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Articles of 2006

Jack Cruz Control

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Jack R. Cruz, who managed former light heavyweight contender Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez for his entire career – and was also his father-in-law – passed away on December 9th at his home in Stockton, California. He was 82-years-old and had been battling congestive heart failure and a host of related ailments for several years.

At his side when he died were several family members, including Lopez, who Cruz once told me was “the best son-in-law anyone could ever ask for.” Lopez’s wife Beno (Beatrice) was one of Cruz’s five children. His only son, John L., was killed in a motorcycle accident several years ago.

“He was so sick, it was almost a blessing,” Cruz’s daughter Judy told The (Stockton) Record. “After he took his last breath, he looked 20 years younger. He went so peacefully. He took one breath and sailed off. He lived a full life. He instilled a lot of values in us. None of us were rich or famous or doctors or lawyers, but he instilled morals and a closeness and [healthy] competitiveness.”

Several years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Cruz, and he left an indelible impression on me. I was in California’s Central Valley on personal business when I decided to look up Lopez. Somehow I got a phone number for Cruz, who told me to come by his home anytime. Unlike any other sport, boxing people are like that.

Whenever that was, Cruz said, Lopez would be easily accessible. He lived directly across the street from him, and spent at least a few hours a day caring for him.

The day I visited is one I will never forget. Although Cruz was in failing health, he had a bear-like friendliness that enveloped you. Just as he said, Lopez came by minutes after my arrival. He was soon followed by Hank Pericle – a dead ringer for the Paulie Walnuts character on The Sopranos television show, and Benny Casing, a former featherweight fighter.

I’ve written about a lot of subjects over the years, but the emotional bond I developed with this foursome was inexplicable. There was an innate decency and integrity about all of them. They broke each other’s balls incessantly, but the love under the laughter was readily apparent.

Cruz and Pericle had known each other since they were kids, and Lopez and Casing had known them for over three decades. In fact, all had appeared together in the classic boxing film Fat City, which was filmed in Stockton when it still contained a classically seedy Skid Row consisting of transient hotels, pool halls, bootleg fight venues, gambling dens, labor camps, and brothels.

“Jack was a real Morey Amsterdam type of guy,” said the 80-year-old Pericle who, like Cruz, served in the South Pacific during World War II. (In 2004, Pericle received a long overdue Purple Heart for injuries he incurred during a kamikaze attack on the U.S.S. Lamson. At the time of the incident, he refused the Purple Heart because he was afraid that the news of him receiving one would kill his mother.)

“He always remembered jokes and was great with one-liners,” Pericle continued. “Some jokes he must have told me 100 times, and I always laughed. You couldn’t help but laugh around him. He was a larger-than-life character.”

Cruz, who was a cabinet maker by trade, always had a passion for boxing. He was a small-time promoter when his teenaged daughter Beno began dating the gangly Lopez, a native of Zacatecas, Mexico, whose dreams of becoming a bullfighter were dashed when his right leg was gored by a bull.

“I remember thinking that at 6’2”, he was tall for a Mexican,” said Cruz, who was of Irish and Mexican descent. “Albert (the anglicized version of Alvaro) was so green, the first time I put him in the ring he was walking around looking for the gate to get out.”

However, Cruz saw a lot of raw talent in his daughter’s suitor. He soon took him to a nearby Indian reservation for his first amateur fight. When asked what tribe Lopez belonged to, the quick-thinking Cruz responded “Yaqui.”

“That was the only name I could think of,” he said. “Albert has been known as Yaqui ever since.”

Under Cruz’s stewardship, Lopez learned his trade by fighting against inmates in penitentiary smokers. At 19-years-old the young prospect not only married Beno, he also turned professional.

Nobody would have guessed that Lopez would become one of the most popular fighters of the seventies and early eighties. His fights were as thrilling as those involving Arturo Gatti today.

Campaigning from 1972-84, he compiled a 63-15 (40 KOs) record against such championship caliber competition as John Conteh, Victor Galindez (twice), Mike Rossman, Matthew Saad Muhammad (twice), Michael Spinks, S.T. Gordon, and Carlos DeLeon. Four times he fought for a world title, and four times he came up short.

“Hell, Yaqui arguably won at least two, possibly three, of those fights,” said veteran California official Marty Sammon, who was referring to a split decision loss to Conteh in Denmark and two decision losses to Galindez in Italy.

