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Articles of 2005

Andre Rozier Is Wreaking Havoc

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Last Friday night the unthinkable happened to one of Andre Rozier’s protégés. Super middleweight Jaidon Codrington, the brightest prospect in New York, was knocked out in 18 seconds by Allan Green. It was supposed to be his unveiling before a national audience on ShoBox, but instead the 9-0 boxer-slugger found himself unconscious for roughly three minutes.

As awful as the knockout was, the pandemonium that followed as the fighter lay on his back, helpless to the world, was worse. Besides the fact he could have been trampled by those storming the ring, the emotional overload from his people was hard to watch—and impossible not to. It was a display of love, grief, shock, fright, anguish, and more love.  Members of Codrington’s family and camp lay next to him on the canvas trying to coax him back to consciousness with sympathetic words and sobs. “I love you, J! I love you, J! I love you, J!”

But a fighter is a solitary figure, ultimately facing his trials alone.

The unthinkable happens frequently in boxing. This was the underlying message of Andre Rozier’s discussion over dinner recently in downtown Manhattan. Rozier is Codrington’s co-trainer at the Starrett City Boxing Club in Brooklyn. He is also the head trainer of Jaidon’s still-undefeated stablemates, Joe Greene (6-0) and Curtis Stevens (9-0), and trains several blue-chip amateurs. The 41-year-old is a daily presence in their lives, a combination of a drill sergeant and a tough love parent.

“When we’re preparing for combat, it’s business time,” Rozier said, ordering a soy-based vegetarian dish and not the bloody steak one might expect. “I don’t want any joking, I don’t want any downtime, I don’t want any playing.”

The grave attitude Rozier instills in his fighters is his attempt to ensure the unthinkable won’t happen. Usually it doesn’t.

“We utilize aggressive techniques to win our battles. We commit to lots of attacks, we keep our number of punches up—combinations win fights. And you must always be tenacious. Always.”

Contrary to the trainer’s teachings, Codrington allowed Green to lock him in his corner and force the 21-year-old into a defensive role. That wasn’t Starrett City boxing, and Rozier couldn’t have liked what he saw.

For those of us who have only known fighters charging out of Rozier’s corner and doing the bullying, it was disconcerting. One can only imagine how Codrington felt, being the real green man, facing an equally skilled opponent but with nearly twice as many bouts (now 18-0, 12 KOs).

Rozier came to my attention in the late ‘90s, from following the local amateur boxing scene. If you heard a kid from “Coney Island Strong Brothers” might be fighting, you took on the motto of the United States Postal Service. (Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stopped me from getting lost in far-flung neighborhoods that made Beirut look quaint.) A trio of “Strong Brothers”—lightweight Charles Vanderveer, middleweight Joe Greene, and light heavyweight Curtis Stevens—began their tutelage under Rozier not long after getting toilet-trained, and by the time they were 18 had an estimated combined record of 450- 20 (with a ton knockouts).

When these fighters began turning pro, Rozier moved camp from Coney Island to the East New York section of Brooklyn, where Starrett City is located. The gym, teeming with talent, is becoming a modern day version of Detroit’s Kronk, the boxing factory that during its golden age in the ‘70s and ‘80s cranked out champions like a Ford assembly line.

Of course, Codrington’s horrible crash will reverberate throughout Starrett City. This low-slung cinderblock dungeon buried beneath a garage has only known success lately. Along with Rozier’s aforementioned young roughnecks, WBA welterweight titlist Luis Collazo (26-1), junior welterweight Dmitriy Salita (23-0), featherweight Gary Stark Jr. (12-0), and elite amateurs William Rosinsky, Daniel Jacobs, Anthony Irons, and Saddam Ali all ply their trade there. If the fallen star doesn’t recapture his past glory, the fertile sweat-pit has capable understudies ready to fill in.

Everyone who enters this gym is on speaking terms with adversity, however. They all come from the roughest parts of Brooklyn and Queens, and were drawn to the hardest game for a reason. Rozier is no exception.

“You learn how to fight or you learn how to run,” Rozier chuckled, speaking of growing up in Brownsville, where his dynamo nephew Curtis Stevens still lives. Stevens dons a “B-Ville” bandana when he enters the ring, and it’s not simply local pride that elicits cheers from his neighborhood fans, but an acknowledgement that here is a clean living, driven, disciplined brother—something rarely broadcasted about his demographic.

Rozier once thought he was destined for fistic stardom, too. Before he was old enough to compete in the Golden Gloves, he had compiled a record of 52-2. He was a light heavyweight, about the same size he is now. His two losses only came when he was drained from dropping down to middleweight. When he was of age for the Gloves and took the physical, he failed—high blood pressure. He took the physical a week later, and failed again.

