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Articles of 2005

Ready for a Fight: Erik Morales

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Venturing toward a lightweight championship, what would have been his fourth weight division conquered, Tijuana, Mexico’s legend, Erik Morales, found out that in boxing wanting is not the only prerequisite to having. “El Terrible” facing up to the speed injected boxing of Zahir Raheem became a lethargic groper, his chiseled figure and hawkish searching eyes floundered, his brutalizing attrition inducing style disarmed by Raheem’s skilleting punching engagements.

Morales, quiet and polite and suspicious by nature, found his fierce pride had run afoul of Raheem’s career legitimizing reinvigoration. And yet the issue somewhat fatuously debated after their WBC lightweight title contest, of Raheem taking Morales’ place in a planned showcase HBO post-Christmas bash up with Manny Pacquiao, was never a serious consideration for the promoters involved, or indeed for HBO. Raheem will undoubtedly profit from his vanquishing of Morales, but in a time and place as yet undetermined. Unquestionably, Raheem has a sizable marker with both boxing fans and HBO executives. Don’t worry about “The Dream” Raheem. He’s the limit for menace the brooding Morales will have to brook, if he can actually reconstitute himself at 130 for Pacquiao.

The matter of Morales returning, reinvesting in his own decisiveness, interestingly, trumps the presumed logic of palatable fair play and the old adage: to the victor go the spoils. Can, in fact, Morales reinitialize his championship program that was thought to be only meaningful within the program of a resumption of box-offs with Manny Pacquiao, Marco Antonio Barrera and perhaps, perhaps, Juan Manuel Marquez? Yes, we are putting desire before the facts of placement. Marquez remains a featherweight and Morales seems committed, if not resolved, to winning a lightweight crown. Still, Barrera has, or will have, his own date with Pacquiao one suspects, no matter the January 16 result against Morales. Redemption permeates the current interlacing of championship action figures at featherweight and just beyond, with the exception of the marginalized Marquez. Though Marquez, it should be noted, did by choice and apprehension, perhaps, effectively bargain himself out of an immediate rematch with the dangerous Manny Pacquiao. One wonders what greater rewards Marquez has designs upon?

Manifest ego and money, the shaded parallels of pride and economic necessity, create nuanced gaps for rationalizing just how fighters construct their careers, what they decide to dare risk and what they defend as principle. Theory almost devoured its subject when Morales ventured upon the ground beyond 130. Maybe Morales has learned that sparring just over 145 is not the same as taking on top lightweights for championship belts; only the future will, no doubt, make that clear for us and him.

And yet Morales is nothing if not a stubborn man, a man who challenges the notion of accepting limits, kismet’s prescriptions. In a sense, the ultimate career ambitions of the men mentioned above mainly revolve around the dynamics to come when Morales and Pacquiao revisit each other. The cycle, as it is kept in rotation by the needs drawn from redemption and obligation, each fighter seeking challenges worthy of their undivided concentration also enhances the episodic nature of these rivalries. One might assert that Morales and Barrera represents the only visceral rivalry born of hatred among all the possible matchups. We do note that both fighters admit their mutual disgust is more a hindrance than an aid. And for many fans, still, that matchup represents the beginning and natural end point for this amazing cycle of championship contention, almost no matter who were to beat whom in the meantime.

Fans of Marquez and Pacquiao would vehemently disagree with the idea – idealization – of Morales and Barrera. January’s result will in the short term also be pivotal. The ruling of the WBC – for the winner to face Barrera – an odd parallax not constraining upon the economic determinations to be made by Bob Arum’s company Top Rank.

Morales struggles onward, usually jamming arenas with fervent fans. Despite his history for subtle planning, the caricature of him in doubt right up until fight time as to his fighting manner and method has, of late, been bandied about in critical circles. Still a fighter who holds his personal history in trust every time he hears the bell, he retains the reputation as able to focus, manifestly on the project of winning, winning by brutal assertions, if little else. Whether or not Morales is to fight with a simple goal to be achieved or with the purposefulness of a multi-talented veteran looms in the minds of even his supporters as more and more problematical.

Some cite oncoming exhaustion, while others lament the natural course of attrition commensurate with a person who’s been fighting professionally for thirteen years and has not reached 30. That fact – of his list of ring victims reading as a catalogue of the best fighters of his era – enters the conversation on Morales with the twang of recollection and not as fighting words to defend his rightful place within boxing’s peerage. At least this is true for some speaking critically or caustically. Is the great Morales being understandably distracted by his trainers and promoters duties, the commitment to his three growing children and a new woman in his life? Or is that too convenient a set of mischaracterizations? Morales has only lost to two fighters in 51 bouts. Do we indulge folly in paying undue attention to his welterweight poundage against Raheem? Can we call it a simple miscalculation and leave it at that? Does it matter what his thinking, in fighting at least 6 or 7 pounds over his preferred fighting weight?