At his apex, Lopez was so popular, the mythical Archie Moore considered him one of his favorite fighters. Spinks said he was the toughest man he ever faced. Former champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, who never fought Lopez, said that if Lopez was around today he wouldn’t be able to wear all the belts he would own.

As memorable as all of those fights are, it was Lopez’s rematch with Saad Muhammad for which he is best remembered. In an astounding eighth round, Lopez hit Saad Muhammad with 20 unanswered punches, but the champion somehow managed to stay on his feet and stop Lopez in the 14th round. The RING magazine called it 1980’s Fight of the Year.

“The fighters were different then,” said Lopez. “You couldn’t sneak your way into contention. You had to earn it. Saad Muhammad got his second wind. I didn’t. It’s that simple.”

Because Lopez engaged in so many ring wars, one would expect him to be walking on his heels today. In actuality, the opposite is true. He is extremely intelligent, engaging, articulate, lucid, and sincere. His memory is nothing short of astounding.

“Albert could have been a doctor if he chose,” Cruz said. “He’s brilliant. He learned English by himself. To be as sharp as he is with all the fights he had, imagine if he had no fights and went to college instead.”

Beno says that her husband’s reputation for being a strictly offensive-minded fighter is inaccurate. “So many punches rolled off his shoulders,” she explained. “He got hit a lot less than people think. But for some reason God didn’t want him to be a champion.”

The heart that Lopez showed in the ring is only rivaled by the heart he showed as a human being. That was never more apparent than in Cruz’s final years. Cruz’s wife had passed away in the 1980s, so he lived alone with his dog Laura. Not a day went by that Lopez didn’t visit.

Over the last few years he would not only play dominoes and chitchat with Cruz, he would cook and clean, give him his medication, and even take him to the bathroom or clean up the mess if he didn’t make it that far.

“Those guys loved each other,” said Pericle. “They would have gone through the gates of hell for each other.”

In July 2004, Cruz sent me a copy of an emotional letter that he had sent to a member of the Northern California Veteran Boxers Association.

“Yaqui just got through giving me my shot in the butt, he did the dishes, vacuumed the house, fed my dog, and then took off for the gym,” he wrote. “Really, I don’t know what to do with him. But I don’t know what to do without him. Yaqui is my angel in disguise.”

The weeks after Cruz’s death were particularly difficult for everyone. “I really miss that son of a gun,” said Pericle. “The way he was, I know it was for the better that he died but it doesn’t make you miss him any less.”

Pericle had stopped by Cruz’s house earlier on the day that we spoke in late December. The only thing that had changed was the fact that Cruz was no longer there. However, Lopez was there, taking care of Laura, who seemed as heartbroken over Cruz’s passing as the human side of his family.

 “You miss Daddy Jack, don’t you girl,” Pericle asked the dog. The dog responded with a whimper.

“You try to put life and things in perspective when people you love are still alive,” Pericle mused. “But in this case, it’s overwhelming when I think of how many people Jack touched. He was all about love.

“He was loved – and he was loved in return. He led a good life, had a lot of great experiences. He loved his family more than anything. And Yaqui – man were they close. It was like they were joined at the hip.”

Articles of 2006

Peter/Toney Ii: Peter Has The Brutal Punch

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Samuel Peter claims he has dynamites in my two hands?

Heavyweight contenders Samuel “The Nigerian Nightmare” Peter and James Lights Out? Toney get it on a second time this Saturday from the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla. (Showtime).

The hard-slugging Peter, unlike Toney, is one of those strong, silent types notorious for letting their fists to the talking one the opening bell sounds, but the Nigeria Nightmare is as confident as ever and determined to turn Lights Out’s lights out for good.

I have got dynamites in my two hands,? said Peter, according the Lagos, Nigeria Vanguard, and I will crush James Toney once and for all. The Toney camp made the mistake of their lives by protesting and seeking a rematch. I am ready to teach him a bitter lesson.?

Sam Peter walked away with the W for Peter/Toney I at the Staples Center in LA last September, but it was by disputed split decision a verdict so disputed, there was even a dispute about the dispute which forced the WBC’s hand into mandating Saturday’s rematch.

Samuel Peter is the biggest thing to hit African boxing since Ghanaian superstar Azumah Nelson rocked the feather and junior welterweight divisions. The President of the Nigeria Boxing Board of Control, Prince Olaide Adeboye, admitted, according to allAfrica.com, We are rooting for Samuel Peter, of course. He is one boy we believe in to bring back the country’s lost glory in professional boxing. I am personally making arrangement to be at the ringside to see him fight Toney again. I was at the first fight in Los Angeles in September.

