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Articles of 2005

Montezuma, Tripoli and New York

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While attending the State University of New York at Brockport back in the late seventies, I had several experiences and met some unique people who would have much influence on the direction that my life would take.

A fellow journalism student named Joel Rifkin acted as my photographer on my very first paid assignment, which was coverage of a local boxing hero named Rocky Fratto for the now defunct magazine Hank Kaplan’s Worldwide Boxing Digest.

More than a decade after we both left Brockport, Rifkin would be convicted of killing 17 prostitutes over a four-year span, making him the most prolific serial killer in New York State history and the subject of my first book, From the Mouth of the Monster: The Joel Rifkin Story, which was published by Pocket in 2001.

Another fellow student, “Gentleman” John Griffin, was an undefeated professional middleweight boxer with four wins on his ledger when I accompanied him to his Troy, New York, training camp during the month-long Christmas break in 1979.

He was trained by Dave Zyglewicz, who had unsuccessfully challenged Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title in 1969, and Bob Miller, whose son Shannon was still in diapers but is now a heavyweight prospect who recently engaged in a battle royale with Vinny Maddalone on ESPN2.

The plan was for me to go through all of the training paces with Griffin, and then report on his camp, as well as his January 1980 bout in Hartford, Connecticut, for the school newspaper. Although I had never boxed before, the thrill of the assignment was exhilarating.

One of the amateur fighters at Miller’s gym was Ray Barone, a muscular heavyweight with a head like a lion. I sparred several rounds with him and, if not for his benevolence, would have been deposited on the canvas whenever he chose to put me there.

However, I persevered and immersed myself in the training so intensely that I pleaded with Miller and Zyglewicz to find me a slot on the card. Back then becoming a “professional” boxer was a lot easier than it is today.

The night before my departure for Hartford for a fight against local ticket seller Dick Embleton, I received a call from Barone. Although we were the same age, he spoke to me as an older brother would while warning me that I “wasn’t ready” to fight professionally, regardless of the level of my competition.

Being young, cocky and charged-up, I ignored his advice. After putting up some obligatory resistance in the first round, I was stopped by Embleton in the second. Griffin also incurred his first loss, and another stable mate, welterweight Tim LaValley, also went home a loser.

I went on to have a few more fights, but would have been better off heeding Barone’s advice. In 2004, when a boxing magazine asked me to write a feature story on the United States Military Academy at West Point boxing program, I was elated to learn that my contact person was retired Lt. Colonel Ray Barone, who was now the Academy’s director of boxing. I did not even know he had joined the army.

After reacquainting ourselves, Barone explained to me that boxing is a mandatory class for all freshmen. They are required to take at least 19 classes and are given a letter grade. This was in addition to a 22-credit curriculum course load that included physics, calculus, and daily drill instruction.

Boxing, said Barone, “enables the cadets to learn something about themselves by addressing their natural fears in a controlled, safe environment. Combat is the ultimate contact sport because it produces fear and injury and is life threatening. The difference between success and failure in combat is determined by one’s ability to stay poised and continue to function while feeling fearful.”

I ran into Barone again in August 2005 at one of promoter Lou DiBella’s boxing shows at the Manhattan Center in New York. He was accompanied by four members of his team, none of whom had done any boxing prior to attending West Point. It was obvious that they thought the world of Barone, and that the feelings were mutual.

Team captain Matthew Pride, a tall and lithe 156-pounder, hails from Staten Island, New York. Soon after donning gloves in his freshman year, he knocked out two opponents without even trying. “That got me validated out of the class,” he said before explaining that that meant he received an automatic grade of A and was also recruited for the boxing team by Barone.

Now 22 and with graduation soon upon him, Pride, whose record is 14-8, says boxing has changed his life in ways he never could have imagined.

“The confidence and discipline I derived from boxing has helped me in every area of my life,” said Pride who will earn dual degrees in environmental geography and engineering.

Asked how he is handling the stress of knowing he could be serving in Iraq or Afghanistan by the middle of next year, Pride’s response was unequivocal. “Of course there is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty,” he said. “But the preparation we go through and the confidence the Academy instills in you makes things much easier. I have extreme faith in the training I’m receiving at the Academy, and boxing is a very important component of the overall training.”

David Tyson is a 21-year-old, 165-pounder from Destin, Florida. He is called “The White Mike” by his teammates and, while visiting his hometown during school recesses, works out at Roy Jones’ gym in nearby Pensacola.

Although his father is a Presbyterian minister, and Tyson had thought about choosing that vocation as well, he says the adrenaline rush he gets from boxing is like nothing he has ever experienced.

“I love to turn the switch on and get mean, and then turn the switch off again,” said Tyson, a management major with an 11-3 record who has competed at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, as well as in Detroit, Washington, and New York.

He too has no qualms about being assigned to a battle zone and is comfortable with the training he has received. “I’ll lead people and do the best I can,” he said. “One thing the Academy teaches you is to do your best. If you do your best, there’s no more that can be asked of you.”

Nineteen-year-old junior Reggie Smith, 8-1, is an economics major who hails from Rockville, Maryland. His sole loss came in the finals of last year’s national collegiate competition. Like all cadets beginning their junior year, he had the option of leaving West Point with no debt owed to the institution. However, once a junior takes their very first class they have a mandatory five-year commitment upon graduation.

“That was one of the biggest decisions of my life,” said the 185-pound Smith. “But the discipline of boxing helped me make my decision. Boxing has taught me a lot about myself, and given me more insight into what I want out of life. It has been a great experience.”

Although 112-pound junior Michael Benedosso of Milford, Connecticut, is somewhat short in stature, he is a giant among his teammates. The philosophy major with a 5-5 boxing record has no hesitancy about regularly sparring with much bigger men because there are no other team members in his weight class. Among the places he has competed are Detroit, Louisville and Virginia.

“It’s a good feeling to get in the ring after all of the hard work and practice,” he said. “The practice is intense, but it helps make us good warriors. It’s very empowering to face your fears head-on.”

When asked about the possibility of being sent off to war in the not too distant future, Benedosso responded like the true warrior that he is.

“War is always on my mind, like it is on the mind of all of us,” he explained. “But we signed up for this. We knew what we were getting into before we got into it.”

One of Benedosso’s two brothers, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, is also a graduate of West Point. It is obvious that he is continuing a proud family legacy.

All of these fine young men were thrilled to be at the boxing show, hobnobbing with such celebrities as Joey Gilbert, one of the fighters on “The Contender” television series, and former heavyweight title challenger Renaldo Snipes, who thanked them for their service to their country.

Future First Lieutenants Pride, Tyson, Smith and Benedosso represent America’s best and brightest. Moreover, the experiences they garnered through boxing exemplify all that is truly sweet about the sweet science. Knowing that they are the country’s leaders of tomorrow, even long after their military careers are over, brings a measure of reassurance to ordinary citizens like me. It is obvious that the future is in very good hands.

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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