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Articles of 2005

Boxing’s Dia de los Muertos



It was El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, a time in these southwestern parts where many pronunciations and traditions honor the deceased. It is usually a vibrant celebration of both life, and life no more.

Tucson has a parade, a Mardi Gras-type procession of costumed hundreds, in tributes and tears meant to deal with grief, and symbolically let beloved spirits move on. Strange magic floats about the crowded, merry line of tuxedoed skeletons. A figure in a hooded boxing robe came toward me and stopped at the curb. It’s eyes looked familiar in a thousand ways. The specter wore a pair of frayed sparring gloves, and raised them into the hazy beyond.

I found myself on a familiar though clouded road, leading to Nevada. A thick mist surrounded me. At first I thought it was smoke from my cigar, which I was unaware of holding. As the air along the blacktop grayed and thickened, I understood the cloud was actually an expanding puff of scattered ashes.

Somehow, I saw a winding highway that stretched past tributes to the greater fistic family. Roadside, fresh shrines to the dead became greater in size and number. Beyond the sky somewhere a bell chimed a ten-count. The wind carried a torn fight poster.

Some call this time All Souls Day. Meals are prepared for the Spirits. Cookies left by the graveside. I rolled by memorials from the soul of boxing. Many had not come to a good end, inherent tragedy a mortal truth few escape.

In this realm, only names and records were left behind. When you came in or when you went out didn’t matter. It’s what got done between first and final bells, while you were here.

Eddie Futch was someone who left this scene well. I got to hang around the dignified, cheerful Futch during the days Riddick Bowe was on his way up. Friends and family threw Futch a great birthday party before he died. Smokin’ Joe was there and I was told Quincy Jones handled the music. Either way, Futch held a festive farewell court, and the jazz that night was some of the best I’ve ever heard.

One of Futch’s contemporaries, Albert “Beto” Martinez, also went to that big gym in the sky. Beto trained Nico Perez, who fell short in a 1979 title shot against Wilfredo Gomez and provided many of Tucson’s wayward kids with an alternative to dead end lives. His funeral looked like a southwestern trainer’s convention.

Jerome Blanton, Sports Editor of the Arizona Informant, one of the too few African American newspapers, was another who left many behind who understood the planet was a better place while he was on it. Jerome may have been the sweetest guy on press row.

If not Jerome it was generous Albuquerque writer Carlos Salazar, who embodied peace of mind. Carlos lost part of his leg in WWII but it never slowed him down and he never complained about anything, like getting seated in the bleachers when undeserving goons got better credentials. He didn’t have an ego like most of us bums, either. After he died I heard Carlos broke the Ali/Clay draft refusal story. Many would still be patting themselves on the back.

Jimmy Young was a hard luck fighter who’s passing from health problems could have been noted more. Young lost a split decision to Eddie Richardson in the first main event I covered. Along the way he helped revitalize the boxing scene around here for a little while. The thing I remember most about Jimmy was how he befriended the hotel maintenance and housekeeping staff. His career was almost over, but while in Arizona, Young was a fine ambassador.

Announcer Chuck Hull was a booming voice in big-time boxing before fans got ready to rumble. His wonderful monotone “Ladies and Gentlemen, the time…” or “And the new…” enhanced many classic fights of the ‘80s.

Jack Welsh, sportswriter, introduced me to many of the finest characters I met in Vegas. I got to know folks like the renowned scribe Jim Murray, an encyclopedia of L.A. sports history, John Hodges, sweetheart publisher, and Hall of Famer Ike Williams, the old school hero who seemed to embody a timeless dignity. They are all gone now. In many travels, the fights were supplemental. I went to Vegas to see Jack, who had become adopted family.

For some, there were too many hard times to carry on, without even a break between rounds. I hope they found peace.

