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Articles of 2005

Have Gloves, Will Travel: Yuri Foreman’s Boxing Quest



Junior middleweight Yuri Foreman is planning on a sweet New Year. In keeping with Jewish tradition, he ate apples with honey on Rosh Hashanah—the sweetness symbolizing good things to come. If he dispatches Troy Lowry in Hollywood, FL this Friday, raising his record to 19-0, he’ll be off to a good start.

While Yuri is driven to succeed, he’s not indifferent to others’ well-being. In early October, at Joe Grier’s boxing gym in Paterson, NJ, he encouraged the African-American prizefighter Eric Harding to try the apples and honey routine. Harding, who also has a fight this Friday, seemed like he was going to try it. If he ends up winning, maybe he’ll start wearing a Star of David on his trunks like Yuri.

When an elder Spanish gentleman who was part of Harding’s team entered the gym a few minutes later, he greeted Yuri with a “Shalom.” The 25-year-old native of Gomel, Belarus seemed moved by his thoughtfulness and responded with a fist-to-fist pound. “Como estas?” the fighter said, bungling the inflection but getting props for the effort.

The differences between Yuri and his comrades-in-arms can’t be masked. Nor would this Semitic speedster ever try to. His outsider status forged his identity as much as his exploits in the ring. For the first 10 years of his life, he and his parents were Jews in historically anti-Semitic Belarus. For the next decade they were treated as unwelcome Russians in Haifa, Israel. Now, living in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn with his wife, Leyla, and making the tough commute to hardscrabble Paterson, he is finally at home: home among this mishmash of humanity pressed together in a tiny space, home in a real gym like Grier’s, where fighters share a bond, and where one’s nationality, color, or religion is secondary to what you do inside the ropes.

Shadowboxing in a sleeveless shirt that clung to him like a scuba suit, he was a wiry knot of predatory muscle. Every movement was angular, precise, blindingly fast, intended to deliver or dodge harm. Trainer Joe Grier clicked away on a hand counter while his charge snapped short punches that would get an approving wink from Joe Louis: 1,400 in two rounds. After another 20 rounds of speed drills like these, Yuri banged out a set of 150 sit-ups. Grier then retired his fighter for the day.

When the two were in training mode, Grier delivered the orders and an ever-dutiful Yuri was all “Yes, Sirs” and “No, Sirs.” Later, Yuri ran a few hard miles (he doesn’t believe in going light) before attending to his holiday duties.

“He’s a jewel,” Grier said, looking across the room at Foreman, who stood over a spit-bucket straining about a quart of sweat from his soaked shirt. “In this game today!? He’s

like a gift. So dedicated and loyal. He puts everything into the game he can. No shortcuts.  Sometimes I gotta slow him down.”

Watching the two men work, it was clear their relationship was more than professional. There was a sense of intimacy between them. You’d think that they had been paired from the beginning, when Yuri was a three-time Israeli national champion. In fact, the two only met last year when Grier stepped in to cover for his friend, celebrated trainer Tommy Brooks, who was tied up shooting the ill-fated reality show “The Next Great Champ.”

Grier has been training fighters for 40 years. He is not famous but is respected in the boxing community. The difference between the two is often dumb luck, a matter of a special kid walking through the door. Fight agent Johnny Bos, who has been advising Foreman, said he’ll be matched tough in roughly a year’s time. He’ll have that career-defining fight, presumably for one of the alphabet belts, and we’ll learn just how special he really is.

So far, Foreman has been matched just as nearly all of the bankable prospects out there are: protected, brought along gently. In his last fight, broadcast on ShoBox, he thoroughly outclassed 16-0 (12 KOs) Kevin Cagle, the best record on his resume to date. But Cagle is from Greensboro, NC, and had never fought outside of his home state, meaning that he has beaten 16 nobodies.

Foreman boasts only seven stoppages. In lieu of a big eraser, one positive is that he’s gotten 82 instructive rounds under his belt. A young knockout artist often finds himself rudderless when he eventually faces an opponent that won’t be easily disposed of (Kermit Cintron’s disintegration at the hands of Antonio Margarito earlier this year is a case in point). Friday night’s opponent, Troy Lowry, doesn’t appear to be a big step up from Cagle. While he has a respectable record of 27-5 (16 KOs), he’s from St. Paul, MN. When talking opponents, MN and NC are interchangeable acronyms that almost always suggest mediocrity.

