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Articles of 2005

Boxing's Knute Rockne

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On October 27, a large injustice will be rectified when John J. Walsh becomes the third boxing figure to be inducted into the 54-year-old Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, the long-overdue honor for the man who was to intercollegiate boxing what Knute Rockne was to football and John Wooden was to basketball will be conferred posthumously. Mr. Walsh died on November 1, 2001.

Over the last century the State of Wisconsin has produced some great prize fighters and even a world champion here and there. But when Cheeseheads with gray beards harken back to the glory days of boxing in their state, the conversation usually revolves around the national championship teams coached by Walsh at the University of Wisconsin in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. They routinely drew up to 15,000 fans to the UW Fieldhouse in Madison, when big-name pro cards in the state were attended by crowds a fraction of that size.

“I liken boxing at Wisconsin to football at Note Dame,” said Cal Vernon, UW’s 1947 National Collegiate Athletic Association light heavyweight champion and later a decent pro. “We were the Notre Dame of boxing.”

That was the case from 1934-57, when Walsh’s UW teams won an unequalled eight national championships. His boxers won 134 matches, lost just 28, had 18 draws, and won 38 individual NCAA championships – more than twice as many as any other school.

“No other coach in the history of intercollegiate boxing even approached his kind of success,” wrote E.C. Wallenfeldt in his definitive book on college boxing, “The Six-Minute Fraternity.”

In fact, says Wallenfeldt, while college boxing teams first sprang up in the East after World War I, it was Walsh’s arrival at UW in 1933 that launched “the force that was to dominate the sport more than any other entity in the history of college boxing.” That’s when Walsh, then a student at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota, came to UW on March 21 to participate in a dual meet at the Fieldhouse against the Badger team that, until that year, had existed only on the intramural level.

A year earlier, Walsh, who once said he “loved boxing ever since I was old enough to walk,” had fought in the U.S. Olympic Trials. Just five weeks before he fought at UW, the 20-year-old Walsh had won the Northwest Golden Gloves welterweight title with five straight knockouts. His bouts lasted a total of eight minutes. According to one source, in his entire amateur career he lost just two of 100 fights.

No fan of professional boxing, then or ever, Walsh wanted to be a lawyer and was studying pre-law and both coaching and fighting on the St. Thomas boxing squad when the team came to UW for the first-ever intercollegiate dual meet at the Fieldhouse. The visitors won four of the eight matches, and Walsh took a decision over Wisconsin’s Fausto Rubini. He so impressed the UW Athletic Department poobahs that they asked Walsh to stay in Madison and coach the fledgling Badger team.

His heart set on starting law school at St. Thomas the following semester, Walsh said no thanks – only to find out the very next day that St. Thomas intended to shut down its law school at the end of that academic year. Walsh called UW back and took the job.

“Coaching was my avocation, and law was my vocation,” Walsh said later. He graduated from the UW law school while coaching the university boxing team. “The first couple years, half the boys were older than I was,” he said. “But I never let them know it.” At a reunion of UW boxers many years later, one named Ralph Russell came up to Walsh and asked how old he was. When Walsh told him, Russell said, “I’ll be damned! I’m six months older, and you were bossing me around like you were my father!”

In 1934, Walsh’s first year as UW coach, his boxers went 2-1 in dual meets. The next year UW was undefeated in five dual meets against other schools. Dual meets consisted of bouts in each of the traditional eight weight classes, from 112-pound flyweight to 175-plus heavyweight, with boxers wearing 12-ounce gloves. (Headgear became mandatory in 1947.) Whichever team won the most bouts won the dual meet.

The emphasis in college boxing, and especially with John Walsh, was on clean, sharp boxing (not, said Walsh, “you hit me and I hit you’), and in a further effort to differentiate the collegiate sport from the pro ring, in the early years NCAA rules called for silence from the audience except in-between rounds and at the end of each bout.

That was a huge strain on the fans that filled the UW Fieldhouse for meets held on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays in the winter.

“From 1939-43,” wrote Wallenfeldt, “the smallest audience to watch a UW home dual meet numbered 8,500. The average attendance was 12,888. That was more than turned out for the world featherweight title match at the Milwaukee Auditorium on May 21, 1941, between Wisconsin native Phil Zwick and champion Petey Scalzo.

When the Fieldhouse hosted its first NCAA boxing tournament in 1939, 67 boxers from 24 colleges competed before a three-day total of 25,000-plus spectators, more than had attended any of the previous five national tournaments. Wisconsin won its first national title then, with four Badger fighters taking individual championships.