Peter has the brutal punch, and to me he was the clear winner of the first fight. But the WBC Board of Governors, of which I am a member, voted 21-10 for a rematch. There was nothing those of us Africans on the board could do in the circumstances. But I believe Peter will confirm he is better than Toney and will then go ahead to meet the champion and claim the belt for Nigeria and Africa.?

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Articles of 2006

The Sweet Science P4P Rankings for Asia

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There are claims that boxing is dying. Hogwash. The heavyweight division isn’t the only division in boxing and 2007 promises to be a banner year in boxing; especially for boxers hailing from Asia.

While Asia isn’t Vegas or Atlantic City, it is a region packed of diamonds in the rough; undiscovered gems and potential superstars who wait for their moment in the sun.

The Sweet Science P4P Rankings – Asia

1) Manny Pacquiao – There’s no way to dispute Pacquiao is the best fighter in Asia, if not all of boxing. He’s exciting, he wins with Je Ne Sais Quois and is definitely “the man” in boxing.

2) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam – Although his competition leaves much to be desired, his longevity and skills are undeniable. He is currently Thailand’s only world champion and is undefeated in ten years. Need I say more?

3) Chris John – A victory over Juan Manuel Marquez, however controversial, shows he belongs at the top of the heap. He easily outpointed Renan Acosta to close out 2006 and should have no trouble defending against Jose Rojas in February. A fight with Pacquiao would not be a good move on his part but a rematch with Marquez would not hurt – especially if he defeats the Mexican again.

4) Hozumi Hasegawa – Hidden away in Japan, Hasegawa is a sharp punching southpaw who put former champion Veeraphol Sahaprom to sleep. He recently bested Genaro Garcia and his herky-jerky style will give fits to any one who steps in the ring with him.

5) Masomori Tokuyama – Tokuyama has never shied away from a good fight and although he only fought once in 2006 (UD12 Jose Navarro), he ledger shows wins over Katsushige Kawashima (twice), Gerry Penalosa (twice) and In Jin Chi (twice). A fight with Hozumi Hasegawa is a distinct possibility in 2007.

6) Nobuo Nashiro – With only seven fights under his belt he took on WBA champion Martin Castillo – and defeated him. Although he’s only fought a total of nine fights, nearly all have been against quality opposition. A victory in a rematch with Castillo would cement his claim as the king of the 115-pound division.

7) Yukata Niida – This light-hitting minimumweight defended his title twice in 2006, winning a technical decision against unbeaten Eriberto Gejon (Tech Win 10) and the other on points over Ronald Barrera (W 12). Scheduled to meet Katsunari Takayama early next year – the best has yet to come for this WBA belt holder.

8) In Jin Chi – Won back the title he lost to Takashi Koshimoto in January from Rudolfo Lopez. While there’s little uncertainty to his skills, at thirty-three, 2007 may provide some insight as to just how much he has left.

9) Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai –Sor Nonthachai is an exciting, top-shelf fighter with an iron chin. Has no trouble making mincemeat of mid-level opposition and deserves a title shot in 2007. Time is running out.

10) Rey Bautista – He’s young, relatively inexperienced in big-time boxing, but will continue to shine in 2007. One of the better prospects in boxing, he should snag a title in 2007.

Asian Fighters Ranked in Ring Magazine

Pound for Pound:

Manny Pacquiao (Philippines): #2

Jr. Lightweight

Manny Pacquiao (Philippines): #1
Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai: #9

Featherweight

Chris John (Indonesia) #1
In Jin Chi (Korea) #3
Takashi Koshimoto (Japan) #5
Hioyuki Enoki (Japan) #7

Jr. Featherweight

Somsak Sithchatchawal (Thailand) #4

Bantamweight

Hozumi Hasegawa (Japan) #2
Veeraphol Sahaprom (Japan) #3
Ratanachai Sor Vorapin (Thailand) #6
Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (Thailand) #10

Jr. Bantamweight

Nobuo Nashiro (Japan) #1
Katsushige Kawashima (Japan) #7
Pramuansak Phosuwan (Thailand) #10

Flyweight

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (Thailand) #1
Takefumi Sakata (Japan) #7
Daisuke Naito (Japan) #10

Jr. Flyweight

Koki Kameda (Japan) #1

Minimumweight

Yukata Naiida (Japan) #2
Eagle Kyowa (Japan/Thai) #4
Katsunari Takayama (Japan) #5
Rodel Mayol (Philippines) #7

Boxing in Thailand

There’s no shortage of boxers in Thailand. With a huge pool of Muay Thai fighters to draw from and several talented amateur boxing prospects turning pro after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Thailand seems destined to remain a boxing powerhouse in Asia.

