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Articles of 2005

Antonio Tarver and the Euro champs

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Almost from the moment that Antonio Tarver captured two of the light heavyweight belts vacated by Roy Jones following his venture into the heavyweight division, he seemed intent on making up for his late pro start by determining that he would battle the best in the world come what may.

He found out very quickly what that would mean as it related to his title belts and his choice of opponents. Choosing to face Roy Jones in his first defense of his titles meant that one of the belts was lost. Choosing to face Glen Johnson in the first defense of his second reign meant the loss of the rest of the most commonly known title belts.

It is not all that important to know the names of alphabet belts that were won in the ring and stripped in the various ratings committees. What is important is that with the mass strippings, a new slate of light-heavyweight titlists representing the WBA, WBC and IBF would emerge. Also of note, the WBO title (that will get more explanation later) would emerge as a factor in deciding who was and is the real champion.

Antonio Tarver, despite being the premier light heavyweight, including being the bearer of The Ring Magazine belt, carries with him only the belt from one sanctioning body – the less-than-fabled IBO belt. The IBO is barely on the map. Though not any more or less noteworthy in their ratings than the more established bodies, the organization, and the many other organizations that have popped up in the last couple of decades, goes almost unmentioned and unnoticed by boxing writers and the sporting public.

Perhaps not incidentally each of the representatives of the four commonly known sanctioning bodies is from Europe. Following the completely dominating reign of Michael Spinks that ended in 1985 with his heavyweight title victory over Larry Holmes, the title was fractured for years until the utter dominance until recently by his fellow American Roy Jones.

Jones consolidated the WBA, WBC and IBF belts and was generally seen as the first undisputed champion since Spinks.

Enter Dariusz Michalczewski and the picture gets muddier as to which fighter had the stronger claim to universal recognition.

Longtime WBA titlist Virgil Hill beat German Henry Maske to add the IBF belt to his collection. He promptly lost the belt to Michalczewski, the then-WBO belt holder, in a unification bout leading some to proclaim him the first true champion since Michael Spinks. Michalczewski subsequently dropped the IBF and WBA straps in favor of the WBO.

In any case, no one until Jones made title unification a long-term project. He defended the unified title seven times. He and Michalczewski somehow avoided each other.

But while Jones was criticized for his choice of opponents, he still listed among his title defense victims Julio Gonzalez (the eventual conqueror of Michalczewski); Clinton Woods (the present IBF titlist); highly regarded Eric Harding; Lou Del Valle (WBA titlist); and Reggie Johnson (IBF titlist) as a light heavyweight.

Other than his impressive title victory over Hill, Michalczewski could point only to Montell Griffin as a noted top fighter against whom he defended his WBO title. The rest of his 23 defenses were relatively soft touches and prior Jones victims (Richard Hall and Derrick Harmon).

Jones kept the collection of belts together by engaging in mandatories against the odd assortment of “number 1” contenders foisted upon him by the sanctioning bodies. The trouble came when he left the division for heavyweight riches against John Ruiz.

With his departure – one that turned out to be temporary – Tarver was pitted against Montell Griffin for the vacant IBF and WBC belts. The WBA “super” title languished long enough to be added to the mix when Tarver and Jones met for the second time.

But don’t get too far ahead. Tarver lost the IBF for inexplicable reasons when he chose to give Jones the famous rematch the result of which was a second round knockout that left no doubt in anyone’s mind as to the identity of the world’s best light heavyweight.

The whole world except for the members of the IBF who elected to pit Glen Johnson against Clinton Woods for their belt not once but twice as the first bout ended in a draw. Johnson of course captured the belt in the second bout and his path was to cross with Tarver’s in a big way.

The trouble was, of course, the WBA, WBC and IBF each had differing ideas as to who would vie for their respective belts. The WBA and WBC did not see Johnson as a worthy enough challenger for their esteemed belts. The IBF likewise did not view Tarver as title shot worthy.

After Johnson became the second man to knockout Jones, he and Tarver decided to meet to determine the truly best. Only they would do so without their belts. They were stripped for fighting each other.

Their two 12-round struggles for supremacy in the division settled the issue to most observers, but the major sanctioning bodies began steadily ordering title matches and “mandatory” challengers – none of whom were named Tarver, Johnson, or even long-reigning ex-champion Jones.

The IBF pitted Clinton Woods – yes, the same man who lost in title tries against Jones and Johnson – against Rico Hoye for the vacated belt. Woods stopped Hoye and recently successfully defended against the capable Gonzalez.

In an unusual twist, Fabrice Tiozzo, a former WBA light heavyweight titlist in the mid-90’s and more recently a WBA cruiserweight titlist, dropped weight and recaptured the WBA belt from Silvio Branco.

If you want to know how Branco became the titlist, you have to be able to comprehend the WBA’s policy of recognizing a “regular” world champion and a “super” world champion.

The WBA lineage that led to Tiozzo being the current “world” champion included a string of titleholders who won and lost so-called championships while Jones and later Tarver were the WBA’s “super” champions. (A current example of this bizarre arrangement is undisputed welterweight champion Zab Judah’s claim to the WBA’s “super” world title, while Luis Collazo lays claim to the WBA’s “regular” world title). The bottom-line is that the WBA can charge sanctioning fees for both types of title fights.

Tiozzo, by all accounts a talented fighter, will take on Australian Paul Murdoch in December. Murdoch holds not a single win against a widely recognized light heavyweight.

Poland’s undefeated Tomasz Adamek gained the vacated WBC title with a hard-fought 12-rounder against unheralded Australian Paul Briggs in Chicago in May and defended against German Thomas Ulrich in October. He has proven himself an exciting fighter; what he has not proven is how he will respond against a truly highly ranked light heavyweight.

Zsolt Erdei, the Hungarian WBO claimant (and some would suggest the lineal champion despite the dubious grounds upon which that claim is built), is also undefeated. Since taking the crown from Gonzalez he has defended successfully four times against what could be charitably considered fringe contenders. In October he stopped Mehdi Sahnoune in the 12th round of a title defense.

With the possible exception of Woods, who seems willing to fight top-rated contenders, the other three sanctioning body-created titlists appear content to chase down mandatory challengers. Indeed none of the belt holders have attempted to chase down Tarver at a post-fight press conference in the fashion Tarver did when he confronted Jones, who was basking in the glory of capturing the heavyweight belt from Ruiz.

Moreover, there is no known movement afoot to unify the belts in Europe despite the close proximity of the so-called world champions to each other.

Tarver remains in a rush to squeeze in a hall of fame career into what has to be only a minimal number of remaining years at the top. While it would be instructive for him to once again consolidate the belts to the boxing fans in parts of the world that have been fooled into believing that any man with any belt is a champion, Tarver probably will not have time to get to each of the belt holders. He can only crash so many post-fight news conferences, and he can’t be expected to travel to every out of the way arena hosting numerous light heavyweight title defenses.

He will undoubtedly reconcile himself to the fact that until his reign is over he will see a number of European titlists who claim to be the one true champion. He will also likely find new mountains to climb. For Antonio Tarver, knowing that he is the one true champion will simply have to be enough.

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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