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Articles of 2005

For boxing, here’s the problem … and maybe the solution

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When you run in the kind of circles I do, you realize that a good deal of the serious “grapevine” talk has shifted to the uncertainty of the sport’s future, and what to do about many of those ills that are plaguing the industry, whether it be declining ratings, declining image, or declining financial opportunity.

Until just recently, I lived in Indiana – far from midtown Manhattan and all the people in this business who consider themselves to be sharper than anyone else. Who knows? They might be. Nonetheless, there is still a lot to be learned by listening to plain old Middle Americans.

For example, I’m sitting in a bar one night and I just happen to be overhearing two guys talking about a fight they had seen a couple of nights before. One guy’s talking about the stocky “Eye-talian” kid who looked good early, then went down, and the black guy who didn’t do enough to follow up and wound up losing the fight, and I realize they were talking about Joe Mesi in his bout with Monte Barrett.

Then, in the same conversation, I hear mention of the “big Russian guy” who “looked like a robot” when he knocked out the “black guy who was way out of shape,” and it wasn’t hard to ascertain that they were talking about the Vitali Klitschko-Kirk Johnson fight, which appeared on the same HBO show.

The point is, there was no particular mention of any fighter’s name; all these guys remembered was the spectacle of what they saw, and all they cared about was the degree to which they were amused or entertained.

I can guarantee you they’re not unique.

Something hit me when I heard that conversation – something I’m sure I was well aware of, but wasn’t able to completely put my finger on or articulate quite so clearly. Essentially, it’s this: It’s not about WHO’S fighting, because one guy’s pretty much like another, to most people anyway. What it’s really about is producing enough action, enough competition, to keep people interested, at a time when there are seemingly hundreds of other choices on a TV dial, and plenty of other things to do, including staying home, in an average American city on an average weekend night.

Sure, when I say people don’t care about who’s fighting, there are some exceptions – but those are the competitors who are truly special. People take delight in the idea of “discovering” something or someone who is indeed out of the ordinary. Fans undoubtedly showed a great deal of interest in watching the career ascensions of a Sugar Ray Leonard or an Oscar De la Hoya, fighters who were pre-sold to them through participation in the Olympics, who were aggressively marketed to the public very early in their careers and, most importantly, turned out to be the “real thing.” There are other cases like them, to varying degrees, but they are few and far between. As far as the not-so-special guys are concerned (a group which encompasses just about everyone else), the general public is rather indifferent. For the most part, people don’t give a damn about the mechanism a promoter uses in building a fighter’s career, with possible exceptions residing in the effect fighters like Mesi, Todd Foster, Virgil Hill or Paul Spadafora have had in their local markets.

What it comes down to is that rabid boxing fans will probably watch anything a promoter puts out there. You don’t have to do a massive sales job to get their business. But if you were a boxing promoter and you were counting on rabid fans to constitute the lion’s share of your audience you are quickly going to starve. To keep the rank-and-file fan – the one who works all week long, doesn’t follow the twists and turns of the boxing soap opera, doesn’t scour the internet looking at boxing websites, but who just wants to sit on the couch with the beverage of his choice on a Friday or Saturday night and watch some guys pounding on each other – you have to ENTERTAIN. You have to enthrall. You have to understand that the viewer has a remote control device in his hand that puts a lot of television channels at his disposal, and that if the viewer is like most people, he’s liable to use it at any time.

You’d have to have a sensitivity to that.

I hear people point to all the boxing on TV as evidence that the sport is healthy. But one of the reasons is that in terms of fresh programming, boxing is relatively cheap to produce when compared to other live events. Besides, with the advent of digital cable and satellite services, there’s much more of everything on television, so making those kinds of quantitative comparisons is largely irrelevant.

Let me tell you what the REAL acid test is. It’s when fights of at least some significance can be held, on a regular basis, in every region of the country, WITHOUT the benefit of television money, and still manage to operate in the black.

That’s when you know you’ve got a healthy industry.

I know a lot of promoters. Some of them are good people. Some of them are not. Most of them are clever. Some are not as clever as they think. But the vast majority of them have one thing in common: they are self-absorbed about the way they look at their business, and the industry in general. Since there are few superstars, most of the “house” fighters they control are not going to truly grab the public’s imagination under any circumstances, no matter what the promoter does or what he thinks. And so, the windfall does not involve putting on any particular event, or satisfying any particular demand, but in making a payday with a fighter when his record gets to a particular point, and many times that payday is going to occur on someone else’s card, on someone else’s dime.