The country is known for having tough, determined and disciplined fighters who give their all whenever the step in to the ring. However, consistently losing while fighting abroad and padding their records with no-hopers has done nothing to enhance their reputation.

Whether because of a lack of marketability, a lack of funds or their unwillingness to travel abroad, the vast majority of boxers from Thailand remain a mystery to fans in the west. If anything though, the boxing scene involving Thai fighters will be active. In fact, it’s one of the most active in the world; since 2000, the number of fights has nearly doubled in the country.

The Sweet Science P4P Rankings – Thailand – August 2006

1) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
2) Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym
3) Somsak Sithchatchawal
4) Wandee Singwancha
5) Sirimongkol Singwancha
6) Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai
7) Veeraphol Sahaprom
8) Pramuansak Phosuwan
9) Terdsak Jandaeng
10) Oleydong Sithamerchai

Current Sweet Science P4P Rankings – Thailand

1) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (Flyweight) – Definitely the top dog in Thailand

2) Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai (Super Lightweight) – He’s a seasoned fighter who has proven himself in the big-time. He’s one Thai who can fight outside of Asia. He has an abundance of skills and one-punch power. His overall ability and ease in dispatching anyone other than championship caliber get him the runners-up spot.

3) Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (Super Bantamweight) – After losing to Vladimir Sidorenko he’s bounced back. He’s young, he can punch, but the former interim champion needs to prove himself against a name fighter.

4) Somsak Sithchatchawal (Super Bantamweight) – Was his win over Monshipour a fluke or was Celestino Caballero just that good? Did Sithchatchawal catch Monshipour at the right time and can he rebound from the devastating loss? The jury is still out.

5) Wandee Singwancha (Flyweight) – He doesn’t have much of a punch which will be his downfall in the end. He can box, as was evidenced in his recent victory over Juanito Rubillar, but this won’t be enough. He can no longer make the Jr. Flyweight limit and with no punch he’ll have a hard time competing against the “big boys.” Although he’s now rated second by the WBC, he doesn’t deserve to be.

5) Sirimongkol Singwancha (Super Lightweight) – Get this guy a fight. He’s better than Jose Armando Santa Cruz and would have beat up Inada had the fight taken place. He’ll fight anyone but his biggest obstacle is staying motivated fighting tomato cans in Thailand. Like many Thais, he needs a fight against a name opponent.
6) Wandee Singwancha (Flyweight) – He doesn’t have much of a punch which will be his downfall in the end. He can box, as was evidenced in his recent victory over Juanito Rubillar, but this won’t be enough. He can no longer make the Jr. Flyweight limit and with no punch he’ll have a hard time competing against the “big boys.” Although he’s now rated second by the WBC, he doesn’t deserve to be.

7) Pramuansak Phosuwan (Super Flyweight) – A genuine tough guy. Always calm and focused no matter how heated the battle. But at thirty-eight, he’ll be in trouble should he fight one of the division’s elite.
8) Veeraphol Sahaprom (Bantamweight) – Will be lucky to get another crack at the title. Although he has a puncher’s chance of winning a belt, that’s about all he has left at this point. A third shot at Hasegawa is unlikely.

9) Oleydong Sithamerchai (Minimumweight) – He’s fought better than the usual opponents faced by Thais at his level and he moves up one spot with the departure of Terdsak Jandaeng. He lacks the punch and is in the wrong division to become a superstar. He’ll need to defeat a name opponent to convince me.

10) Saenghiran Lookbanyai / Napapol Kittisakchokchai (Super Bantamweight) – These two square-off in early March, supposedly to see who deserves a shot at Israel Vasquez. Kittisakchokchai has the edge in experience but some feel Lookbanyai has the edge in heart and is the favorite.

Neither has defeated a top twenty fighter and yet are ranked number one and two respectively in the WBC’s world.

In Kittisakchokchoi’s lone shot at the big-time, he was TKO’d in 10 by Oscar Larios. His dreadful performance against Larios and lack of quality opposition leads me to believe Saenghiran might have more of a shot at beating him than some suspect. Regardless, neither of them lasts longer than six rounds with Israel Vasquez.

