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Articles of 2005

Mexico vs. Thailand – Welcome Stranger, Now Let’s Throw

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Pageantry and punching power promised friendly international fireworks for the inaugural “World Cup” boxing card between Mexico and Thailand Saturday night at Desert Diamond, outside Tucson. The Golden Boy/HBO Latino concept certainly didn’t get lost in translation during a unique gathering for team introductions.

In a scene that choreographed itself by the nature of the participants, a laidback atmosphere in the casino sports bar carried a distinct aura of restrained force. It was a buzz like standing near masses of power lines or generators. There were just enough trappings to keep the event tasteful and genuine. Well-heeled, bronze senoritas and silky Thai princesses glowed in universal body language framing the most diplomatic smiles outside the Golden Boy’s himself.

You could tell it was something special, not just because an excellent buffet wasn’t immediately stripped locust clean by the deadline brigade, of which there were many more than usual. Dozens of international media had already arrived, including more prominent characters than usually show up for a southern Arizona card. Call it a good vibe.

Some outlets criticized Oscar De La Hoya’s promotional theme when the plan was hatched, but turnout so far indicates solid business. It was unusually difficult to pick up clear omens regarding action or outcomes. The over/under on wild rounds is somewhere like forty. We’re going with the over.

Maybe word has spread about what consistently great scenes unfold in these parts. Maybe in these days of reality wild card table cams, new viewers need a gimmick. If so, De La Hoya may be hiring more global reps because at least locally the card is a hot ticket.

The fighters were subdued and formal as their quartets sat at separate tables beneath national flags. The sparkling, winning team cup, reportedly worth a pile of whatever type buck you favor, shined like a TV eye between them. Many times the Thais held their hands in prayer position.

Apparently De La Hoya is a popular celebrity in Thailand, at least according to a handful faithful to that continent, who said his trademark means solid ratings whatever their time zone. Four WBO belts may not signal the world’s very finest, but in most cases these contestants are close enough to qualify.

“Icelink Watches made the cup out of gold and diamonds, it’s worth around two hundred thousand dollars,” said De La Hoya, as participants surveyed the prize. ”This concept is going to catch on. We’re also going to be revitalizing US amateur involvement with a world cup tournament in Los Angeles on Mother’s Day. That hasn’t been formally announced, but we’re working on a lot at that level.”

In the main event, junior bantamweight kingpin Fernando Montiel, Los Moches, 31-1-1 (24), faces challenger Pramaunsak “The Machine Gun” Phosawan Mahasalakam, 29-0-1 (17).

There’s been talk about Montiel soon facing top marquee opponents like Jorge Arce or Martin Castillo in huge Mexican matchups. Montiel’s biggest threat may be complacency. From the focus of his mischievous demeanor, 26-year-old Montiel isn’t likely for a mental lapse. If anything, he appears to be Mexico’s strongest performer going in. Montiel’s only loss came to Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson in 2003.

“I don’t want to look past one of the toughest guys I might ever face,” said Montiel, who holds recent victories over Evert Briceno and Ivan Hernandez. “Obviously we know how important this is to all of us. I feel very strong as a team, but you’ve got to remember there’s only one of us in the ring at a time.”

“He wants to win, but so do I,” said 36-year-old Phosawan. “I know he is very good, very fast. If he is too fast, I’ll tie him up. We will both fight very hard. I hope the Thai people here, in Las Vegas, and the rest of America will support our team, then I know we will go home with the trophy.”

In the co-feature, Jhonny Gonzalez, Mexico City, 30-4 (26), meets well traveled bantamweight titleholder Ratanachi Sor Vorapin, Korat, 65-8 (42).

“I feel especially motivated because I know there’s a lot of Mexican fans in Tucson. I feel like I’m at home. All four of us are well prepared to represent our country. There’s a lot of reporters from Mexico here already. Fighters from Thailand are known to be tough, especially this one because he’s a champion. But if he trained hard I trained double as hard. I studied his tapes and have the adequate game plan to beat him.”

“It’s great to be here, I can’t wait to fight,” said Sor Vorapin, “I’ve seen him fight on tape. He will be no problem.” The confident visitor’s experience, including title wins over Cruz Carbajal and Mauricio Martinez, could give Gonzalez a bruising bad night. Gonzales looked both powerful and vulnerable in his last fight, also at Desert Diamond, a 3rd round stoppage of William Gonzalez in September. Gonzales probably has the toughest draw of the night. If he wins he’s a legitimate champ.