Talk about a vicious cycle. In response to what they recognize as a declining market in the sport of boxing, which constitutes more risk in what they do, promoters have, over the past couple of decades, taken more and more control over the fighter’s career, leaving the manager out in the cold or in effect commandeering that role de facto by virtue of the installation of a “beard” in that position. They also act as glorified booking agents in extracting fees that are often disproportionate when their fighter appears on a card they are not promoting. All of this, of course, is carried out in the name of “protecting their position.” The funny thing is, this kind of role shift has, directly or residually, contributed to the prolongation of the sport’s rather torpid status in the overall landscape.

Because the promoter has now assumed a certain vested interest in a fighter, and a degree of control over that fighter’s career path — control he has pro-actively sought and covets – the ideal of the promoter’s objective and the reality of that objective come into sharp contrast with each other. The concern becomes not to entertain fans, not to make matches with the fighter to accomplish that end, but in implementing a methodical approach to padding the fighter’s record, which in many cases not only does NOT entertain, but rather, evolves into an exercise in self-indulgence.

The major misconception on the part of promoters, in the process of what they perceive to be enhancing the value of their own “assets” (the fighters), is that the public is just as interested in following that fighter’s “climb to the middle” as they are, and will be patient enough to sit around and wait until that happens.

The fact is the promoter cares about that kind of thing a heck of a lot more than the public does. And this sport has not experienced its greatest success with “force-feeding.”

The public wants to see a good fight; the pattern most promoters have fallen into is one which is not designed around “utility”, i.e., satisfaction of a consumer demand, but instead around a particular agenda, which means something only to them.

Without naming names, look at those cases where a fighter, who may have nothing in the way of a style the public has demonstrated they want to see, loses a title bout, in rather unceremonious fashion, then comes right back for ANOTHER championship fight, without having scored a meaningful win to earn himself that shot, where it could be argued that neither merit nor public demand necessarily mandated that he receive another title opportunity. I would suggest that in terms of public demand, it may be quite the contrary. So, in effect, his reappearance was forced upon the public, as if to say, “Here he is again, whether you like it or not.” Obviously, he was there because he had the right connections and the sanctioning body was willing. The promoter had the most use for him because he had the fighter solidly under contract and completely within his control. Of course, these motivations produce something that is not a reaction to demand but instead a REPUDIATION of demand. And cases similar to that are only going to alienate the very fans this industry should be trying to embrace.

Is anyone in this business concerned about that?

How many promoters out there would actually acknowledge it?

Sometimes there is a miscalculation between what a live audience may want and what the TV audience cares about. You have certain fighters who may be able to sell tickets in a particular area, but who otherwise offer nothing extraordinary to a wider audience. There is a clearly defined place for a fighter like that, and it’s LOCAL. Yet, on television, the fighter is continually matched in main events or semi-finals with opponents who are mediocre and/or “shot,” for the sole purpose of building him, albeit artificially, into a legitimate entity. But while that might work in Dover, it doesn’t necessarily work in Denver, Duluth, Des Moines, Detroit, Denton or Daytona Beach. And to assume that solely because a fighter is white the public at large will continue to roll over for substandard matches is an affront to that viewership.

Boxing has made a habit of insulting its audience that way; of taking its wants and needs for granted, and that’s a problem.

How does it happen? Well, in this day and age, boxing has evolved into a sport that is supported, on its most substantial levels, by two institutions – the television industry and the casino industry. What develops as a result is that instead of having a business model in which it must satisfy thousands of customers, and tailor its product accordingly, promoters have only two customers – the television programming executive and the casino marketing executive.

Those promoters – who in terms of function could correctly be characterized as “packagers” –  have become insulated from having to deal directly with the public. You really can’t disparage them for wanting to go into a venture risk-free, but along the way a natural disconnect develops. And because many promoters are in effect acting more in the role of “manager,” their goal in dealing with a TV network may be to put on the LEAST competitive fight they can get away with, rather than aspiring to put on the BEST possible matchup for the audience.

