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Articles of 2005

A Legendary Night, Jersey Style



When we spotted the Ringside Lounge in Jersey City, we knew the club show couldn’t be far away. A decision was made that after the fights we’d grab a couple beers at the boxing bar. Little did we know what the place had in store for us.

Sponsored by the promotional company Main Events, last Wednesday night’s card was held at an old German catering hall in North Bergen, NJ called Schuetzen Park, which hasn’t hosted boxing since 1986. The intimate venue would be camera-ready for The Sopranos—and will be ideal for boxing once they remedy the abysmal lighting and sound system. When I realized a familiar-looking mug with a remarkable combover was Carmine Lupertazzi, or, rather, the actor Tony Lip who plays the Brooklyn mob boss on the show, it confirmed life does imitate art.

The show was billed “Back to the Future,” as the promoters pray a successful one lies with the two featured fighters of the evening, welterweight Joel Julio and featherweight Jason Litzau.

It’s no secret Main Events had an unfortunate 2005. Their flagship fighter Arturo Gatti was sliced up by a gloved Ginsu knife in “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather. Welterweight prospect Kermit Cintron wilted under the bright lights of ESPN’s first PPV show, and was summarily dumped by his promoter. The once-hot lightweight Juan Diaz was cut before his match with Ebo Elder, and now has been bereft of TV for almost a year. The preternaturally gifted Francisco Bojado is MIA as far as boxing is concerned, but if you drop by your local KFC, you might find him there. Featherweight Rocky Juarez received a gift decision against Zahir Raheem in ‘04, but then got shellackedon HBO by an unknown Mexican named Humberto Soto.

What anxiety Main Events’ Kathy Duva and Carl Moretti must’ve felt when they signed their new can’t-miss kids?

But this is the business they’ve chosen. And once again they’ve put their faith in the hands of a couple very young men: one of whom can’t have a legal drink in the States, Columbian Joel Julio (24-0, 21 KOs); the other a 22-year-old Minnesotan who couldn’t grow stubble on his chin if you gave him a month, “The American Boy” Jason Litzau (16-0, 14 KOs).

Julio took the stage first. He was in against a fearless Cuban, Hicklet Lau, who is much better than his 19-14-2 record. The journeyman almost always goes the distance with the better 140 and 147 pounders. Against Julio he displayed nimble feet and an elastic torso that initially frustrated the prospect. When caught with a flush shot or trapped in a corner, Lau would grin and rope-a-dope like a young Chris Byrd. He conducted himself with an admirable haughtiness that won over this observer.

Lau’s problem is he can’t punch, and had no way of keeping the other man honest. Julio’s not your average Columbian banger, usually a gritty, game, wild bunch that lack fundamentals. This predator’s well-schooled. He was on balance, applied pressure behind a stiff jab, and patiently closed the distance on Lau.

The right hook from hell that put Lau down in the fourth round is what makes the 20-year-old special. Lau beat the count—still wearing his customary grin upon rising—but Julio’s an instinctive closer. He bulled the opponent into a corner and threw combinations upstairs and downstairs, dropping his man again. Lau got up quickly and wanted to keep fighting. The referee mercifully protected the boxer from himself, halting the bout at 2:11 of the fourth.

If Julio doesn’t pan out, no one should accuse his promoter of incompetence; only that they’re in a business based on educated guesswork, not science.

But as Einstein said, “Things should be made as simple as possible, not any simpler.” Which was the gist of Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker’s advice to Jason Litzau, who desperately tried to lay out Miguel Angel Munguia (15-5-1, 13 KOs) but had to settle for a unanimous decision. The former great implored the kid to stick to basics, while the boxer endeavored to please the crowd and mimic his flashy idol (Whitaker), who famously disregarded convention during his magnificent career.

The special attention paid to the lithe, towheaded slugger would’ve been invaluable, if only Whitaker was in his corner. “Sweet Pea” was sitting ringside, closer to Munguia’s Spanish-speaking team. However, the venue was so small and Whitaker so vociferous, the boxer caught every word. Torn between listening to his trainer, Bob Van Sickle, and the boxing legend a mere 20 feet away, he attempted to satisfy both parties. At the ten-second warning sounding the end of the minute break, “The American Boy” would rise from his stool and move toward Whitaker, who didn’t just talk to the flummoxed fighter but graciously pantomimed his instructions.

Midway through the bout, I tapped Whitaker’s shoulder and asked how long he’s mentored the talented but flawed Litzau.

“I don’t know this guy!?” he bristled, anxious to resume his tutorial. “This is the first time I ever seen him fight. But I think I’m having some type of affect on him.”

“One thing about good Mexican fighters,” Whitaker counseled, “is they take good head shots but they don’t take good body shots. That’s why you gotta stay down low. And he needs to jab. Jab sets up everything. It’s never gonna be effective if your hand stays down low.”

Returning to my seat, I almost tripped over the “Bayonne Bleeder” Chuck Wepner. He was comparatively reticent but must’ve enjoyed one of Litzau’s clever tricks.  Periodically, he’d step on the Mexican’s lead foot, pinning him in place, then unleash a jolting one-two—the same maneuver Wepner employed to down Muhammad Ali 30 years ago.

The sound of the fight crowd still ringing in our ears, TSS’s Robert Ecksel, Bob Mladinich and I dissected the evening over beers at The Ringside Lounge. The bar attracted a tough-looking clientele and was filled with shots of fighters of varying status. A fair share was of Mike Tyson posing with the bar’s Portuguese proprietor, Mario Costa. A short middle-aged man with a mound of black hair, I recognized him inside the bar’s kitchen, fussing over a stew while gnawing on a stubby cigar.

Costa, a genuine boxing insider currently training Sultan Ibragimov, keeps a tiny ramshackle gym adjacent to the bar. For years the Gatti Brothers, Arturo and Joe, lived in the gym’s basement when they were fledgling pros. Costa was Arturo’s advisor before his current manager, Pat Lynch, intervened. Canada’s Hilton brothers also camped in the dwelling, which evokes POW scenes from The Dear Hunter.

Costa offered to give us a tour of the space and regaled us for an hour with boxing stories, many of which are not safe to print—lest someone end up in the weeds by JFK Airport. He regularly co-trains with Carlos “Panama” Lewis, and the two worked with Francois Botha when he fought Tyson. He explained that Tyson gave “The White Buffalo” the payday as a personal favor to him.

Costa joked about the tortured ex-champ’s lustful side or the literal whacks he’s gotten in on Don King, but also described the stuff that never makes it to the tabloids. How Mike often shows up unannounced and has Costa gather the local children for boxing lessons. How the two plot a day when they will expand the gym, get all the lost kids off the streets, and never charge a cent. Costa knows it’s a pipedream, reminding you of George and Lenny’s fabled farm in Of Mice and Men, but it’s something the two fantasize about whenever they meet.

When we exited the gym, Costa wanted to show us one more thing. We walked around the back and swerved clear of an angry pit bull on an unnervingly long leash. We looked up and there it was: a pigeon coop with “Tyson’s corner” inscribed on the door.

Costa takes care of the 600 exotic pigeons while Mike is globetrotting.  He keeps the hut heated through winter and feeds the birds daily. It smelled rank inside, but you grow accustomed to it, and the reverberating coos lull you into a peaceful state.

“Mike sits in here from the break of dawn all through the night,” Costa said. “He don’t leave. I bring meals out to him. He loves it here. He could write a book about every pigeon.”

Main Events will be doing another show at Schuetzen Park in February. Judging from this past one, the fights will be good and the crowd star-studded. But the bonus will come afterwards, when we stop by to see Mario Costa at his Ringside Lounge.

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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