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Articles of 2006

The Invincibility Serenade

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Lord knows, if ever a sport cried out for Divine intervention it’s boxing. But with terrorism, war, famine and pestilence rampant around the globe, apparently the myriad problems of the Sweet Science aren’t even blips on the celestial radar screen.

Either that, or 62 years ago Melio Bettina loused it up for good by knocking out the only Divinely-anointed candidate for the heavyweight championship of the world.

That’s Divine, by the way, as in Father Major Jealous Divine, a short, bald, charismatic man whose disciples fervently proclaimed him to be God in earthly form, and who proclaimed himself “the infinite dean of the universe” and “a free gift to mankind.”

His “Peace Mission Movement” still has a determined corps of believers today, but nothing like in the 1920s, ‘-30s and ‘-40s, when Father Divine cut a wide swath on the American religious, political and social landscape.

According to most accepted sources, Father Divine was born George Baker in Georgia in the late 19th century, and was first heard from in the early 1900s when he was arrested as a public nuisance while evangelizing in Valdosta and booked as “John Doe, alias God.” Given the choice of banishment from the Peach State for good or being sentenced to the state loony bin, Baker hotfooted it for New York.

There he changed his name, proclaimed his own divinity and promised life everlasting to those who threw in with him. What firmly cemented his credentials in the eyes of the growing faithful was what happened when Divine was arrested in 1929 on charges of disorderly conduct after the long and boisterous services over which he presided at the movement’s “heaven” in Saylesville, New York, became very unpopular with his mostly white neighbors.

Judge Lewis J. Smith found him guilty and sentenced Divine to a year behind bars. Four days later, the judge suffered a massive heart attack and croaked.

Commented Father Divine primly: “I hated to do it.”

That was actually one of the more succinct and comprehensible pronouncements of the man the Saturday Evening Post called in 1939 “the most successful and illustrious of America’s superheated evangelists.” Oftentimes, Father Divine sounded eerily like a baldheaded version of Don King, as when he offered this explanation of his divinity:

“God is personified and rematerialized. He rematerialates and he is rematerializatable. He repersonificates and he repersonifitizes.”

For all its leader’s grandiosity and his followers’ eccentricities – instead of “Hello,” their standard greeting was “Peace!”, because unlike the other it didn’t contain a swear word – the Divine cult generally was a positive force in the communities in which it flourished as the United States entered the Depression era.

Father Divine preached unabashed patriotism, racial harmony, and a code of personal responsibility and conduct that today would be regarded as downright antediluvian. His “angels” were expected to work hard, behave and atone for past misdeeds. “Before gaining admission to the fold,” noted the Saturday Evening Post, “an applicant who has been on relief must first pay back all the money he has received from the public treasury. He must also settle any bills he owes and must restore money or property which has been dishonestly obtained. These rules lead to strange results. Grocery and undertaking bills from five to thirty years old, which the creditors have long since written off an uncollectible, are settled in full. Railroads receive payments for rides which were sneaked when the penitents were in kneepants. Fire-insurance companies get back money they paid out years before to homeowners whom they suspected of committing arson, but could not trap into admitting it.”

According to the Post story, one “angel” even confessed to a murder he had committed 20 years earlier. But when he turned himself in, the charge was mysteriously dropped, and Father Divine took a bow for another “miracle.”

When “reborn” into the Peace Mission Movement, members not only renounced their past lives and behavior, but also the names by which they had been known up to then. The new names they adopted reflected their new lives and personalities, such as “Blessed Faithful,” “Satisfied Dove” and “Patience Simplicity.”

And, in the case of the 200-pound boxer born Thomas Reed in Newman, Georgia 86 years ago, “Saint Thomas.”

Reed began boxing in 1939, winning five amateur bouts and a Golden Gloves heavyweight title in Dayton, Ohio. In 1941 he moved to New York City, where he joined the Peace Mission Movement and changed his name. Thomas turned pro on February 2, 1943, knocking out Tony Diacco in one round.

By August of that year, he was 5-0, and in that month’s issue of The Ring magazine Thomas was showcased as an up-and-coming heavyweight. “Not only is ‘Saint’ Thomas a good drawing card because of the nationwide publicity he’s been getting [on account of his affiliation with Father Divine],” noted the article, “but (also) because he can really fight; has a thrilling style and a chilling wallop.” It also helped that he was managed by Jack Curley, an old hand at moving fighters and maximizing their exposure.

But Thomas’s life inside the ring and out was about to hit a bump. First, fighting Danny Cox at the Lido Arena in Harlem on August 16, 1943, he was knocked down in the second round of the scheduled eight-round main event. Thomas got up and made a fight of it, but the decision was a draw.