Honorable Mention: Wethya Sakmuangklang, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Devid Lookmahanak, Nethra Sasiprapa, Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo, Pornsawan Kratingdaenggym

Thai Fighters Ranked in Ring Magazine

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam: #1 Flyweight
Pramuansak Phosuwan: #10 Jr. Bantamweight
Veeraphol Sahaprom: #3 Bantamweight
Ratanachai Sor Vorapin: #6 Bantamweight
Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym: #10 Bantamweight
Somsak Sithchatchawal: #3 Jr. Featherweight
Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai: #9 Lightweight

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Articles of 2006

Iceman Stops Tito Ortiz Win Streak

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LAS VEGAS—UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck “Iceman” Liddell’s fists proved too much for Huntington Beach’s Tito Ortiz who was stopped in the third round before a sold out crowd at the MGM Garden Arena on Saturday.

The punching machine Liddell (20-3, 13 KOs) repeated his victory in UFC 66 over the much-improved grappler Ortiz who has improved his punching and blocking. Ortiz was trying to avenge his loss of April 2004.

Despite all the new weapons displayed by Ortiz it wasn’t enough as Liddell pummeled the former champion and retained his title with a technical knockout at 3:59 of the third round. Referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the bout.

“This was the most satisfying victory of my career,” said Liddell, 36, of Santa Barbara. “Tito came back real tough.”

Ortiz (15-5, 8 KOs), a former wrestler, worked on his boxing technique knowing he would need it against the former boxer Liddell. But Liddell’s experience allowed him to find the right moment to pounce on Ortiz.

“I had him hurt, I just kept throwing punches,” said Liddell who also knocked down Ortiz in the first round with a left hook.

Ortiz was gracious in defeat.

“Chuck is the best fighter Pound for Pound in the (mixed martial arts) world,” said Ortiz, 31, who suffered a gash on the side of his left eye from a punch. “I’m disgusted by myself. I let my fans down.”

Other bouts

Underdog Keith Jardine (12-3-1) knocked out Forrest Griffin (13-4) at 4:41 of the first round in their light heavyweight showdown. A right uppercut followed by a left hook wobbled Griffin who was sent to the floor by a barrage of punches. On the ground Jardine landed right after right until referee John McCarthy stopped the fight for a technical knockout.

“I couldn’t believe he was hurt,” said Jardine about Griffin who is known for his resiliency. “I was so nervous coming into this fight, but now I know I belong here.”

Canada’s Jason McDonald (18-7) choked out Chris Leben (15-3) in a middleweight bout that was up for grabs. Though Leben seemed to control the fight with stunning left hands, once the fight went to the ground McDonald managed a chokehold at 4:03 of the second round. Referee Steve Mazagatti saw Leben was unconscious and stopped the fight.

Former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski (12-5) caught Brazil’s Mario Cruz (2-2) with a sneak right hand while both were tangled on the ground. Then the Belarusian pummeled Cruz until referee Herb Dean stopped the fight at 3:15 of the first round.

Third season winner of the Ultimate Fighter television reality season Michael Bisping (12-0) of Great Britain won by technical knockout over Eric Shafer (9-2-2) at 4:29 of the first round. A knee knocked Shafer groggy then Bisping knocked him to the ground and pounded him. Referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the bludgeoning.

Thiago Alves (16-4) caught Peru’s Tony De Souza (15-5) with a knee as he attempted to dive for his legs in a welterweight contest. After that it was pretty much over as Alves pummeled De Souza at 1:10 of the second round forcing referee John McCarthy to halt the bout.

Gabriel Gonzago (7-1) proved too strong for Carmelo Marrero (6-1) in a heavyweight bout. At 3:22 of the first round Gonzago of Massachusetts manipulated his way into arm bar forcing Pennsylvania’s Marrero to tap out.

Japan’s Yushin Okami (19-3) pounded Georgia’s Rory Singer (11-6) into submission at 4:03 of the third round of a middleweight bout. Okami seemed the more-rounded fighter with effective kicks to the head and more accurate punching.

Christian Wellisch (8-2) jumped to a quick start with an accurate left hook that rattled Australia’s Anthony Perosh (5-3) in a heavyweight bout. During the first round it seemed the Sacramento fighter might end the fight but the Aussie hung tough. Wellisch won by unanimous decision.

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