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Articles of 2005

Taylor vs. Hopkins: Until the Talking Stops

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Compared to Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor doesn’t even register on the Talk-A-Meter of pre-fight badmouthing. This despite the fact that Hopkins is telling the press he made Taylor a guy “who can’t stop trash talking now.” In fact, it’s Hopkins who has renewed his verbal assaulting of the middleweight champion. Being a gentleman still comes from the heart with Taylor. When’s the last time you heard Hopkins call someone sir or the short form of madam? One gets the idea that Taylor understands that even journalists have a place in the business of boxing. As we all know, or should know, the truth of the first fight between Jermain Taylor and Bernard Hopkins is that both fighters know Taylor won the fight. Not unexpectedly, since the summer, Hopkins has used every excuse short of calling Taylor a dirty fighter in his public excoriation of what happened in the ring. The sheer irony of Hopkins calling Taylor a dirty fighter almost defies the imagination.

In keeping with his essentialist personality, Taylor admits he made many mistakes in claiming the championship. As one would expect he’s promised to fight a smarter fight. Well, he’d better. Being the younger, stronger fighter only counts if you have the technical apparatus to employ it; that lesson was the lesson of the first fight.

Heading into the return match with Taylor, what the 40-year-old Hopkins has left is mostly bluff and bark. What has ebbed away from his ring constitution is the ability to go out and rigorously dominate from the opening bell, as in his fights with Joe Lipsey and Glen Johnson. Hopkins’ main defense mode and weapon at his disposal comes in the form of his reputation for intimidation. When Hopkins airs his vitriolic nature, the searing spiel of him against the boxing world, the “I am the people’s champion victim-survivor who punishes the wicked” diatribe, the old man keeps captive his intended audience and intended ring opponent.

Team Taylor is indeed fortunate to have the presence of Lou DiBella, Taylor’s promoter and sage speaker of counter-truths. DiBella knows the Hopkins routine cold and acts as a calming buffer and angst moment interpreter. As Hopkins seeks to take away Taylor’s mental equilibrium, DiBella and trainer Pat Burns keep the champion in the gym, focused and energized for the purpose of fighting their best fight. Hopkins’ greatest fear would be Taylor coming into the ring in December ready to fight his best fight.

All Hopkins can do is try to distract and dissemble. Thus, Hopkins constantly repeats that Taylor didn’t really beat him; veteran judge Duane Ford stole a victory from him. And Ford did not, in Hopkins’ fantasizing, act alone, but “was an agent” for the boxing administrative body of Nevada – and even for “the system” of boxing generally in a conspiracy against him. A statement, incidentally, he’s never had to prove, a statement, journalists on the scene, have never thrown back in his face, let alone in his lap. Oddly, Hopkins’ analysis of the scoring of the fight ignored the judging that incredibly had him winning four of the first eight rounds, one round during which he threw only 9 punches. Need we mention that he was frankly shuffling about in protective mode for the first seven rounds; Taylor’s speed and power shots literally freezing him with apprehension. But you won’t hear Hopkins admitting he was flat out put on the defensive from which he couldn’t counter.

According the ex-champ, the great executioner was just “laying it down” and biding his time. Talk about disinformation!

Taking bombast to a new stratosphere of relativism, Hopkins now says he “dominated the fight” and that “over 80% of the writers who were there had me winning.” He dominated the fight? One can only ask in what dimension of time and space? And that writers for Hopkins percentage has been going up from a simple majority, ever since he began sounding out his argument for complaint. Hopkins insinuates, accuses, sermonizes, defiles, recounts, brandishes, barbs, insults, jokes, cajoles, prophesies, judges, scorns, rationalizes, denies and generally disdains on subjects so varied that boxing sometimes has to be brought surreptitiously back into his vexing rants. Mostly, Hopkins professes that he only speaks the truth, a marginal streaming babble, but always he entertains and actually informs, on himself mostly, the essential subject of his oratorical waxing.

And all of his verbal formulations that spout forth as provocation serve the undercurrent of his lifelong agenda, The Con. The Con moves into centrality more and more as he ages and can no longer fight with the authority he once could. The ex-felon from Philadelphia still thinks he’s up against a kid, an Arkansas sapling, one with great athletic talent, but still a boy searching to be a man, in a monster’s world of big, bad people. Hopkins remains convinced he can pull an Ali on the kid, make him chase phantoms of Hopkins past, waste his youthful energies in idol pursuits, making all the wrong choices to squander all his formulating potential.

Thus, Hopkins wants to invade Taylor’s mind, encamp there and wage an insurgent war immolating as the enemy from within. Just keep up the torrent of words and innuendo, telling him did didn’t really win, that he needed the aid of a corrupt system to be handed the middleweight championship. Tell him he can’t even enjoy the championship because it was a foul reward. Make the kid over reach and then hit him where he lives, so there’s no time for joy or satisfaction in having gained a crown. Most of all make sure his investiture feels like a fraud, usurpation devoid of legitimacy. If your voice replaces his own, the mind becomes a prisoner.

We all expect Hopkins to recite thusly: “I’m in the hurt business, the pain business.” That would be considered a Hopkins fast ball, right down the middle of the plate. Just as we expect Hopkins to remind us, “I destroy fighters in rematches!” But where there is no trace of grace, unbridled becomes the ventilation of spirit. The ex-champion can’t help himself. He’s desperate to the point of self-parody.

Jermain Taylor has been saying he’s going to be more disciplined this time out. No wild swinging for the fences to KO Hopkins. Control baby, that’s what the middleweight champion of the world is convincing himself is a major key to silencing Hopkins. Two months ago, on the Canadian TV show “In This Corner with Russ Amber,” Taylor again repeated his need to avoid late round exhaustion by avoiding just teeing off. “I won’t be just chasing him around the ring next time,” said the champion. The mercurial Amber – known in Canada as “The Coach” – saw a red flag, the same red flag that had been waving in front of yours very truly. Doesn’t that play into Hopkins’ hands asked Amber; he of the increasingly low work rate and cautious counter hitting. Taylor repeated his sense of fighting with more precision and taking the offensive chances when they came. Enough said.

Two days ago Jermain Taylor brushed by the subject adding one key ingredient. “I won’t be waiting on him or swinging at him … I’ll be throwing more combinations.” There it was, the word: combinations. How the world unspoken can turn on one word. Yes, combination punching, ready to repeat and punish, but not flailing and searching out a target to level. It was almost as if Taylor was giving us a preview, a picture for examination. Patient, constant combination punching behind a punishing jab, his body cutting off Hopkins’ avenues for retreat; the picture of Taylor becomes video, kinetic with intended movement.

No more loading up, but throwing hard combinations until he breaks Hopkins down? Now that sounds like an executable plan, sounds like a man about to do his business, his way. And to think, he only needed one word to convey his meaning. Reminds one of how he took responsibility for not “fighting his fight” and only “doing enough to win.” “Next time there won’t be any doubters, there won’t be any mistakes; we won’t have to hear Hopkins’ crying like he does.” How novel, here’s a guy with the world on a string and he’s confident enough to let us fill in the good parts, now that’s refreshing. Comes across as honest too, like he really believes what he’s saying. Probably because he’s doing the best he can to tell you how he understands the world he’s making with his own hands.

“This is about respect. And I can’t wait.” We believe you champ!

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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