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Articles of 2005

Hopkins Heals the Sick

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Listening to Bernard Hopkins is like taking a trip into a vast spectacular unknown. You stand in line, pay your money, get a ticket, grab a seat, and hope the airbags don’t fail. The former middleweight champ enters a room and words gush forth in a cascade of coherent paragraphs. You can either stop, look and listen or you can duck and cover, but when Hopkins has the floor he owns the house.

Hopkins’ tough guy business, from which he’ll soon retire, and his tough guy history, which will tail him forever, have morphed over time into a thing of grace. Hopkins is no longer a pug or prizefighter, no longer a gladiator or mere champ. Hopkins is now a genus of genius, a hole in one, a grand slam, this thing unto himself.

In the buildup to the rematch between the current reigning undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor and the challenger and former champ Bernard Hopkins, the fighters and their handlers hit New York– and Gotham is still reeling.

Jermain Taylor has the belts. He’s a good fighter, nice guy, country kid, church going; plus he’s middleweight king of the world. But Taylor, for all his gifts, is a pup in the word department – especially against a wordslinger like Hopkins. Taylor’s learned to play to the crowd to some effect – and for which Hopkins, to his credit, takes the credit – but Jermain goes belly-up against the master showman, the press conference virtuoso, that cat with the bag of tricks named Bernard Hopkins.

Hopkins, looking relaxed in a dark sport coat and white shirt open at the collar, sat at one of the circular tables on the dance floor at the Copa in midtown Manhattan. With the smell of catered food wafting through the air, he fielded questions with deft certainty, always one step ahead of the writers, able to silence the already silenced majority with words followed by words followed by more words.

Sometime later Hopkins sat on the dais with Jermain Taylor and Oscar De La Hoya, patiently waiting his turn to speak. When his name was called and he took to the podium, Bernard was in his element. He was like a king in his court, like a preacher exhorting his flock, like a politician finessing votes, like a shaman come to the big city to heal the sick of body and mind. He was all-knowing, all-seeing, all-talking all Bernard Hopkins all the time.

“I’m not here to say I’m gonna do this earlier, I’m gonna do that earlier,” Hopkins said. “The only thing I can say is that, knowing the circumstances, the only thing that I didn’t do was finish Jermain Taylor when I had him on Queer Street, as least two to three times, whether it was the seventh round, whether it was the eighth round, whether it was the ninth round, or whether it was one of those rounds where it could have easily been a 10-8 or 10-9 round. That’s the only thing that I say to myself that I need to work on.

“Everything from round 1 through 12 was perfectly executed by Bernard Hopkins.”

It’s not surprising that Hopkins thinks he got a raw deal when he fought Taylor last summer. It’s in keeping with Hopkins’ character. It’s in keeping with boxing’s character.

“The only thing I want to say clear to everybody is that Jermain Taylor got the victory, but Jermain Taylor didn’t actually beat Bernard Hopkins. It was the system – it could be a judge, it could be a particular person, but it was always something – that I always told everyone that cared to listen to always watch out for.”

Some people insist Hopkins is delusional, that he lost the first fight with Taylor as emphatically as Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000, but The Executioner knows better, and does his darnedest to set the record straight

“It’s because of what I established,” he said, alluding to the fact that he’s self-managed and never sold his soul to a promoter, “which I never regret and won’t regret, that it gets to the point where you’ve got an industry champion, or a future industry champion, heir apparent, I must understand that there’ a lot at stake, a lot involved, with who shoulda won and who shouldn’t have won. And that will ultimately reflect July 16. If you just deal with the last round, that could easily have made it a draw. But that to me would have been a robbery. A rape was given to Jermain Taylor.”

Hopkins is as gifted with words as he is with his fists – it’s hard to make rape allusions poetic – but bitterness doesn’t eat at his being.

“It’s over,” Hopkins said about the loss to Taylor in fight one. “I’m at peace. This is something, if you’ve been following Bernard Hopkins, you will understand: that I’m at my very best when it comes to proving a point, not only to show that I’m the better fighter and the better athlete at 40 and a half years old, that I’m at my best, but I know I gotta beat the system again. If you followed my history, you gotta clue what I’m saying.”

There’s little more satisfying than playing by the rules and beating the system at its own game, and that’s a fight Hopkins took on and scored big. (Hopkins fought the law and Hopkins won.) But does he have what it takes at the tail end of his career to decisively beat Jermain Taylor?

“I [took] a chance to expose the system of what I was accused of being paranoid of; and now that I’m on my way out I get to destroy their heir apparent … And my history shows that everybody that got into the ring with me twice, either their careers went south or they retired out of boxing: Antoine Echols, Robert Allen, Segundo Mercado, Joe Lipsey. Must I say more? It’s not always the best thing in life to go through the minefields with B-Hop the second time around.”

Despite Hopkins’ bluster, he respects the man he faces Saturday night.

“You respect competition to be respected,” The Executioner said. “To not respect someone is like to say a person don’t have the ability to take you out. I mean, even in the streets you gotta respect a guy that he could possibly have a gun hidden under his jacket or tucked in his pants.”

Living in the tranquil (and tax-friendly) environs of Delaware hasn’t inured Hopkins to the dangers of the street, the dangers of the life, the dangers of the boxing.

“I think that part of this system is Duane Ford – who I believe made a mistake on the 12th round alone – voting … But I believe he exposed what was already being done, and that was his way of showing what was being done. I thank Duane Ford for showing the subterfuge and deceit that was laid out prior to my getting into the ring. It’s like a body, a corpse, so to speak, and the people try to find this smell and this stench, that sometimes even a dead person can speak. I think Duane Ford being a live person spoke through the vote, that people can understand why they didn’t give me the 12th round. I think Duane Ford was secretly, or indirectly, exposing what was already made out prior to my getting in the ring. So I thank Duane Ford. I thank Duane Ford for the second opportunity hopefully to make a substantial amount of money to go to my 401K. I thank Duane Ford for exposing that Bernard Hopkins wasn’t this radical, paranoid guy that think somebody’s out trying to get him.”

The fight called “No Respect” will be broadcast this Saturday, December 3, on HBO pay-per-view, live from the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

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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