Daniel Ponce de Leon, Cuathemoc, 26-1 (25) faces Sod Looknongyangtoy, 25-0 (10), for a vacant junior featherweight title. De Leon hopes to show that his loss to proven veteran Celestine Caballero last February was mainly an educational experience.

“I’ve studied my opponent, he’s a counter-puncher. I’m going to fight this fight intelligently. People are going to see me differently, better than I ever was. I learned I’m not invincible. An excess of confidence is not good to have. I’m very cautious and I’m not going to underestimate anyone. I’m happy to fight here again. The fans responded very well the first time I fought in Tucson. It’s the same situation as in the Olympics. I’m happy to represent Mexico again. We’re going to have very clean fights and Mexico is going to win.”

At this point, de Leon seems to be taking things the most personally, at least if you judge by the glare he fixed upon Mr. Looknongyangtoy, who took it in stride. De Leon has exhibited the most flaws on Team Mexico, but he may also have the most untapped power. This is his chance to prove he’s for real. We don’t see Sod’s abilities reaching this far past the Asian Pacific. Big night on the Rez for the Native de Leon.

Junior flyweight Hugo Cazares, Los Moches, 21-3-1 (15), defends his belt against Kaichon Sor Vorapin, 17-7 (6). Cazares is coming of an 8th round TKO of Alex Sanchez in August.

“When I got invited to take part, I said yes immediately,” said Cazares, “Even when we fight as individuals, each one of us represents Mexico. I’m surprised by all the support I got. People around my hometown feel Thailand is a tough rival. It’s an honor to fight these guys. We’re giving a hundred percent to come out ahead.  I’ve only seen three rounds of him on tape, so a video didn’t really present anything for me. We’ll see how everything works out.” 

“Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get videotapes of him, so I don’t know much about him,” said Sor Vorapin. “I’ll study him for a round or two, just to see. I’m not nervous about it. I’ve been prepared.”

Not Enough. Cazares should have the easiest time taking care of business.

The intriguing card rounds out with a pair of potential tie-make or -breakers between featherweights. Carlos Contreras, Juarez, 20-10-3 (13), goes against Terdsak Jandaeng, Bangkok, 18-1 (13), and German Cruz, Ocotlan, 14-1-1 (12) meets  Kosol Sor Vorapin, another kid brother from Korat, 9-9-1 (6).

As of Thursday morning over two thousand tickets had been sold, which usually means standing room only. Only a few singles in the realigned $100 ringside area remained, while the $25 perimeter had hundreds of spots for the walk-up crowd.

Sometimes a quiver of anticipation or freeze frame reverberates more than shouted hype. It was interesting to watch fighters adapt to their role while visiting correspondents got partial translations from entourage members in full gala regalia. If the diverse, down home quality continues, there’s a subtle but clear indication we could have a real pow, pow, pow-wow.

In terms of a quintessential boxing experience, if there’s an iconic Blue Horizon out west, it’s Desert Diamond when a fistic fiesta hits high gear. It doesn’t matter where you hail from on our wacky planet. The stretches outside Tucson look to hold a positive, inspiring spectacle Saturday night however you say it. Besides that, there should be some helluva fights.   

                                                           * * *

Update – World Cup Weigh-in

It was like the eve of a holiday at the Desert Diamond Sportsbar, as hundreds of festive fans and dozens of international media crammed their way in to check out weigh-in formalities and get a glimpse of Promoter Oscar De La Hoya. The Arizona commission, headed by solid John Montano, had a chore sorting through various documents to authenticate identities of the Thai boxers, who often punch professionally under “nom de plumes,” or should we say “nom de gloves.” For example, Kaichon Sor Vorapin also has a medical record listed as Kajonsak Pothang.

AKA simply meant made weight made easy. It didn't look like there was a pound of fat between the eight Cup contestants.

Weights and gut feelings

Fernando Montiel 115   P Phosawan 115 (Phosawan will go down hard, but he will go down, hard.)

Jhonny Gonzalez 116¾   Ratanachai Sor Vorapin 118 (Earlier we leaned toward Sor Vorapin, but Gonzalez looked strong on the scale. Pick 'em.)

Daniel Ponce de Leon 121   Sod Looknongyangtoy 121½ (One way or the other, the most likely KO finish on the card as both men looked ready to roar. Call it continental bias, but we see Ponce de Leon's prior opposition as key. He’s ready to seize his moment.)

Hugo Cazares 108   K Sor Vorapin 107½ (Cazares continues to look like the safest bet on the card. Any experienced player knows that means think more than twice.)

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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