Johnny Bos explains that several more desirable opponents had dropped out before Lowry was chosen. Yory Boy Campos was the initial opponent that had been lined up.   Although the 18-year Mexican veteran has thick molasses coursing though his veins, he is still a worthy litmus test for an up-and-comer like Foreman. Campos is durable, tough and cagey, but Foreman possesses dizzying mobility and a jab that Bos considers one of the best in the business. Campos might make for a sweet win number 20. Besides, Bos added, you can’t beat the tagline: “Yuri Boy vs. Yory Boy.”

“[Yuri] has that in and out rhythm,” explained Steve Farhood, a boxing analyst who has called several of Foreman’s fights both for Showtime and for Lou DiBella’s Broadway Boxing series. “And when you’re on your toes that often, as opposed to digging the balls of your feet into the canvas, you’re never going to punch with power. It makes him elusive, it enables him to fight at his own rhythm, but at the same time there is a price to be paid for that style.”

On the other hand, Farhood continued, “If you have the goods, fighting in New York is a big plus, because HBO and Showtime executives are here, the media is here, a lot of these Internet sites are here. His handlers have to be careful not to let Yuri get a swelled head, then move him up to quickly.”

As soon as he finished his training, you could almost see Yuri’s war mask melt off his face. In his street clothes, which consisted of ripped jeans, a leather band on his right wrist, a rocker’s studded belt and a faded t-shirt, he looked like a scruffy teenage skater who regularly skips dinner. He’s all pipestem arms and ball-and-socket joints. The only sign of danger is in his sharp Slavic bone structure and spiky-punk hair, which look like shards of glass designed to keep pigeons away.

His commute home takes about two hours, requiring a lift to the train from Grier, a train transfer at Hoboken, and then a subway ride from downtown Manhattan to Brooklyn.  It’d be much easier for him to go to Gleason’s, which is walking distance from his home.  But when Grier said the kid doesn’t take shortcuts, he was being somewhat literal. Foreman doesn’t complain about any of this. Rather, he gives you the impression that he feels blessed—blessed to be married to his beautiful young wife Leyla, to be living in New York, to be practicing his craft everyday, and to have a future full of possibility.

It’s only when he gives you fleeting glimpses into his past, that you recognize why he is so unspoiled and resolute in pursuit of his dreams. In an unguarded moment, Yuri might reveal how as a child, he and his mother would count the scars and lumps that mapped his father’s back. (He was arrested and beaten mercilessly with billy clubs for attempting to sell contraband like brand-name clothes, bought in Poland and snuck back into Russia.) Or how, after the family of three emigrated to Israel, his mother grew so depressed and alienated that she became an alcoholic, and ultimately died of liver complications while the boy was away at a boxing tournament. He might allude to how the Russian kids were treated like scum by their Israeli classmates. Or how when he wasn’t cleaning offices with his parents after school, he lugged 100-pound bags of rocks on his undeveloped back as a summer construction job—one that only unfortunate Arab men were desperate enough to take.

Then there was his boxing coach, Michael Koslowski, who was like a second father to him—but was more Robert Duvall in “The Great Santini” than Steve Martin in “Parenthood.” Yuri lived with him for his first three years in the States (his father has stayed in Israel), but says there was a master-slave dynamic. When he decided to break from the trainer early in his pro career, an unpleasant Russian hood showed up at his door with a gun and with the intimation that he wasn’t long for the world.

Yuri faced down all these bogeymen. None of them could break him, or even subdue his cheerful disposition. If anything, it all gives rise to that hackneyed saying of Friedrich Nietzsche: “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

But to the boxing fan that doesn’t care about a fighter’s backstory and is solely concerned with how far a prospect might go in the sport, suffice it to say that Yuri’s character will serve him well once he meets adversity in the ring. If boxing is 70% mental, as Teddy Atlas often reminds us, then Foreman is someone to keep an eye on—in spite of his low KO percentage or the fact that he has encountered neither a monster nor a maestro in the ring.

An hour after parting with Grier, Yuri ascended from the New Jersey PATH train. Behind him was the site of the former World Trade Center, which now looks like a giant meteor crater or an archaeological dig. He took in the swarms of people buzzing around him, the soaring buildings, the city sounds and the surprisingly balmy weather we were having. He nodded his head appreciatively. After taking off from Europe, touching down in the Middle East, and finally landing in the Big Apple, he had found his rightful place.

In a few days he would leave for Florida, allowing himself plenty of time to acclimate to his surrounds and to be in peak shape by Friday. He slung his gym bag over his shoulder and headed for the subway to Brooklyn. “Don’t forget to eat your apples with honey,” he said over his shoulder. “It can make your year sweet.”

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More



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

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




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



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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