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Articles of 2005

Losing in Victory with Junior Witter

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“The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor; he took my measurement anew every time he saw me, while all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit me.”  – George Bernard Shaw

Losing in victory and winning in defeat is an incongruity familiar to sports fans, and boxing fans in particular. Junior Witter’s recent points win over Colin Lynes, in defense of his trinity of regional belts – British, Commonwealth and European – moved the Bradford man closer to a mandatory position with the WBC and a shot at the ever-modest Floyd Mayweather, but won him few new friends in the process. In fact, the once overflowing “bandwagon” was missing a number of passengers at Monday morning roll call.

Despite being the onetime darling of the British boxing forums, Witter’s popularity has rarely manifested itself in ticket sales but had, up until last weekend, been upwardly mobile. Long touted as the fighter to unlock Ricky Hatton from his pre-Tszyu comfort zone and erase the smug smile worn by Hatton’s promoter Frank Warren every time the MEN was filled for another Hatton walkover, Witter’s lack of box office appeal was, paradoxically, part of his appeal; Witter was, is, the very antithesis of Hatton.

In truth, Witter’s supporters were as much anti-Warren as pro-Witter. Everyone likes to give the establishment a “bloody nose,” and Frank Warren’s Sports Network – the premier promotional stable in the country over the past decade – continue to fill the role of the perceived establishment in British boxing.

Junior Witter made it easy to believe too. Regrouping and reinvented following his short-notice, overcautious points defeat to Zab Judah in 2000, Witter reeled off 15 knockout wins, the once ugly duckling of British boxing, with the awkward, defensive style, became a noted puncher and one of the country’s most talked about fighters.

Enter Lovemore N’Dou, the loquacious Australian by way of South Africa, and a fighter with global profile, chin, heart and top 15 rankings with the major sanctioning bodies. For six rounds Witter looked sensational. Fast, unorthodox with fearsome power, the usually immoveable N’Dou tasted canvas twice and looked shell-shocked. Witter had arrived; the American audience lapped it up and wondered where Witter had been hiding. I forgot to mention N’Dou didn’t stay down didn’t I? In fact, not only did the Antipodean tough man re-establish himself in the bout but he came close to snatching an implausible points victory, such was Witter’s faltering conclusion to the fight.

Despite a whispered reservation or two about Witter’s failure to finish N’Dou off when so soundly in control and a clearly diminished output from the halfway mark onwards, Witter had arrived as a leading contender. After all, light welterweight rivals Sharmba Mitchell and Miguel Cotto had both failed to put the dints in N’Dou that Witter had and post-fight reports he’d suffered an injury to his hand helped explain his declining output.

Witter (along with stable mate Carl Froch) was swiftly embraced by Golden Boy Promotions and with personal reference from Oscar himself; the latest fighter from Brendan Ingle’s production line had the glow of a finished article. He was certainly peeking out from the long (and sometimes wide) shadow cast by Ricky Hatton, in the months before the “Hitman” fought a naturalised Australian of his own.

Next up was unheralded Ukrainian Andreas Kotelnik, a fighter with a narrow split decision defeat to Souleymane M’Baye on his resume and little else. The expected blow-out didn’t occur and Witter found himself grinding through rounds again, looking ill at ease with Kotelnik’s own cautious approach and officious adherence to a tight defence. Witter, as the aggressor, looked frustrated and at times lacking the invention or stamina to open up the challenger.

Post-fight analysis was kind to Witter, the knockdowns of N’Dou still fresh enough to afford Witter the latitude to write-off the performance as an “off night” and Kotelnik had certainly proved more capable than most had given him credit for.

“It was a very tough encounter,” said Witter. “I caught him with good shots but the speed and power weren't there. But Kotelnik is no bum, he's a world title-class opponent, and I just know I went in there and won it comfortably.”

But for all the retrospective credibility bestowed on him, Kotelnik isn’t a leading contender and Witter had allowed the fight to be too close. A WBC number one position followed and subsequently upheld at the WBC conference thanks to some the behind the scenes hard-ball by promoter Mick Hennessey, but Witter’s substance as a leading contender had been diluted, perhaps irrevocably.

And so with the WBC insisting that Witter still needs to face the Italian Gianluca Branco, a predictable fighter in the ring, a slippery one out of it, the 31-year-old opted to stay active and defend against British contender Colin Lynes. Though the boxing community admired Witter’s willingness to defend his belts, and few would wish to deny the likeable Hornchurch challenger his opportunity at the classic titles, an early knockout was widely predicted.

Lynes, though gutsy and technically sound, lacked the strength or the power to repel Witter and his destructive switch-hitting. Or so the script read. Although only one loss besmirched the Lynes record, a stoppage defeat at the hands of the wild African Samuel Malinga, contentious points victories over the equally awkward Pablo Sarmiento, the scourge of the British lightweight division in recent years, and tall American Jauquin Gallardo highlighted Lynes’ real career horizons despite the IBO “world” belt he held before his challenge.

The British fight fraternity fully expected an explosive return to knockout form for Witter and a further enhancement of his global profile at London’s infamous York Hall, Bethnal Green. A location illustrating the champion’s paucity of ticket buying support, fighting 150 miles from home and closer to the challenger’s backyard.

Sadly for Witter, the widely tipped knockout never arrived, but more worryingly, Lynes was able to navigate the full course with little concern. Only once did Witter appear close to forcing a knockdown and once the opportunity passed the champion became more frustrated. Wilder lunges at Lynes’ classic high guard looked amateurish and as the fight unfolded Witter began absorbing jabs and quick counters too.

Moving into the championship rounds, Witter looked jaded and was unable to compose any of his signature moves or quick-fire combinations. Fleetingly he would return to orthodox boxing, utilising the jab. With this tactic he enjoyed success and looked capable of unhinging the Lynes fight plan with this single weapon, but his desire to look spectacular, to rescue the performance from the mediocrity that had characterised it overwhelmed him and he returned to lunging, forlorn swings.

The challenger couldn’t muster the offence to capitalise on the champion’s failing stamina and lacked the weight of punch to alter the momentum of the fight. But by adhering to a fixed game plan, carefully constructed with trainer Paul Cook, Lynes had survived Witter’s early power plays and grown into the fight. A fight, remember, he was meant to be “blown away” in.

Junior Witter would claim post-fight that a lack of motivation was the pretext for another subdued performance, announcing that he desperately needed a fight he “needed to win” to provide that key mental impetus. “I wasn’t that pleased with my performance. I didn’t put my shots together as well as I would have liked. But a win is a win and I am still British, Commonwealth and European champion and I will be a world champion.

“I need that big fight now against a big name. That is what I am hungry for.”

British mentality ensured Witter’s progression from unheralded underdog to main event fighter attracts a very different type of analysis of his performances. In the spotlight Witter’s flaws, previously disguised by early round knockouts against “B” and “C” class opponents, are being exposed. To compound this, opponents are now far more prepared for his style and fight plan. Lynes, for example, palpably learnt from Kotelnik’s performance versus Witter. Keep tight early and capitalise when he fades.

And fade he did. Witter couldn’t sustain a meaningful offence and appeared to lack the tools to dissect Lyne’s simple game plan. With projected fights with Floyd Mayweather and the spectre of Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto still looming large in the division, Junior Witter will need to raise his game far beyond his recent form to make more than a payday out of a world title shot. Though maybe, as he suggests, being the underdog in the fight, fighting on the literal and metaphorical back foot, will bring out the best in him; being required to force the action certainly hasn’t.

Last week, Junior lost a great deal in victory.

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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