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Articles of 2006

…and NEW Heavyweight Champion…Sonny Tufts?

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LAS VEGAS, March 16 – Betwixt the Ides of March and St. Patrick’s Day, there should be a little time reserved for sobriety, even if that’s not the happiest way to look at the Hasim Rahman-James Toney donnybrook Saturday. Only wishful thinking gives the match any import other than, finally, two of the leading heavyweights are facing each other.

It reminds me of Sonny Tufts, who was a journeyman actor back before television and there was this thing called radio, and I don’t mean FM. One dramatic show was “Lux Radio Theater” and at the end of the play, that week’s star would plug the following week’s show. One night in 1943, the story goes, Joseph Cotton read the announcement that next week’s offering would be “The Major and the Minor” and the stars would be Joan Fontaine and, in a shocked voice, “SONNY TUFTS?”

Mr. Tufts’s career never recovered, even if the story wasn’t true. He was only a B-movie actor, had some problems with the bottle and faded into a punchline.

So when Bob Arum says that in a hundred years, his company will be known for promoting three great heavyweight champions – Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Hasim Rahman, I am tempted to substitute SONNY TUFTS. And it’s not for Ali or Foreman. (Note, a hundred years ago, while I was covering a Can-Am auto race in Elkhart Lake, Wis., I spotted a building named the “Sonny Tufts Musical Theatre.” Inquiring minds have to know.)

Take away the George Foreman comeback freak show, and Arum has been on the outside looking in at heavyweight boxing since the glorious days of John Tate, whom he used to tell people was the best since Joe Louis (Muhammad Ali? Who he?), maybe even better than Joe. I’ll say this for Big John, I never saw anyone other than a tree fall quite the way he did.

Arum made the same better-than-Louis claims for Herbie Hide following his knockout of already damaged Michael Bentt and is now telling the world that Rahman is the best heavyweight around and probably Toney is No. 2 and what a wonderful fight we’ll be seeing courtesy of HBO, on a free preview weekend, from Atlantic City.

Blarney. If these are the two best heavyweights in the world, than our planet has bigger problems than Iranian nukes and global warming. My most vivid memory of Rahman was when he was sent sprawling out of the ring by Oleg Maskaev and landed almost atop Jim Lampley’s head. Toney will be forever etched in my mind as losing every round to Roy Jones Jr. after first throwing a chair at me at the final press conference. For a former high school quarterback, he showed why he went into boxing.

Toney is a marvelously skilled fighter, a sure hall of famer. But he is not the No. 2, or 3, heavyweight in the world, though he may be better than Rahman. As a heavyweight, he’s beaten the ghost of Evander Holyfield, a cruiserweight named Rydell Booker and Dominick Guinn. Oh, yes, he beat John Ruiz, though he lost the decision in a test tube because he was on some steroids.

His promoter, Dan Goossen, has done a remarkable job peddling the former middleweight, super-middleweight and cruiserweight champion as the best heavyweight in the world. Toney believes the hype.

We don’t have to. We’ve seen him outhustled by middleweights Reggie Johnson and David Tiberi, lose twice to Montell Griffin, mail it in against Drake Thadzi. Yes, a lot of this was because he had trouble making weight – he still does – and a lot of it was because he was virtually sulking after Roy Jones beat him every which way but down.

His so-called comeback was the exciting 12-rounder for the cruiserweight title against Vasilliy Jirov three years ago. Jirov, however, was handled much more authoritatively by Joe Mesi, a comparative neophyte, until the Buffalo soldier fatigued in the final rounds.

James turns 38 in August. His body has been betraying him regularly in recent years. Muscles and tendons go pop. The steroids he was on, he said, was to recover from an injury.

His hands are still quick, but his legs are gone. He fights off the ropes now, virtually unable to go forward. He lays clever little traps, telling the flies to come into his little parlor. Rahman, if he listens to his trainer, Thell Torrence, won’t bite.

Torrence was at Eddie Futch’s side when the great trainer went up against Toney with Mike McCallum, a 35-year-old relic at the time. McCallum was lucky to get a draw, but in the rematch he was unlucky. Futch noted that the only time Toney used his best punch, the right hand, was in roll-and-counter situations. He instructed McCallum not to throw right hands. Toney had nothing to counter and was flustered. THAT fight should have been a draw, but Toney gained a majority decision.

