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Articles of 2005

To Be King of the Alpha Heavyweights

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Dr. Vitali Klitschko and Hasim “The Rock” Rahman are set to battle for heavyweight supremacy on November 12th at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. After handling a shaky Danny Williams with ease 11 months ago, Klitschko is set to return to the ring for the first time in hopes of cementing his claim as the king of the alphabet soup heavyweight champions. His opponent, Hasim Rahman, shocked the boxing world in April of 2001 when he captured the heavyweight crown with a resounding knockout of Lennox Lewis. Since that victory though, Rahman’s career has been filled with disappointment and underachievement. His last fight with Monte Barrett was an embarrassingly sluggish performance, and he won only because his opponent put up an even more pathetic effort than he did. Based on his victory over Barrett, Rahman has now earned (if you can call it that) a title shot with older brother Klitschko, the man billed as Lennox Lewis’ successor to the throne and the carrier of the heavyweight torch.

This is Vitali’s moment to shine, to prove to his critics that he’s not just another average fighter in a below average division. After watching his brother, Wladimir, put on a good performance in beating Samuel Peter a couple of months ago, Vitali is eager to show the world that he’s a deserving champion. He’s well aware that this is a make-or-break fight for him at this point in his career.

“Legacy’s very, very important for everyone – you build your name for a long time and you can break your name in one second. I give my best to have a good name and this fight is very important for my future.”

A behemoth of a man with considerable knockout power, Klitschko has shown his worthiness against lesser opposition and his toughness in a game performance against Lennox Lewis, but he still needs to prove his legitimacy as a heavyweight champion. And now he’s got his chance against a talented, former champion whose biggest hurdle seems to be inside his own head. The problem in calling this fight is that we really don’t know which Hasim Rahman is going to show up on November 12th. Will it be that hungry contender who flattened Lennox Lewis or the listless, unmotivated challenger who reminds us of how far the heavyweight division has fallen?

Which ever Rahman shows up, Klitschko says he will be ready to knock him out. “We have option A, B, C, depending on how Rahman is. The strategy is ready for almost every situation.”

Klitschko saying he’s ready for “almost every situation” signifies the fact that the only scenario he’s not ready for is a crushing right hand from Rahman that sends him to the canvas a la Lewis. Now whether or not Rahman can find that right hand in his suspect arsenal is the million-dollar question? He’s a betting man’s nightmare because he’s a fighter capable of being both a heavyweight champion and a lackluster fringe contender on the same night.

I’m going to take a wild guess at what Klitschko’s A, B, C’s or all about. Strategy “A” will defend against an Aggressive Rahman who comes out in his rare motivated form looking for a knockout. Strategy “B” is prepared to fight the Boring Rahman who’s content to plod around the ring, holding and hugging, occasionally gathering the energy to throw a combination or two. Finally, strategy “C” is saved for the Clueless Rahman who doesn’t know what he’s even doing in the ring (See Rahman-Lewis II).

As his conference call for his upcoming fight with Hasim Rahman came to an end last week, the always-polite Klitschko apologized to all the press who didn’t get their questions answered, but reassured us that soon all questions would be answered.

“This fight is for the world heavyweight championship. I’ll give you the right answer for all your questions on November 12th inside the ring.”

Let’s not forget, Klitschko’s most notable fight was a loss to a lethargic Lennox Lewis in which he fought gallantly only to be stopped on cuts. His latest wins over Corrie Sanders and Danny Williams have proven nothing except that he can beat an old journeyman who knocked out his brother and a fortunate winner of the Mike Tyson sweepstakes.

In the new era of alphabet soup titles, Klitschko seems to have the most talent, but that really doesn’t mean very much when he’s judged against the likes of John Ruiz and Chris Byrd. We will find out though how badly Vitali Klitschko wants to bolster his claim as today’s true king of the heavyweights. A lackluster performance will only reinforce his critics’ claims that he’s just a default champion in a division headed for extinction.

The heavyweight division is in such shambles these days that we’ve really had no other choice but to use the faces of the Klitschko brothers as the poster boys for the future of the division. They physically look the part as they’re built like giant Greek gods, and they have the solid demeanor to match. Gentlemanly and intelligent, the Klitschko brothers are both positive representatives of the sport of boxing. How many other heavyweight champions have been doctors in their spare time? There are none, as Vitali made boxing history by becoming the first to hold a PH.D (sports science and philosophy). He’s clearly taken a different path than most fighters, and that includes Mike Tyson. He would probably score higher on his SAT’s than Iron Mike, but let’s face it, Klitschko doesn’t carry the heavyweight mystique as Tyson once did that goes along with being the most feared fighter in the land.  He hasn’t even proven that he’s earned being titled the king of the heavyweights. A compelling victory over Hasim Rahman will give him that claim and send him on his way toward heavyweight stardom.

