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Articles of 2005

Mad as Hell: The Fans of Bernard Hopkins

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With the exception of Mike Tyson and Fernando Vargas, no fighter over the last fifteen years has had as rabid and loyal a following as the former middleweight champion of the world Bernard Hopkins. Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Roy Jones – essentially in that order – have clearly been more popular to a greater number of demographic sub-groups than Philadelphia’s “Executioner,” but their collective blood pressure doesn’t seem to spike in quite the same way as B-Hopers. With every perceived or received insult or slight, Hopkins’ fan base seems to experience a wave of shared convulsions.

One hardly has to type the word Duane Ford before being inundated with emails laced with acidic commentary, character assassination and copious invective denouncing and defaming the man believed to have sunk the House of Hopkins. Criticize or minimize anything to do with the person or career of the great Hopkins and you better be ready to duck. Call it passionate veneration or blind faith Hopkins’ fans see their man as the champion of his time.

With the result of this summer’s Taylor fight, Hopkins’ fans are, in a word, outraged. The feeling of their man having had his championship stolen remains a raw nerve, a throbbing ache that has not abated. You get the feeling that come December 3rd, when Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor meet to finalize the middleweight muddle, those fans will be near to the breaking point of antic expectation. One of the operative affronts stems from Hopkins having invoked the notion of a conspiracy. For Team Hopkins, the loss to Taylor was tantamount to being a preordained conclusion; something the ex-champion confirmed to himself in the immediate after math of the bout. Hopkins was convinced that he had won the fight in the critical championship rounds, a conviction he says was confirmed by the defeated look of the then-challenger at the final bell. In the pressure of the moment it was revealed to the champion what one might call the actuality of confirming events. According to Hopkins, the fighters knew the outcome, judges or no judges, and Hopkins asserts Taylor revealed in those post-fight moments his own internal sense of defeat.

Hopkins’ followers wholeheartedly believe they saw the same look of disgust and defeat after the fight. Upon that perceptual hook has rested a plethora of outcomes. Victimization might never have had so ironic an embodiment, but there he was, Bernard Hopkins, a legend felled not by the generational fists of an incoming force, but by the very system he had always struggled against. Thus, ran the Hopkins line of explanation in the wake of a traumatic usurpation of “his” title as the pound-for-pound champion of global boxing. Hopkins lashed out at this injustice in moral terms seldom preached by a mainstream champion. His ire was relentless and the list of suspects was endless. Boxing as a system, a collective of self-interested manipulators who had never embraced Hopkins as champion, constituted the malevolent brokers who had it in for “The Executioner” – or so he said with venom in the hours and days following his first loss since 1993. Hopkins and his fans looked upon the judging of the Taylor fight as Exhibit A in the case they were enunciating to do with Hopkins being the victim of corporate styled retribution.

For all the years he had sought to carve out his career as a largely self-propelling independent contractor and outspoken critic of the governance and politics of the sport of boxing, he was now being made to pay the price. Hopkins’ fans were adamant about that. And for his rubbing against the grain of controlling interest, Hopkins is much prized, if not much loved. He is admired as a Contrarian, the man who would not put up to being servile or shortchanged by exploitative promoters and hypocritical governing bodies. It doesn’t matter the missteps Hopkins made or his acts of betrayal or, for that matter, strategic complicity all along the yellow brick road to his anti-legend. It is said by his supporters, those were reactionary and defensive measures for the most part, necessary sins in a jungle of competing interests.

Whenever Hopkins played off one promoter or manager against another, it was fair fighting given the Darwinian sewers one must navigate to get to the top. Some would argue that any kind of detailing upon that concept misses the larger issue of Hopkins’ need and right to survive and prosper. In boxing, you cannot judge someone using ethics, such measuring simply dissolves within the complexity. All of Hopkins’ admirers will tell you flat-out that’s all one need know about how Bernard Hopkins was forced to do business, to give back in kind all along the road of his journey to middleweight glory. That was part of how one must understand the irresistible grammar of events.

Like Larry Holmes’ unceremonious foisting from the summit of the heavyweight thrown – it was said for mocking the legend of Rocky Marciano and his 49-0 legacy – to an heir of convenient salability in Michael Spinks, so too was Hopkins dumped at the threshold of his retiring as middleweight king. HBO, who missed out on the transition of Lewis to Klitschko at heavyweight, were not going to miss out a second time. Call it nonsense, but for some it’s durable nonsense, nonsense that rings true. In fact, any one who saw the result against Taylor in favor of the man-child from Little Rock was, as this reporter was deemed to be, a person of visual acuity comparable with the late Ray Charles. One irate Hopkins fan defended the honor of Hopkins by asking if yours truly was happy being Taylor’s newest girlfriend. One must admit, that kind of gender morphing was at the very least amusing; and it’s desperation to be cruel in making a point signaled just how offended the devotees of the ex-champion feel.

One presumably breathless reader wanted to know if this writer was beyond the age of consent, another wanted to know if the entire history of boxing and rudimentary scoring were beyond my understanding. We need not cite all the particulars, nor repeat all the descriptions of what makes for a Taylor supporter hateful and not worthy of contempt, though they were described to me in most all of the letters sent by Hopkins’ supporters. The official result of the fight was inconsequential compared to authentic emotional outrage. There’s little about Hopkins’ powers for self-promotion and biographical myth-making which might have helped foster this sense of anger and resentment among his followers. If Hopkins is fanning the flames of discontent, he has the right, according to his followers. But no matter what one thinks of Hopkins the flag thrower, the character assassin, the artful dodger, he has linked into a fan base at the level of elementary identification.