Futch used the same tactic with little Montell Griffin to twice score close decisions over the immensely more talented Toney. The idea was to never finish any sequence with a right hand – add a left hook and step off to the right, away from Toney’s right hand. That was what Jones did, it is what Torrance has been teaching Rahman.

Rahman may be one of the nicest guys in the game, one of the best interviews, but he has never been confused with Willie Pep. The Rock, after knocking out Lennox Lewis five years ago, has been a master of mediocrity, constantly inconsistent. He managed to lose to Holyfield and Ruiz – both guys convincingly handled later by Toney – and actually came in to the ring in worse shape than David Tua, thus being held to a draw in a mess that neither deserved.

He started his comeback with a dreadful performance against the aged former cruiserweight titleholder, Al Cole, and in his last appearance scored a desultory decision over his buddy, Monte Barrett, and won the WBClown belt retroactively when Vitali Klitschko threw his hat out of the ring and into Ukrainian politics.

Rahman, though, has always been a major underachiever. There are patches when he seems to be the real thing. For eight rounds or so, he boxed wonderfully against the dangerous Tua in their first meeting. He’d throw out that strong jab, double it, add a right hand to the combination, then step aside and away from danger. He was putting on a clinic, but of course Tua was a lot less skilled than is Toney.

And in the ninth round, Tua landed one of his gargantuan left hooks to the body. The Rock seemingly lost his stones. He looked painfully at his corner as if hoping a train ticket would magically appear. After the bell, Tua landed a hook to the head. It was accidental, so maybe a disqualification was not in order. But the fight should at least have been stopped and the scorecards consulted. Rahman was way ahead, but Lou Duva in Tua’s corner kicked up a fuss, confusing the Florida officials (not a difficult task) and the bout was allowed to continue. Rahman, still hurt, was quickly put away.

But I take away from that encounter no belief that Rahman lacked courage – hell, he would later survive a worse barrage from Corrie Sanders and eventually work his way into stopping the South African southpaw – but that every now and then, he could do some boxing.

He’s bounced around, from promoter to promoter, from trainer to trainer. He and Torrance seems to have clicked a couple of fights ago, when the Rock went straight through Kali Meehan, no big deal but an effort that was flattered by Meehan’s almost victory over Lamon Brewster.

My old buddy, Michael Bentt, called up last night and, out of the blue, said he liked Rahman “big.” I don’t know exactly why, but I think I do, too – especially when the odds are more than 2-1 on Toney. Say this, no way I could picture Toney knocking out Lennox Lewis. Rahman did and, at 33, he knows this could be his last shot at the big time.

PENTHOUSE: Mr. Bentt, always one of my big favorites from the Big Apple, is now 40, living in West Hollywood and “knocking on doors” trying to get acting parts. He went there to appear as Sonny Liston in the Will Smith “Ali” flick, has made a couple of movies for director Ron Shelton (big deal, I did one, too, though it wasn’t “Bull Durham”), picked up a few TV gigs and, more importantly, a family. The former New York Daily News Golden Gloves champion (that’s how I conned my former bosses into sending me to cover his fights, like knocking out Tommy Morrison in the first round in Tulsa to win the WBO title, then losing it to Hide in London) is married to a blues singer who is working as an executive at an engineering firm and, on March 31, as he says, the same birth date as Jack Johnson, his son Elijah Robison will turn one. I asked if Elijah would be a fighter, Michael said, “A fighter for justice.” Amen.

OUTHOUSE: Larry (Hap) Hazzard of New Jersey and Kery Davis of HBO for perpetrating Arum’s myths that Rahman and Toney are the two best heavyweights. Greg Page, Tim Witherspoon, Tony Tucker, Tony Tubbs, Pinklon Thomas and the rest of Don King’s lost generation would have had a field day with this lot. A few of them might have given Toney a run for his money at the buffet table, too.

DISS AND THAT: Condolences to the family of Davey Pearl, one of the finest referees and nicest guys to have the good taste to be shorter than me. He was small, but he was a giant who, at 125 pounds, could push around heavyweights if he had to….Offer prayers to a couple of great guys who just lost their dads, Cleveland Plain Dealer boxing scribe Joe Maxse and PR whiz John Beyrooty….Now hearing that the IBF is thinking about setting up a toll booth for those who want to get out of Don King Plaza in Atlantic City….King, who can’t get a license to promote in New Jersey because he refuses to answer questions about his relationship with convicted former IBFelon chief, Bob Lee, believes he can get a driving license to tool around “his” street.

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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