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Articles of 2006

Waiting for the Heavyweight Message

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Maybe the promoters did too good a job this time of preventing a riot or brawl at the official pre-fight press conferences for Saturday’s fight in Atlantic City between WBC heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman and James Toney. Not only were the jabbing, feinting, and counterpunching reserved for the paying customers, but the atmosphere Tuesday at the final media meet, held at New York’s Copacabana, was downright mellow yellow. The buzz usually associated with a heavyweight championship fight was, sadly, largely absent.

Even a character known as “The Godfather” in Rahman’s camp who wore a small crown and did a reasonable imitation of Steve “Crocodile” Fitch of Mike Tyson entourage fame couldn’t ruin the party. He would periodically bellow outthings like “Champ of the world” about Rahman, with few reacting to this breaking news.

Toney was almost mischievously playful. Asked about the endless inquiries into his weight – he said he was 251 pounds yesterday – he said it didn’t bother him because “They let me know I’m doing something good. They let me know another endorsement, another hot dog endorsement’s coming.”

The closest thing to a public confrontation came when Rahman’s new co-manager, Yah Yah Cason, said he had heard Toney quoted as saying Rahman had “no heart.” He responded, “That’s got to be the most ridiculous thing that I’ve ever heard,” but quickly added that Toney indeed “has a tremendous heart” for agreeing to face Rahman.

In his public remarks, Toney, uncharacteristically soft-spoken, insisted, “I never said he didn’t have no heart because he got to have heart to be in the ring.”

Both were partially right.

On a March 8 media teleconference call, answering a question from Bernard Fernandez of the Philadelphia Daily News, Toney said, “Everyone is saying Hasim Rahman is bigger than me and he’s stronger. Man, you can be big all you want to.  He’s lacking, he’s, he’s lacking in the one area which really counts, that’s the heart.”

So he didn’t say Rahman had “no heart,” but that he was “lacking” in heart.

Most of the boxing media with whom I spoke at this press conference agreed with Toney, at least in part. The ones I spoke to all pick Toney, although for some reason everyone seemed to speak almost in whispers when this subject was broached.

Nevertheless, Toney, a little looser while speaking one-on-one to our ragtag band of boxing writers and yakkers, said he still believes that he has not been shown the respect he thinks he has earned.

“The best pound-for-pound ratings, which really don’t mean nothing, they don’t mention my name,” he cited. “When it comes to pure boxing ability, they don’t mention my name. When it comes to pure mental toughness, they don’t mention my name.”

Just when you thought he was getting all riled up, he turned, for him anyway, almost gushy.

“But that’s all good. That’s fine and dandy. Fine and dandy,” he continued. Then he added, returning to his critique of his critics, “That lets me know that people who are writing that stuff don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, or they never did before in their life.”

Now, no pun intended, he was on a roll: “They said I’m fat and I’m overweight. So what? I can fight. That’s the name of the game, boxing, fighting. It doesn’t matter. If I wanted to be Mr. Olympia, I would have got in a Mr. Olympia contest.”

And speaking of rolls: “Instead I entered Nathan’s hot dog eating contest.”

I noted how relaxed he was, and he agreed. “I’m very relaxed. I’m ready to go.” Yes, very calm, like he knows he is on his way to an execution, and he is the one with the ax.

But he is still uncomfortable being named the favorite in this fight by the bookies. “I don’t want to be the favorite,” he said. “I want to be the underdog. Don’t start being on my side now.”

He promised, “It’s going to be terrible. It’s going to be like the Iran Barkley fight.” That was back in 1993, when, ahead eight rounds to one on all cards, Toney was awarded a TKO in the tenth by “corner retirement.”

In this fight he vowed again to win by a knockout. “Mid-rounds. Trust me.”

In his public remarks, Rahman, deprived of the chance to engage in a trash-talking contest, seemed almost baffled as to what to say. “There really isn't much to say at this point,” he said. He did add, “Everybody has conducted themselves like gentlemen. I appreciate that.”

It was actually Rahman’s promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, whose comments were most remarkable for their candor and perspective. Arum stressed that this fight will not be shown in the U.S. on pay-per-view, but on the regular HBO network, and on a free preview weekend as well, meaning that non-subscribers can watch it for free.