Why not choose to accept that Morales is living more and more off the highs of fight to fight enthrallment; frankly against Raheem, who fought brilliantly, Morales looked lethargic and almost bored by the need to actually win a contest of purely technical boxing. Odd to say, but Morales just wanted to fight it out! Applied tactics do make technical errors either appear negligible or marginal and Morales clearly had, for perhaps the first time in his career, not thought out how to fight for a win in a championship fight. It was as if he was thinking only of his body and its reaction to fighting at 145+, totally disregarding the obvious fact he had to fight an opponent, a talented one. Much in the same way Barrera – when all was said and absorbed – had no adaptive strategies against Manny Pacquiao.

Morales believe he is still in the prime of his career, his life in boxing ascending. He devoutly believes in fate and yet in the necessity of being consistent, giving everything he has each time he signs a contract to fight. Whether he breeched his most closely held belief in the months leading up the Raheem bout only Morales knows for certain. Surely, the man and the champion Morales will give credit and respect where it is due, to Raheem. In doing so, he will accurately access his own state of willingness and range of competences heading toward his rematch with Manny Pacquiao. Still principally trained by his father Jose, “El Terrible” continues on with his career making adjudications daily, the linearity of his fights approaching yet another as part of the journey of self-development and execution of manifest skills. That’s why Morales endlessly goes back to the basics training at the Otomi Altitude Center north of Mexico City, building up his reflexive confidences from the foundation of technical soundness. Minute details mean a lot to Morales, the eternal student of his own applied techniques.

Once again the driven Manny Pacquiao will have to face down Erik Morales coming into a fight with him in need of a winning performance. Morales will try to play the bigger man, escalating his offensive tempo, raising his hit rate as he surges, meeting power with enveloping forcefulness.

“I have always believed you give the fans everything you have. They pay their money and we are professionals; that’s how we must respect the fans … each fight decides your career.”

Working on each facet of his preparation, Morales enacts scrupulousness; exercising his passion he throws himself into his work, his calling, of being a championship prizefighter. Never one to dwell on the past, Morales keeps to a focused diligence of effort and intensity mixed with calmed fortitude. Yes, he does take time away with his children or his girlfriend for days to the beach, but once he’s sequestered himself in training mode, that enterprise becomes the boundary of his life. Morales has said that he rages into his opponents at moments of doubt as much certitude. For in the act of applied aggression, he at least remains convinced, more good things are likely to result than bad things. True, the Mexican great does at times manipulate advantage from the security of his jab or work counter shots against swarming foes. Mostly though Morales loves to switch it up against fighters, boxing to engage with measuring repetition just so he can break through with a decisive scoring combination or fall out of a smothering all-out attack sequence to impale a desperate-to-counter opponent with surgical jabs.

That’s Morales at his best, when thought has been pre-translated to reflexive application. So the needs of training the body, discipline invoked, become the express needs of mind, a champion’s shield.

As he has grown into this late 20s no doubt his lines for attack and defense have blurred, having become more angular and less circular in the ring. If it can be debated as to whether or not some of his punching has increasing lacked “snap” over the last few years, there’s no doubt been a noticeable impatience with his attempts to situationally box. The last pure exhibition of boxing came against In Jin Chi. Against Chi Morales did what was necessary and effective, though in the end he gave the crowd less of himself, as his career had until then defined it. Since the win over Chi, he’s devolved back to type, boxing only to set up swarming attacks. The once fluidly balanced fighter in Morales is eroding; his style ebbing toward batterer, with every fight. More easily frustrated during fights, Morales has begun to straighten up during mid ring collisions forgetting to clean up with his left hook coming out of exchanges. Defensively Morales has regressed to some degree and that degree showed up like a vengeful spirit against the flashing fisticuffing of Zahir Raheem.

It’s as if all of Morales’ technical options are still there for his choosing, yet he seems internally impatient in the ring now, rushing into things he once evaded and punished.

We can indulge speculation all we wish but there’s a zero sum elementalism awaiting Morales. And, yes, Morales knows exactly where he’s at. Perhaps, he will just fold away the loss to Raheem into the patterning of his storied career. Pacquiao once again enters the melodrama of Morales’ epic to reprise his role as daunting obstacle, a man in form, ready to rip up the legend of Morales.

And people never seem to learn about Morales, no matter how many times he proves his excellence, no matter how many times he comes to his own rescue. Erik Morales will give everything he’s got in his rematch with Manny Pacquiao. That’s just the kind of man he’s always been, will always be.

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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