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Articles of 2005

Boxing in Monticello, Bet on It

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Monticello, New York – Gone are the days when boxing and horse racing ranked with baseball as the three major sports in the United States. Gone are the days when upstate New York was the locale any fighter worth his title belt went for training camp.

Gone is any trace of Mike Tyson from this region.

The glory days may never return but there is a comeback underway. Not Tyson, perhaps, but boxing is back in the Catskills.

Like most boxing comebacks, money is at the root. But not the kind of money you might expect. The people at the famous Monticello harness racing track played host to the first professional fight card at the venue since it opened on June 27, 1958. The good folks at Monticello have also opened the Mighty M gaming hall, replete with poker and slot machines on the first floor.

When you think casino, you automatically begin to think big money. Then you think high rollers. Then you think boxing, because the only thing a high roller loves more than a straight flush is a ringside seat to a good scrap. Thus, while officials at the Mighty M are waiting for New York State Governor George Pataki to sign legislation that will allow them to function as a full casino, they are getting a jump on the fight game.

Enter New York City P.R. man Jules Feiler, whose connections in boxing run deep. The Mighty M brought him on board because they have grand visions for their casino and the sport of boxing. To this end, Feiler arranged for a bus to leave New York City that would ferry media types up to the inaugural boxing event.

Enter promoters Bob Duffy and Tony Mazzarella, of New York-based Ring promotions. They staged a rock-em, sock-em six-bout card on Friday, October 7. The Catskills and boxing have shared a long, rich history. Resorts like Grossingers, Kutschers, and The Concorde played host to the training camps of such legends as Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Floyd Patterson and countless others. Then, in the early 1980s, Tyson emerged from Cus D’Amato’s Catskill Gym to rule the heavyweight division.

“If this goes well we're talking about doing a couple of more shows,” said Mazzarella. “The whole history of the Catskills, the venue itself, the challenge of doing a fight in a place like this, it's important to us.”

As you walk into Monticello’s first fight card, the first thing you notice are actually the betting windows. Monticello simulcasts races from all over the country and, alas, while waiting on line to enter the fights, you can play the late double out at Santa Anita or any other live West Coast track card.

Monticello is to harness racing what Saratoga is to the flats. This is a resort town track. As such, they need to appeal to a large cross-section of people. That lends itself to a wide variety of promotions. This is boxing, so naturally, you need something other than the fight to promote.

Enter six-time world champion and Hall-of-Famer Emile Griffith. Griffith used to hold training camp in the Catskills so this isn’t his first visit to the track. It is the first time, however, that a race has been held in his honor. The night before the fights, Monticello dedicated the 12th race to Griffith. The race was won by Fox Valley Wannabe, driven by Billy Parker Jr. It paid $6.60 and covered the half-mile in 2:01.4. I asked Emile if he was able to get some money down. He shook his head and laughed. But he did pose with horse in the winner’s circle after the race.

Griffith, on hand to sign autographs on fight night, is the angle for this show. But there will be no shortage of ideas because Feiler is working with Monticello’s long-time P.R. man John Manzi. Mike Katz once wrote about the late fight trainer and manager Paddy Flood, “He had more angles than a geometry professor.” Manzi, a harness driver who won about 130 races before retiring to work publicity, would do Flood proud. He has raced elephants, camels and even humans against horses. He’s done this all in the name of getting publicity for Monticello Raceway. (In the interest of entertainment, I will sprinkle some Manzi moments throughout the text.)

                                                            * * *

1981, Beasley vs. The Beast. Manzi pits New York Giants defensive back, Beasley Reece, the self-proclaimed fastest man in the NFL, against Super Kris, the losingest racehorse in the world. The colt entered the showdown having lost 125 straight races and the record remained in tact after losing to Reece. (Wink) Manzi has the photo finish hanging on his office wall. Word has it that it only took one take to get the shot right.

                                                            * * *

The ring is situated between the betting windows and the grandstand that overlooks the half-mile oval track. The room is set up to accommodate 900 fans. Over 800 show up. I make my way back to the dressing rooms and I find Kevin Rooney, one of the last remaining links to the glory days of the Catskills. He is working with local middleweight prospect Lenord Pierre, who meets 45-year-old former welterweight champion Manning Galloway in the main event.

“I think it's a good starting point,” says Rooney, who trained Tyson and continues to work with fighters out of D’Amato’s Catskill gym. “I remember driving down to spar with Roberto Duran when he had his training camp at the Concorde for the first Leonard fight. The Catskills has a long history in boxing. This can be the perfect spot to do club shows. Then maybe you build from that. Maybe you get an ESPN card in here and who knows what can happen? The game needs something. Why not here?”

                                                            * * *

1980, Leonard-Duran I. Monticello owns exclusive rights for the closed circuit broadcast of the first Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran fight. It was the only place between Manhattan and Albany that someone could watch the fight. They pulled down the big screen and drew a record 17,495. At least, that was the official attendance. “We charged $2.50 to get in,” said Manzi. “We counted 17,495 that night. I was screaming like a lunatic, ‘don't close the gates.’ But they closed the gates. They were climbing the fences and walking in through the track.”

