delve into Shakespeare
‘A Horse, a Horse, my Kingdom for a Horse …’
I haven't had a winner in six months.
I know I'm no Olivier
But if he fought Sugar Ray
He would say
That the thing ain't the ring
It's the play.
So gimme a stage
Where this bull here can rage
And though I can fight
I'd much rather recite
That's entertainment!
That’s entertainment.”

Scorsese moves us back in time and we’re in the middle of the ring. The year is 1941. The place is Cleveland. A trim and fit up-and-coming middleweight named Jake LaMotta is putting the finishing touches on Jimmy Reeves – and Scorsese kicks his film into high gear. Flying fists and showers of sweat and the thud of punches assault the senses. The camera swoops and skitters around the ring … where Jake takes the fight to Reeves.

Don Dunphy, with his distinctive post-war sound and delivery, calls the action: “LaMotta fighting out of a half-crouch. Reeves is up against a tough fighter, a man who doesn’t know how to back up. LaMotta continues to bore in. LaMotta bobs and weaves and lands a left to the jaw and Reeves is down.” Reeves barely beats the count. “LaMotta lands a right, a left, another left, a hard hand to the jaw and Reeves is down again a second time. And LaMotta is making a great comeback here in the tenth round.”

Reeves staggers to his feet.

“Reeves is up again. LaMotta coming at him. A left to the jaw. Another left and a right to the body. Three more lefts to the mid-section. A hard right to the jaw. Two more lefts to the head. A right and a left to the jaw by LaMotta and Reeves goes down for the third time. And the referee is pulling LaMotta away. The ref picks up the count. The referee is counting over Reeves … And there is the bell. Reeves has been saved by the bell. But did LaMotta do it soon enough?”

Reeves’ cornermen drag their semiconscious fighter to the corner. The judges tabulate their scorecards and the decision goes to Reeves. He tries to rise and collapses on his stool. He can barely raise his hand in victory.

When the decision is announced the fans express their displeasure by throwing whatever they can get their hands on into the ring. A full-scale riot breaks out. A woman gets trampled underfoot and screams. The organist plays the national anthem to try to quell the crowd. It has no effect.

Jake LaMotta cannot get a break. He blames it on fate, a real possibility in a world like ours, but it’s also because he’s thickheaded and won’t sign with the mob. Jake’s younger brother Joey, played to razor-sharp perfection by Joe Pesci (“The effect Raging Bull had on my career – I mean, what’s to talk about?”) is friendly with the boys, but can't convince Jake that Salvy Batts (Frank Vincent) and that crew were okay guys. Jake has his own thoughts about Salvy: “Big shot. Get him alone in the backroom and smack him around, no more big shot. Without his gun. Yeah,” Jake says with contempt, “real tough guys.”

In the next scene we visit Jake and his first wife in their cramped apartment in a lowdown section of the Bronx. Jake is wearing a sleeveless undershirt and boxer shorts in the sweltering summer heat. His face is nicked, bruised and swollen from the Reeves fight. And Jake and the wife are quarrelling about her lousy cooking as she fries a steak in a cast-iron pan.

“Don’t overcook it. You overcook it, it’s no good,” says Jake. “It defeats its own purpose.” His wife is stewing in her own juices, as she fries away on that steak. “What are ya doin’? I just said don’t overcook it. You’re overcooking it.”

“You want your steak?” she asks as she pokes the burned meat with a fork.

“Bring it over! Bring it OVER! It’s like a piece of charcoal! Bring it over here!”

“You want your steak?” she asks again.

“Yeah! Right now!”

She stomps toward her husband and dumps the blackened mass of beef onto his plate. “Happy?” she asks. “Happy?”

Jake up-ends the table and food flies in every direction. All hell breaks loose. Jake’s wife screams. Jake screams back, “You call those carrots? You call that food?”

His wife shrieks something incomprehensible.

Jake yells: “I got no choice! I got no choice!”

One of LaMotta’s neighbors starts howling up the air shaft: “What’s the matter with you up there, ya [bleeping] animals.”

“What!”

“You animals!”

“That [SOB] called me an animal,” Jake says to his brother Joey. “Hey you,” Jake bellows out the window, “I’m gonna get hold of your dog and eat it for lunch. Ya hear me, Larry?”

“You crazy animals!”

“You’ll find your dog dead tomorrow in the hallway, ya bum.”

Weary of being a good neighbor, Jake calls to his wife, who is smashing things in the bedroom, “Come on, honey. Let’s be friends.”