Scott “Pink Cat’ Walker, was a Phoenix urban cowboy type who gave his offbeat nickname dignity (it was based on his love of ‘50s-style bop). Walker could play some decent sock hop piano, and fight a little bit too. He beat an ancient Alexis Arguello and got stopped by Julio Cesar Chavez. He found some temporary glory, but personal defeats were tougher to handle than A-rated foes. Walker counted himself out in a lonely house. Maybe he could have hung on if he saw all the sincere mourners who showed up for memorial services.

Tony Trundlich was a Vegas boxing guy who managed some fringe fighters and oversaw various small promotional ventures. Whatever the scene was, it got too heavy and he checked out for the millennium. I heard he was a Vietnam veteran, maybe another misused casualty that never got recognized.

Mitch Halpern, a Mr. Nice Guy, was one of the top referees in the business and handled many of Vegas’s biggest fights in the ‘90s. He pulled the trigger with a young daughter in the next room. Some men take mysteries with them.

I met George Francis while he was in Arizona training Frank Bruno for the first Tyson fight. Foolishly, I had been conned into asking Bruno about rumors that he had gay tendencies. Bruno freaked out. Francis restrained him. I laugh now, but needed new underwear at the time. I ran into them in an empty casino at dawn a couple days before Bruno’s second Tyson debacle. They hugged and mock-kissed to remind me of my folly. Bruno seemed so confident this time I thought he had a chance. In the end, there weren’t enough laughs for Francis, who hung himself a few years back. I hope Francis’s spirit protects his troubled charge.

The hardened but happy faces of Arizona standard bearers like Steve Eisner and Kenny Queen begin to blur.

My unearthly ride changed, at the speed of life. I was in a flashback, cursing stuck traffic on the way to the Staples Center, hoping to see Brian Viloria on the Chavez Adios card in Los Angeles. I barely missed the contest and found that Viloria’s opponent, Ruben Contreras, was in a life-threatening coma. Luckily he came out of it. I was glad to have missed that bout. I’ve never seen a fatal fight and pray things stay that way. Robert Wangila and Leavander Johnson are the only fighters I’m aware of I saw fight who subsequently died while working in the ring to which they gave everything. Even the connection haunts me.

I wished I could pull over and seek out the spirits. Hear the voice of John L. Sullivan. Let Jack Johnson know how recognition finally caught up to him. Tell guys like Joe Louis what enduring class they had, maybe ask Rocky Marciano if all that money was still lying around. See if Sonny Liston felt like sharing what really happened in his final hours. Light a candle for Salvador Sanchez, and ease my foot off the accelerator.

Maybe the ghosts would have some questions of their own, like “what’s going on in the fight game today?” I’d try to explain why there are so many belts, how other sports eclipsed the dukes in the eyes of mainstream sports fans. I wonder if any of my news would sound good. At least the game lives on.

Driving to Sin City, over the valley from Henderson, the music is usually loud. The approaching horizon grows with mega-resort silhouettes. I start to see images, like I always do, of those whom have passed on, but who stopped by this mortal arena for a while. Bless them and all their comrades.

One way or another they were all involved in a strange, glorious scenario laced with danger, as in death. Maybe that’s what makes boxing such a precious slice of life. That doesn’t mean everyone else still involved, like me and you and those on the business end, can’t help make it better for the guys who do the hardest part; who contemplate actually being killed or incapacitated instead of just worrying about watching it. All participants deserve better regarding safety, insurance, and retirement.

On the road back from Vegas is Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery, at the edge of Boulder City. Those still walking around here pay big bucks for the view. I leave souvenirs from the fights at the gravesite of Jack Welsh, USMC. I stand in contemplation, thoughts of family and friends who passed away. I pray for the fighters both here and somewhere else, hopefully better.

Had the Klitschko – Rahman affair come off, I’d have seen the flags put up for Veteran’s Day. It’s a bittersweet comfort to know those flags will still be there, long after I’m gone with my trinkets. Maybe the cliché about those we keep in our hearts and minds living on through us are friendly ghosts after all.

I might cry about that at the graveyard, but I will not be sad.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More



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

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




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



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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