The partisan crowds imbued the hometown boxers and their opponents with decidedly different emotions. “They’d march you down the aisle with 10,000 people cheering you on, and when you got into the ring you were so pumped up to go, you’d be embarrassed to lose,” recalled Dick Bartman, a member of the 1956 national champion UW team.

“For me, it was rather scary,” recalled 1954 NCAA heavyweight champion Mike McMurtry, who fought for Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, and then Idaho State. “If you were from Wisconsin, you had it made. If not, they booed the hell out of you.” Or worse. After winning a close decision in the 1956 national NCAA semi-finals at the Fieldhouse, McMurtry climbed out of the ring and stopped to wait for his coach.

“People were really booing and throwing things,” he recollected years later, and ÒI felt something hitting me in the rear end. I turned around and it was some lady pounding the hell out of me with her purse.”

Wisconsin won the NCAA championship again in 1943, -‘47, -‘48, -‘52 and -‘56.

What John Walsh meant to amateur boxing was signified by two major events in 1948. The NCAA national championship trophy was named after him, and Walsh was named co-coach of that year’s U.S. Olympic team.

Collegiate boxing was not a springboard to success in the pro ring, and wasn’t intended to be. Only Billy Soose, who fought for Penn State in the late 1930s, went on to win a world championship belt, as a middleweight in 1941. Probably the best known college boxer to graduate to the pro ranks, thanks to his numerous televised bouts in the 1950s, was welterweight Chuck Davey, who won six NCAA titles for Michigan State but lost a 147-pound world title bid against champion Kid Gavilan on February 11, 1953.

Walsh was strenuously against his or any college boxers turning pro, because he didn’t like the managers he saw in the pro game. “I’d tell my boxers, ‘Here’s what they’re going to tell you, and here’s the truth.’ They all knew how much I disliked anybody going into pro boxing. I just don’t think it’s good for a kid with a college degree to get smashed up as a pro boxer.”

In Olympic years, the NCAA boxing tournament was always held at the Fieldhouse because officials knew the huge crowds would boost interest in the sport. “We made a lot of money for the University,” Walsh said. But that didn’t endear him or boxing to some UW faculty members, who derided Walsh as “the occupant of the chair of applied brutality” and objected to University sanction of a sport they considered far beneath the dignity of their hallowed intellectual mission.

They sneered at Walsh’s view that properly taught and supervised amateur boxing built life-enriching character and discipline. In his 1951 primer called “Boxing Simplified,” Walsh wrote: “My personal enthusiasm for amateur boxing stems from my experience with the hundreds of fine young men with whom I have worked as a boxer, as coach at the University of Wisconsin, while in service with the Marines, and as coach of the U.S.

Olympic Team … And when our active association as student and teacher ended, each boy without exception was the richer for his experience. Not a single boy has borne a mark that might not just as well have been inflicted in a sliding accident, in a friendly scuffle, in an accidental fall, in a football game, or in a basketball contest.”

But there had been college boxing fatalities. In 1930, University of Pennsylvania boxer Oliver Horne died after a bout in the Eastern Intercollegiate Boxing Association tournament in Philadelphia; and in 1946, Dixon Walker of the University of Maryland died after being knocked out in the first round of a match.

And when UW boxer Charlie Mohr died fighting in the 1960 NCAA tournament at the Fieldhouse, the anti-boxing faculty members wasted no time shutting down the school’s boxing program. On the heels of boxing’s expulsion from UW, the NCAA abolished its boxing program altogether.

“There was no regular hearing as to what they should do about boxing and it took them less than 10 minutes to make up their decision, and no professor with a desire to continue boxing was allowed to make a speech at the hurried-up meeting,” recalled Walsh in 1998 about the decision to kill the sport that, at its height, was as popular as basketball at the University of Wisconsin. “Those that wanted to see boxing stopped did a very fast and unfair job in stopping further intercollegiate boxing.”

When a new sports arena was built on the University of Wisconsin campus in 1998, there was a special ceremony held during half-time of a basketball game at the aged Fieldhouse saluting the long-ago Badger boxers and their nonpareil coach. It was a nice gesture, but as far as Dick Bartman was concerned, it didn’t go far enough for the man who did so much for boxing, UW and, most of all, his fighters.

“They should,” he said about John Walsh, “put up a statue for this guy.”

The State Athletic Hall of Fame is a start, but even that would probably embarrass the dignified lawyer who only wanted, as Walsh said in the dedication of “Boxing Simplified, for “other coaches and boxers to enjoy the great sport of boxing and to benefit from it as fully and richly as I have.”

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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