“That’s very, very, very important,” he sad. “Because as we have concentrated, all of us, on pay-per-view, because of the revenue stream, the audience for boxing has been shrinking. And here we have, thanks to HBO, the heavyweight championship of the world with the widest possible, biggest possible audience. And this fight will be watched in the United States by the biggest audience in years for any fight. So that’s really great for these fighters. And it’s something that we hope will revitalize the interest in boxing and certainly revitalize the interest in the heavyweight division.”

We’ll remind him of that admission the next time he puts King Kong against Elmer Fudd on pay-per-view.

Still, this buzzless bash does have the potential to elevate the winner in the public’s eye. If one of these fighters makes a strong statement in the ring with his performance, he could begin to stake his claim for being known as the heavyweight champion of the world, and not just one of a roster of belt holders (even though that is all he would actually be).

Arum, of course, believes that the victor will be Rahman. He did acknowledge that Rahman’s team was well aware of what has been called inconsistency, meaning he has lost to fighters including John Ruiz and Evander Holyfield, both beaten in the ring by Toney (the latter victory, of course, being nullified when Toney tested positive for steroids).

But Arum insisted of Rahman, “They know the transformation that’s happened in him. They know that he has been in the past inconsistent. They know that now and for the rest of his career he’s going to bring his ‘A’ game to the ring.”

As Arum was making his pitch, yet another fighter who owns a victory over Rahman, Oleg Maskaev, sat near the rear of the room, smiling. In 1999, leading comfortably on all three scorecards after seven rounds, Rahman was caught by Maskaev and knocked clean out of the ring. Now Maskaev is the WBC’s mandatory contender, and his promoter, Dennis Rappaport, is chomping at the bit to sign to fight the Rahman-Toney winner next.

Maskaev, however, only spoke well of the man he conquered so famously, also in Atlantic City. “I believe that Rahman is in great shape. It’s going to be a very interesting fight. He’s prepared well for the fight,” Maskaev observed.

But he would not proffer a prediction.

“It’s very tough to make a prediction for this fight, because there are two great fighters,” he stated.

Instead he said that he wants to show the world in a fight with the winner that “I’m going to prove that I can not only punch but I can box now.” If Maskaev and Rappaport have their way, and the WBC rules (lol) are followed, we will find out in the next few months.

Speaking of rules, if Toney has only been training on things like hot dogs, even with sauerkraut, relish, and mustard, he may be husky but he will do just fine with the post-fight doping test.

Larry Hazzard Sr., the veteran commissioner of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, stated about Toney and everyone else, “We test for all controlled, dangerous substances. He will be tested as are all of the combatants who participate in the state of New Jersey. Everyone is tested.” Asked if that includes testing for steroids, he affirmed, “Absolutely.”

So what, exactly, was the message of this pre-fight build-up? It was like a two-and-a-half star movie. It didn’t suck, but it wasn’t that memorable.

Without being marred by the brain-killing trash talk, there seemed to be little theme to all of this. The repeated assertion that these two are the best heavyweights in the world also was neither preposterous nor convincing.

Toney and Rahman are highly ranked in all the independent polls, but ESPN.com, The Ring, the BWRP, and the WBM polls all have IBF champ Chris Byrd ranked first. Byrd fights Wladimir Klitschko April 22 in Mannheim, Germany. WBO champ Lamon Brewster, who knocked out Klitschko two years ago, fights Sergei LiakhovichApril 1 in Cleveland. Nikolay Valuev, the seven-foot-plus Russian who won the WBA belt from John Ruiz in December in Germany by a highly controversial majority decision, fights either May 27 or June 3 against someone not yet announced, i.e., handpicked.

Even if Rahman and Toney put on an entertaining scrap, and, hopefully, the outcome is not tainted by dope, there still is something missing in the whole message of this fight.

But maybe something unannounced is being planned. The afternoon of this fight, Arum and Don King are holding what is being called a “once-in-a-lifetime joint media forum” between these two 74-year-old promoters. King still promotes Brewster and co-promotes Valuev. Maybe they will all go on HBO after Rahman-Toney to challenge the winner to take a heavyweight title unification fight, if not enter a formal tournament. Arum has previously said that he has no interest in Valuev, but Brewster is better known and more marketable in America. Maybe the momentum started in their joint April 8 Mayweather-Judah co-promotion can continue. Maybe they realize that since, as Arum said, “the audience for boxing has been shrinking” that they then have to take extraordinary steps to “revitalize the interest in boxing.”

Now that would be a very welcome message.

Unfortunately, I’m just expecting the kind of stuff they put in James Toney’s hot dogs.

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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