                                                            * * *

On this night, the fighting at Monticello is as real as it gets. This is what a club show is all about. Great fights. Minimal purses. Loud crowd.

The opener lasts 25 seconds as William Jeter knocks out Terry Peacock. My seat at the press table happens to be next to the alternate referee. When ref Pete Santiago descends the ring he tells me that was the quickest knockout he’s worked in well over 100 fights.

The next four bouts are outstanding. It’s a tribute to matchmakers Duffy and Pete Brodsky and to the fighters. These young gladiators compete in earnest, vying for that step up to the next level. The physical price they pay seems not to matter. The four-round middleweight fight between Jose Rodriguez (1-0) and Kenny Johnson (1-2) is a non-stop punchfest. It ends when referee Benji Esteves halts things at 1:57 of the fourth. Johnson, who fought gamely throughout, had taken enough punishment and finishes dazed, but on his feet. When Esteves returned to his seat at the table, I ask him what he takes into consideration before stopping a fight, especially as one as exciting as Rodriguez-Johnson.

“I try to find out as much information about the fighter as I can,” he said. “Is he a stronger finisher? Does he fade late in fights? How does he recover? Sometimes, you can’t find that out. In this fight, I saved him to fight another day. He’s young. He’ll fight again. I thought he was behind. I didn’t think he had a chance to win.”

Adam Czachor desperately wanted to win his four-round junior welterweight fight against Samuel Lopez. Czachor, you see, hasn’t won in two previous attempts. He seemed on the way to a win when a nasty cut opened alongside his left eye. It was the result of an accidental butt. Nonetheless, it changed Czachor’s approach. To make matters worse, he was also cut alongside the bridge of his nose, near his right eye. The injuries slowed him in the 2nd and 3rd rounds far more than Lopez’ punches. Rather than fold, he fought his heart out in the fourth and final round and forced a draw. His ledger now reads, 0-2-1. Lopez is 1-1-1

Throughout the card, ring announcer Joe Antonacci reminds the patrons that a live music act is playing downstairs in the Lava Lounge. It is not so much the music he’s touting, but a chance to allow fight fans to wander through the gaming floor and perhaps make an investment.

Speaking of music …

                                                            * * *

1971. The same year he beat Muhammad Ali in their first fight, Joe Frazier and his group, the Knockouts perform at Monticello. “They were more loud than good,” recalled Manzi. “But nobody complained. Who was going to complain to Joe Frazier?”

                                                            * * *

Lumpia Rashim wins a split decision over Juan Carlos Sanchez in a four-round welterweight bout. It was Rashim’s pro debut and the first loss for Sanchez (2-1-1). Jonathon Tubbs (7-0-1) and Gilberto Guevera (3-0-1) both remain unbeaten when their six-rounder ends in a draw. The proof that the matchmaking was excellent comes in the form of two draws and a split decision. Despite the great action, the loudest cheer of the night comes when Antonacci announces that the Red Sox have been eliminated from the playoffs.

On to the main event. Galloway took the fight on a week’s notice for $3,500. He once held the WBO welterweight title, he’s headlined cards all over the world and at 45 he owns a successful landscaping business. But he can’t quite get boxing out of his system.

Pierre, at 26, is 19 years younger than his opponent. Galloway, at 62-18-1, has more career losses than Pierre, 17-1, has wins. Pierre figures to walk right through him. Not quite.

The southpaw Galloway is awkward and a bit herky-jerky. Pierre can’t figure him out. They grab a lot, they fight in close quarters and they are tossing bombs. Galloway is wobbled in the opening round, but he’s too smart to allow Pierre to finish the job. He’ll never get the chance. After what Estevez ruled an accidental head butt, the fight ends as a No Decision in the fourth round after Galloway sustains a long gash alongside his left eyelid. According to New York State rules, four rounds must be complete for a decision to be rendered. At the time of the stoppage, Galloway leads on all cards.

But, he does not protest the stoppage. “I’m in the other guy’s hometown,” he said. “Look, if it goes into the sixth round and then they stop it, who knows, now maybe I don’t get the decision. Now it goes into the records as the doctor stopped the fight.”

The crowd is a bit letdown, confused perhaps, over the stoppage. Most of them were on hand to see the local product vanquish the out-of-towner. Nonetheless, no one was complaining. Particularly the people calling the shots at Mighty M.

“I think this is a rousing success,” said Tom Aro, CEO of Mighty M Management. “We're looking to do this on a regular basis. I think the community will support it.”

They probably won’t even need an angle. But in case they do …

                                                            * * *

1999, Battle of the Hunting Lodges. There are numerous hunting lodges in the area so Manzi allows representatives from local lodges to sit in the driver’s seat and race the horses. They wear antlers on their helmets and everyone gets a good laugh.

                                                            * * *

“Thank God no one ever got hurt,” said Manzi, when thinking back to those races. “Maybe I’ll bring that one back.”

Why not? They’ve already brought back boxing.

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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