He’s been big and bad, mean and menacing, boastful and brazen, but in all of his mocking oratory and playful pretentiousness; in other words, he’s been himself, duping and conning, scratching and bludgeoning his way from prison obscurity to a minor media personality, boxing’s 24/7/365 anti-hero in leather. Through the disputes and drudgery, he and trainer Bouie Fisher have endured and overcome where his championship peers Keith Holmes and William Joppy ultimately succumb. His profit has been the status of his title reign, showdowns with Trinidad and De La Hoya and the heralding estimation of boxing writers all over the world. Deep and dark his motivations may be, yet his impact has defined his division – the middleweights – for over a decade.

He likes to ‘X’ out his opponents after symbolically feeding them and us a last meal and testament; who among the living dare threatens the great Hopkins? Only the phantoms of boxing history are his real rivals, Greb of Pittsburg, Walker of New Jersey, Monzon of Argentina and Hagler of Italy. Despite having fought for twelve championship rounds, it almost comes across as an affront to Hopkins and his flock that Taylor is mentioned in the same sentence as Bernard the Great. They saw no heir apparent, no usurping of a king on the night of July 16, 2004 at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Fans of Hopkins call Jermain Taylor a fraud, a paper champion, echoing the lines of their man, their champion, who remains for them the champion. Almost as an afterthought of disregard, they want everyone to ask themselves: “What has this kid done to deserve being champion?” The question itself a fine disregard of the original fight itself. As December 3rd approaches they have no doubts how the rematch will end, how vengeance shall be brought to bare on Taylor and promoter Lou DiBella … anyone who doesn’t have the back of the true champion.

These fans speak in commands. There is no middle ground. You are either for Hopkins or you are against him – one of them. That’s just how it is when the whole world’s against you; when the other side is blind with fear. They don’t even understand boxing. That’s why Hopkins will knock this pretender out – because he said he would. Logic falls under the direction of the grand imperative: Hopkins will win.

Yes, the vocal constituencies that comprise Bernard Hopkins’ fans base are mad, mad as hell and they want the world to know it. They refuse to concede defeat by collusion or subterfuge; the rematch, in their reckoning, already has a result – a championship regained. Then we will all be able to see the meaning of this man, this champion for the ages. All that emotional investment in the symbol of hard individualism to be reborn, justice restituted.

“Why don’t you see it man?” Those words formed part of a perplexed query from one Hopkins fan from California desperate to understand this writer’s apparent myopia on the subject of Bernard Hopkins. The image of respectability and “true champion” are ancient history it was communicated to me. Indeed, for the most part they are. They go back to the boxing equivalent of cave paintings, the legend of John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett and extend through the segregated Jazz Age ethos of Jack Dempsey, the reconstruction awakenings of Joe Louis and turn into public relations television projections with Rocky Marciano. Thankfully, we are never again obliged to view the great Marciano as the failed baseball player, adoring family man and devoted husband, who sacrificed his body to out worked his generation of heavyweights only to bring financial security and post-war Palm Springs luxury to his loving family.

We now know Marciano was a chronic obsessive, good-natured and generous to his family and friends, but also a money mad exploiter of his own fame, flying about in cargo holds and staying with sycophants, to give speeches or tell stale banquet jokes to Brill Cream hair, gold toothed groupies for cash-only fees and the guarantee of a free hotel room complete with a willing blonde for every night in town. We no longer wrap our sporting heroes in the cloak of inviolate respectability, nor do we need the consoling fictions of middleclass respectability much any more as ethical standardization and codes of behavioral expectation. If there’s a line in the sand of tolerable being, it’s far from anything approaching a gentleman’s agreement or common knowledge.

You can compel all the professional hockey players and basketball players in the known universe to garb themselves as manikins for tolerable viewing, but you cannot make them drink from the milk of human kindness. Hopkins has given as many black eyes as he’s suffered. What’s more, Hopkins’ fans know his faults, can recite most of them from memory, and generally understand the disparity of his words and actions … and they don’t care; for he has survived and prospered, raged and regaled against his own best interests and exploitation equally. Only the larger cartoon of his making of himself into the man of his choosing remains as a defining outline. His natural instinct to hit and hold, scold and reverse himself is not something contradictory to the larger mission of staying a player in the world of boxing.

Hopkins wages his fights and endures, overcomes by any means necessary, just like he learned on the streets of Philadelphia and later in prison. The solitary figure of defiance of his time, his persona a podium and a cell, Hopkins bends only to deflect, circles only to rearm, recites only to demonstrate and endures only to prevail.

“You don’t get Hopkins.” Perhaps not; I am willing to look at all the evidence, trace back the threads which were made into knotting judgments and reanalyze. Still, it’s a sobering and succinct critique upon the literally ten of thousands of words this writer has blotted out over the last seven years on Hopkins. And still it continues this game of accusation and justification, commentary and reporting, assertion and question. Just as it should be!

And remember, dear readers, try and be as patient as possible because we still have the rematch to consider, experience and turn into meanings, myth and musings.

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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