Vitali Klitschko has big plans for the future. He doesn’t want to be just another world champion; he wants to be THE world champion. “I want to explore my dreams to fight a unification fight against another world champion just like Lennox Lewis did.” If he gets by Rahman, he’ll have the opportunity make that happen, most likely against either John Ruiz or Chris Byrd, considering that Lamon Brewster, the WBO champion, will soon be facing off against Vitali’s brother, Wladimir.

In hyping the Klitschko-Rahman fight, Bob Arum tried valiantly to explain that this fight matches the two best heavyweights in the world. He defended his claim by saying that when Rahman’s on his game he’s not only good enough to compete with today’s heavyweights, but that he would also give the best of Ali’s generation a tough fight. Does Arum really believe that Rahman even at his mightiest would give all-time greats such as Liston, Frazier, Foreman and Norton a competitive fight? Hasim Rahman can be a good fighter, but he’s showed it only on rare occurrences. To compare him to the legendary fighters of the 60’s and 70’s is an impossible feat, like racing a workhorse and a thoroughbred side by side.

Despite this ridiculous claim by Arum, Vitali Klitschko is well aware that Hasim Rahman is a dangerous opponent, especially when he comes to fight. “The Rock” has the punching power to knock out any heavyweight, just remind Lennox Lewis, so he does possess the ability to seriously test Klitschko’s chin. Still, Klitschko isn’t concerned with his opponent’s heavy hands and is confident that his best will be good enough to topple whichever Rahman decides to show up.

“I have experience with big punchers and I’ve prepared for that. I’ll give my best in this fight.”

Klitschko’s aware that “boxing audiences need very interesting fights” to regenerate their interest and bring the glory back to a once glorious sport. This may not turn out to be the electrifying fight we are looking for, especially when you consider the number of bouts that Rahman’s been involved with that featured the referee as the most exciting man in the ring. This could turn out to be another snore fest, but regardless of the fight’s pace, Klitschko will do whatever it takes to retain his title.

“I’m in condition to go 12 rounds, but I’m prepared to knock him out in every round. When he makes a mistake, I will look to knock him out.” Well for the fan’s sake, let’s hope the champion will take his own advice and actually take risks again Rahman, rather than fight cautiously not to lose. His legacy will depend not on his ability to survive average opponents, but to what degree he can dominate his heavyweight foes. Boxing fans are not looking for a methodical and guarded champion to cheer for. They yearn for a dangerous and explosive fighter who brings fear into his opponent’s eyes and electricity into the arena. If Vitali Klitschko wants to win over boxing fans then he needs to act more like THE heavyweight champion and fight with the passion and fearlessness that all the great kings before him have had.

He doesn’t want to be remembered as another giant heavyweight dud of a champion who eventually gets exposed after years of beating mediocre opponents. The first colossal example that comes to mind of course is Primo Carnera, the Italian circus freak who was unknowingly a puppet of the mob that bought him the heavyweight crown. Everyone knew Carnera’s ineptness except Primo himself because so many fighters took a dive against him or were just so bad themselves that he didn’t actually realize how bad he was.

The truth did finally come out at the hands of both Max Baer and Joe Louis, who humiliated Carnera by knocking the game giant down time and time again until the carnage was ended. I’m not saying that Klitschko’s opponents are taking dives or that he hasn’t earned his title, as he’s fought well at times. But it is worth comparing these two heavyweights for one good reason. My father told me so, and coming from a man who watched Carnera many times from ringside, I can’t help to think of how Carnera, the old giant, would do against Klitschko, the new giant? “I really think Carnera and Klitschko would be a very close fight,” my father told me after a recent discussion about how inferior the heavyweight division has become.

Straight from the lion’s mouth, it’s hard for me to argue that Klitschko would have no problem with Carnera because Vitali hasn’t shown that he’s an unbeatable champion, but rather a vulnerable one with an unknown potential. Despite his champion status, maybe Klitschko surfaced at the opportune time to take over a division mired in mediocrity. Our standards have fallen so far since the magnificent days of heavyweight champions such as Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali, to name a few, that it’s possible that a present day matchup between Klitschko and Carnera would be a fight made in matchmakers’ dreams.

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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