That was nothing compared to what happened next. Thomas was expelled from Fr. Divine’s “heaven” for violating the latter’s rule that male and female “angels” – including the married ones – abstain from “self-indulgence and sex indulgence, human affection, lust and passion and all those detestable tendencies.”

According to many accounts, Father Divine himself had repeated problems with that one. (Reported Newsweek magazine: “When (Divine) seemed to be violating his own tenets he would explain to his female partner of the moment, ‘I am bringing your desire to the surface so that I can eliminate it.’”) But what was apparently only a venial sin for him was a mortal one for his disciples.

In his next fight – his first “as an earthly mortal,” according to The Ring’s Irving Rudd – Thomas was knocked down again, but came back to stop Johnny Tuck in the second round. His next three fights were in Chicago and Detroit, with Thomas beating Lou Thomas, Eddie Sarkesian and Johnny Denson. Then he won a decision over Danny Cox in a rematch.

Thomas was still on the outs with his spiritual mentor when he fought former heavyweight title challenger Gus Dorazio at St. Nick’s Arena on May 1, 1944, but after he stopped Dorazio on cuts in the fourth round Rudd reported overhearing someone say, “Now the Father probably will forgive his misbehavior and take him back into the flock.” Then somebody else answered, “You mean, the Saint will take Father Divine back!”

Whichever way it happened, heading into the biggest fight of his career five months later against Melio Bettina, the top-ranked heavyweight contender and former light heavyweight champion, Thomas was in fact once again in the good graces of Father Divine. In fact, announced the fighter, “Now that I’ve been blessed by Father Divine, I know I can’t lose. I feel sorry for Melio.”

When Thomas arrived in Philadelphia for the October 16 fight, he disconcerted promoter Pete Moran by demanding that violinists be rounded up to serenade him every night at his room in the Hotel Chesterfield. “I’ve got to have a violinist to play for me every night from now until (the fight),” Thomas said, explaining that to him that “sweet violin music” was akin to hearing angels sing. Two cult violinists, “Little David” and “Papa Dee,” were quickly imported from New York, and in Thomas’s dressing room before the fight they played him an “Invincibility Serenade” potent enough, the fighter exalted, for him to whip “10 Bettinas.”

On the whole, the month was kind of a wash for the Peace Mission Movement. In Philadelphia on October 10, reported the Associated Press, “74 followers of Father Divine were struck off the voter rolls for registering under such names as ‘Lily Love,’ ‘Anointed Cherub,’ and ‘Peace, Joy, Happiness.’” But 10 days later, the U.S. Treasury in Washington, D.C. received $27.10 from an unidentified Harlem man. “This is being given voluntarily by me to the United States Treasury as a retribution for misdeeds perpetrated years before I learned of Father Divine,” said the accompanying note.

In the ring at Convention Hall, however, the violin music of Little David and Papa Dee was no match for the chin music of Melio Bettina. Father Divine’s invincible warrior was knocked down in the first minute of the fight, and put out for good in the fourth round. “Now the fiddle’s notes were stilled,” wrote John Webster in The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Only the symphony of the little people between his ears soothed the giant Negro as he lay stretched upon the floor – one might say a fallen Angel in the Kingdom of Father Divine.”

Father Divine died on September 10, 1965. Since then his second wife, known as Mother Divine, has presided over the dwindling cult from its headquarters in a plush mansion outside of Philadelphia. But a place at the feasting table is always set for the founder of the Peace Mission Movement whose death, a spokesman said, was “only the throwing off the physical body.”

There is no record that St. Thomas ever entered the ring again after the Bettina fight, but for all the damage they did to his physical body the fists of Melio Bettina couldn’t dent his absolute faith in Father Divine. Just one month later, Thomas showed up at the Criminal Courts Building in New York City. “My conscience is troubling me,” he told detectives. “I wish to give myself up. I’m wanted for robbery, and I’m studying to be a minister. I’ve been a follower of Father Divine. I can’t continue my studies with this on my conscience.”

Between 1936 and ‘-41, he told the cops, he and two other men had pulled off no fewer than 50 holdups back in Dayton.

After he was booked under his secular name as a fugitive from justice, Thomas said, “I feel better. I’m willing to pay whatever penalty is necessary that will ease my conscience.”

A week later, though – cue the “Twilight Zone” theme – St. Thomas was back on the street, a free man. The Dayton authorities could find nothing on him. A thorough search of their files found no outstanding warrants or record of any holdups committed by Tommy Reed.

Maybe that “Invincibility Serenade” just kicked in a little late.

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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