You get the picture. Home sweet home it ain’t.

Joey shakes his head at the mayhem. Joey and Jake sit at the kitchen table. Jake looks at Joey and complains that he will never be “the best there is” because he has “girl's hands.” “Your hands?” asks Joey. “What about 'em?” “I got these small hands,” Jake says.” I got a little girl's hands.” “I got 'em too. What's the difference?” “You know what that means? No matter how big I get, no matter who I fight, no matter what I do, I ain't never gonna fight Joe Louis.” “Yeah, that's right. He's a heavyweight. You're a middleweight. What of it?” “I ain't ever gonna get a chance to fight the best there is. And you know somethin'? I'm better than him. I ain't never gonna get a chance.”

Jake asks Joey to punch him in the face as hard as he can. When Joey resists, Jake taunts him: “Come on, don't be a little faggot. Come on. Hit me.” Joey relents and wraps a dishtowel around his hand and starts punching Jake in the face. “Come on. Harder.” Joey hits Jake harder. “Harder.” Joey hits Jake harder again. “HARDER.” Joey removes the towel covering his knuckles. When Joey hesitates, Jake starts slapping his brother to get him to react. Joey hits Jake several times with his bare fist and the Jake's cuts start opening up.

“What are you tryin' to prove?” Joey asks. “What does it prove?”

Jake smiles and pinches Joey’s cheek.

Courtesy of Scorsese and Raging Bull, we get to join Jake when he first lays eyes on the love of his life, a curvaceous blonde bombshell named Vickie (Moriarty). Jake sees her at the open-air public swimming pool and she’s the sum total of shimmering pubescence: hair like spun cotton, rose petal lips, a figure to die for, and all of 15.

Jake is smitten, and he’s obsessive-compulsive, so he can’t stop thinking about Vickie. He asks Joey “Where’s she from?” “She’s from the neighborhood. She’s a neighborhood girl.” Jake wants to know if she goes out with anybody. “She don’t go out with nobody. She’s 15 years old. Where’s she gonna go? Where you gonna take her? The Copacabana? … She ain’t the kinda girl you just [bleep] and forget about.”

Jake wants to know if Joey did her. Joey denies it. Jake asks again. Joey says no. Jake rags his kid brother. Joey denies he got in Vickie’s pants. Jake says: “She knew better. She knew you were an animal.”

Jake and Joey go out for a night of fun at a club. Jake sees Vickie and Cupid’s arrows pierce his Italian-American flesh.

In the next scene we see Jake and Joey in a fancy convertible, with Jake behind the wheel, drive up to the swimming pool. Joey jumps out of the passenger side and runs to the cyclone fence. “Hey, Vickie!” Joey shouts. “Vickie! Vickie! Vickie!”

Vickie, in a bathing suit, walks saucily toward Joey. They exchange greetings. She asks about the car. Joey says it’s his brother’s and asks if she’d like to meet Jake. “He’s gonna be the next champ.” Vickie nods her head.

Jake jumps out of the car, moves toward Vickie, and he is charm personified. Jake likes Vickie. Vickie likes Jake. She also likes his wheels. “Nice car,” she says. Vickie agrees to go for a ride with Jake LaMotta.

They go for a spin on the open road and Jake’s on top of the world. They stop and play a game of miniature golf. The golf ball gets stuck under the miniature chapel. Vickie asks, “What does that mean?” Jake says, “It means the game is over.”

Jake brings Vickie to his father’s apartment for some hoped-for hanky-panky. In this series of scenes Scorsese the director becomes Marty the tender lover with a drawn-out, beautifully composed series of tableaus and silent negotiations pregnant with meaningful hesitancies. This may be one of the longest seduction scenes in film history, but it is one of the most graceful, as Jake makes his move on Vickie in the kitchen.

“Wanna see the rest of the place?” he asks her.

She purses her lips and says “All right.”

They start walking through the apartment. “I bought it for my father,” Jake tells her. “I bought the building.”

“Oh, yeah? From fightin’?”

“Yeah. What else?”

Jake leads Vickie out of the kitchen toward the bedroom. Passing through the dining room, Jake points to a birdcage and says, “That’s a bird. It was a bird. It’s dead now, I think.”

They finally make it to the bedroom. Jake sits on the bed and tells Vickie to sit next to him. Vickie sits. Jake puts his hand around her waist. Vickie stands and moves away. Jake follows Vickie. Jake kisses Vickie. Vickie kisses back.

(END OF ACT 1)

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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