Then, at a point where the television outlets dry up a little bit (as what happened with ESPN and Fox cutting back on rights fees and/or eliminating shows), or the casino market softens, a promoter, who is used to conducting business under a specific formula, gets lost. And a sense of panic sets in.

That panic may get even worse because one potential conundrum for promoter-packagers is that casinos are generally interested in TV, and absent an abundance of available television dates, the casinos get less interested. Alternative revenue sources certainly have to be developed.

In order to survive, and for the sport to move ahead, promoters are probably going to need to learn, or re-learn, the art of selling tickets. There is a serious lack of people in this business with appreciable experience in actually getting people to march up to the ticket window and pull cash out of pocket again and again to watch boxing shows.

Honestly, how many “major” promoters do you know of who can demonstrate a consistent, and recent, track record in terms of doing that? Clearly, as cable television is no longer going to be a reliable cash cow, any so-called “promoters summit,” as Lou DiBella once called for, would have to include people who can come in and impart some of their wisdom in that area.

Granted, from time to time we see “superfights” that meet with wide response from the public at live venues and on pay-per-view. But those aren’t the fights that are happening every day, every week, every month. Those are not the events that can, in and of themselves, sustain this business. We are losing the “middle” fast, and at some point the promotional “community” needs to wake up and realize that it had better cultivate another source of income – live gate money – or else promoters are going to be faced with a serious crisis, if they haven’t encountered it already.

The future of this industry does not necessarily involve getting ESPN, or Fox, or Showtime, or any other network to subsidize more shows, but in being able to change the business model in order to accommodate the creation of new opportunities. That means the cultivation of sponsors. It means making the product more fan-friendly. It means putting together a TV production on your own and making it pay for itself. The mindset has to edge away – at least to an extent – from a major emphasis on promotional contracts, and has to shift more toward an attitude that is more responsive to the actual audience.

I was on a guest panel at the IBF convention last year as we were discussing the future of boxing. The tunnel vision was evident; there was a lot of blame directed toward television entities for not getting involved to a greater degree with the sport. A promoter, who to my knowledge has never sold a ticket in his life, stepped up to the microphone and even went so far as to accuse the networks of being racist because they were “depriving young men of the opportunity to get off the streets and straighten out their lives.” Nobody was looking inward to examine how they were marketing – or NOT marketing, as it were – their product to the general populace. One matchmaker from a major promotional organization offered the suggestion that the lack of participation from broadcast networks has hindered “what we need to succeed in this business, which is to develop stars.”

I agreed with him about 5%. As for the other 95%, I thought he was barking up the wrong tree.

Much more important than developing stars, who have a relatively short career span, is to develop fans, who endure, as long as you put a respectable product in front of them.

When my friend Scott Wagner tells me over and over again, “The commodity in this business is not the fighter, it’s the fan,” he knows what of he speaks.

Fighters come and go, but if you’re a promoter and your FANS are going more than coming, you’ve got trouble. If you do the right thing, you’re going to keep fans interested. If not, you’re going to lose them. It’s that simple.

Wagner, who operates Ballroom Boxing out of Glen Burnie, MD, has a keen sense of what his audience wants, which is something I became aware of before I even knew him. His is a different attitude toward the promotion of boxing than most people I have met. In terms of where I feel this game is headed, at least for the “mid-level” promoter, I think he’s already there.

The promoter who will succeed on that level in this day and age has a hands-on attitude toward his shows, values his live, paying customers first, knows how to integrate his revenue streams, and has, step by step, put together his own television distribution network, to make him less reliant – in fact, independent – of fee-paying network deals that could disappear overnight. As far as live events are concerned, this is the model that promoters would be well advised to duplicate everywhere, because nothing would make the foundation of boxing more solid than to have a strong ongoing club show program in every major city in America.

Relative to the dynamic under which the industry currently operates, Wagner’s group truly exercises some “outside the box” thinking, so to speak, but at the same time finds itself going back to some values from a time long passed in boxing, values we may want to embrace again –that is, to think about the fans first, and not have a financial interest in fighters that can get in the way of the quality of the show.

It’s an approach that, for some, is well-worth considering.

(Much of the substance of this story has appeared previously on the website BoxingInsider.com. Author’s note: Little has changed since then.)

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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