“I thought I was going to be world champion. I thought I was one of the few who had what it took. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.”

Rozier examined the steaming dish placed before him, described as Creole chicken, but is actually a tofu creation flavored to taste like the real thing. He thinks that his high blood pressure was due to stress, but still decided to become a vegetarian. The vegetarian restaurant he chose, Red Bamboo, is one of his favorite places to unwind after doing 24 straight rounds of grueling pad work for his charges.

He left boxing for three years after failing his medical. But a kid who lived in his building wanted to learn how to box, and Andre started taking him to the gym. Since then, over 20 years later, Rozier hasn’t been able to resist the smell of liniment and sweat, the sound of leather on bone.

“I’m a teacher, and I like to guide my students. I was slated to be a trainer.”

Boxing has been his one true love, an obsession that never abates. 

“My passion for the sport is so, so great. I remember when Ali was boxing on TV, I used to sneak around, grab a glimpse, because it was past my bedtime. But I’d peak around the corner and watch Ali. And I’d always say, ‘I wish I could be like that. I want to be like Muhammad Ali.’”

A roll call of his other favorite fighters includes Joe Frazier, Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Azumah Nelson, Aaron Pryor. “The list goes on and on,” he said. “I watch every boxing match I can see. If there was 24 hours of boxing on TV, I’d be watching it.”

His fighters don’t share his lust for the sport, Andre said. They’ll catch the big fights, but would rather be doing the fighting themselves. Rozier understands that not everyone can be like him. He’s like that PhD candidate who never intends on getting his degree because it’s the learning that makes him tick.

His dedication to boxing notwithstanding, Rozier has other sides to him that cause you to do a double take.

“I’ve been sewing since I was 12 years old,” he said.

When he was growing up, custom tailors displayed their wares in front of their stores. It was an urban phenomenon, he explained, mainly catering to black and Hispanic youth.

“I wanted some of that special gear, I wanted tailor-made clothing. They had elaborate pants with zipper pockets, sharp materials like Aberdeen wool, stuff like that. It was really cool. But it was very expensive. Back then, tailor-made slacks were $50.”

Rozier said his family was middle class—albeit by Brownsville standards—and never wanted for anything. But the idea of mom parting with $50 so the 6th grader could have special pants was not happening.

If Rozier were to look like he just walked off the set of “Superfly,” his duds would have to be literally homespun. He asked his grandmother, an accomplished seamstress, if she would serve as his tailor. She declined but offered to teach him how to sew.

“She showed me how to cut, how to stitch, how to put fabric together, how to make sure your clothing was going together piece by piece,” he said. “I can still remember the first pair of pants I made. Oh my God, how grotesque they were! But, I made them.”

Nine months later he was putting money in his pocket, doing jobs for the tailors whose designs he used to ogle.

“By the time I entered high school,” he said, “I was the best dressed cat around. Every night I would make something. I would go to the material store; I’d have pants the next day. I had fifty pairs of pants in my closet. I was a fly guy, low-key and smooth. But the clothing does help. It gave me more savoir fair.”

A pragmatist, Rozier eventually married his two main pastimes, boxing and fashion. Thus was born his boxing apparel company Havoc Enterprises. When he isn’t instructing fighters at Starrett City, he’s likely at the New Jersey headquarters of Havoc. All of his fighters are outfitted in his glitzy designs, as well as some of the biggest names in the industry. When Diego Corrales entered the ring for his ballyhooed rematch against Jose Luis Castillo, he was resplendent in Havoc gear, which included a black cape that would be the envy of Batman. Fighters are increasingly wearing Havoc over the more established brands like Everlast, Grant, and Spartan.

The trajectories of his fighters’ careers and his apparel company have been skyrocketing in tandem.

“Everything is coming together,” said Rozier, who wore humble baggy sweats at dinner, reminding me of a gifted boxer who will throw easy combinations at half-speed when shadowboxing—they’ve got nothing to prove. The only item that stuck out was a “Mean Joe Greene” T-shirt of his own making.

Complimenting the clever advertising campaign on his chest, I shifted the conversation back to his litter pit-bull fighters, and Codrington’s upcoming fight. Rozier said that while he’s taught them to hunt down opponents with brutal efficiency, he always prays that no one involved gets seriously hurt.

It was implied when he said, “No one involved,” that he was referring not to his fighter but the other guy. At the time, it was almost unthinkable that on November 5th, Jaidon Codrington, the brightest prospect in New York, would need our prayers.

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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