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Articles of 2006

Bernard Fernandez: Growing Up in Orleans Parish

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Had Bernard Fernandez ever given any thought to his future while growing up in the Orleans parish of New Orleans, he probably would have envisioned himself becoming a cop. His father, Bernard Sr., was a New Orleans police captain who had fought professionally as a welterweight under the name Jack Hernandez.

To this day the 58-year-old Fernandez’s prized possession is a framed fight poster of an August 1944 main event between Archie Moore and Jimmy Hayden in San Diego.

“My dad was in the semi versus Jimmy Hatmaker,” said Fernandez. “He was in the Navy at the time and on leave from the South Pacific.”

The fight was declared a technical draw in the first round after a clash of heads prevented it from continuing.

Although several other members of Fernandez’s family were also cops, the intervention of Sister Camilla, a very astute eighth grade teacher at St. Stephen’s School, dramatically changed the direction of Fernandez’s life. The year was 1961.

“She told me that there was going to be a citywide essay contest for eighth grade students where the top prize was one dollar,” recalled Fernandez. “With that amount of money you could buy 100 baseball cards back then. Second place was fifty cents.”

Five weeks later a school assembly was held after Fernandez won the contest. Fernandez, whose nickname was Stormy because he was born during the great New Orleans hurricane of 1947, still remembers vividly what Sister Camilla told him that day.

(The storm was so intense it put the first floor of Lakeshore Hospital underwater. To make matters worse, Fernandez’s mother endured nearly four days of labor. One of many running family jokes is had Fernandez been a girl he would have been named Gail).

“Stormy, you have a gift,” Fernandez recalled her telling him. “I think you should be a newspaper reporter.”

From that day on, Fernandez believes that his fate was sealed. “Writing was probably the only thing I was really good at,” he said. “I was hooked.”

A steady path soon led to him working as a copy boy at the New Orleans Times Picayune while still in high school. After studying journalism at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, he worked as a reporter at the Mouma Courier before moving on to the Miami Herald and the now defunct Jackson Daily News in Mississippi.

Since 1984 he has been the boxing writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, and from 2001 until earlier this year he served as the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He has fond recollections of each and every one of those stops in his career.

“At the Times Picayune I was stringing, and once in a while I’d get a byline or a four-line story,” he recalled. “All of the sportswriters there were very encouraging except for one. All he would tell me is that it’s all crap and the newspaper business stinks.”

When Fernandez shared those experiences with the editor, he received an invaluable lesson about the enormity or the deadening of the human spirit. That lesson is clearly evident to this day, in the way he writes, the way he lives his life, and in the benevolence he has toward aspiring and fledgling journalists.

“He told me that the reporter didn’t have a wife, didn’t have children, his parents were dead, and all he had was this job,” said Fernandez. “And he’s scared to death that someone will take it from him. I told myself then if I ever achieve something, I will never be like that.”

When Fernandez went to work at the Miami Herald he was all of 23 years old and full of youthful exuberance. “I thought they’d see how great I was and give me Edwin Polk’s job,” he said. “I should have been more patient.”

Next stop was Jackson, where Fernandez covered Southeastern Conference sports and eventually became president of the Mississippi Sportswriters Association. It was while there that he covered his first live fight, the September 1978 rematch between Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks at the Superdome in New Orleans.

“That was about as big as it could get back then,” said Fernandez. “That fight had historical significance, plus it was in my hometown. I was honored to be able to be there.”

Since arriving in Philadelphia, Fernandez primarily covers boxing but occasionally writes about the Phillies and the 76ers. However, he says, “My heart, first and foremost, is in boxing.”

While covering a February 1990 match between Vinny Pazienza and Hector Camacho in Atlantic City, Fernandez told several of his colleagues from other media outlets that he was going to Tokyo the following week to cover Mike Tyson’s seemingly easy title defense against Buster Douglas.

“Most of them said, ‘What the hell are you going there for?’” he laughingly recalled. “‘The fight’s going to be over in two rounds.’”

Fernandez says that his reasons were simple and they wound up being somewhat prophetic. “Mike was like the Tiger Woods of boxing” he said. “Wherever he went, you had to go. But all those people were telling me what a waste it was to cover a fight 14 time zones away.”

Not only did Fernandez witness firsthand one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, Tyson-Douglas served as a harbinger for the equally thrilling first bout between Julio Cesar Chavez and the Philadelphia-born and bred Meldrick Taylor that occurred the following month. That was the memorable fight that was stopped in Chavez’s favor with just two seconds remaining in the 12th and final round.

“Those two fights are the most memorable of my career,” said Fernandez. “I’d come a long way from watching the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports when I was seven, eight years old. Back then I was probably the only kid in fifth grade whose favorite fighter was Carmen Basilio.”

In November 2001 Fernandez was asked by Tommy Kenville, the former Secretary/Treasurer of the BWAA, if he’d be interested in becoming president of the organization. At the time the BWAA, which had once been a highly regarded sporting institution, had become a floundering anachronism.

“After a lot of thought, I said I’d do it but I wasn’t going to be a caretaker and continue to do things the way they were done in the past,” said Fernandez. “I said I was going to put a wrecking ball to it and bring it into the 21st century.

“While boxing itself might be best served by going back to the way it was in the forties and fifties, the BWAA didn’t have to be stuck in the forties and fifties.”

Under Fernandez’s watch, the BWAA tripled its membership, created a website and a member’s directory, and put to rest the perception of it being mainly an East Coast entity by actively recruiting many West Coast writers.

The logo was also modernized and the Barney Awards were established. Named for esteemed boxing scribe Barney Nagler, the awards are annually presented to BWAA members for a variety of categories such as event coverage, feature writing, photography, and investigative reporting.

More than anything else, Fernandez is proud of the Barneys. “We all like validation,” he said. “A lot of fine work was being done by boxing writers that wasn’t being recognized. We needed to honor that great work.”

In 2005 the BWAA held their annual awards dinner at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, on the eve of the sensational first fight between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. Having traditionally been a New York-based event, having the dinner in Las Vegas, coupled with the excitement of what was later named the BWAA’s Fight of the Year, was extremely rewarding.

“So many people came up to me and said it was their best weekend of boxing ever,” said Fernandez. “That meant a lot to me.”

The 2006 event is scheduled for this weekend in Las Vegas, on the eve of another potentially memorable battle between Oscar De La Hoya and Ricardo Mayorga. Next year’s dinner will be held at the Borgata in Atlantic City.

What also means so much to Fernandez is the love of his family. He and his wife Anne Marie have been married for 37 years. Another running family joke is that they got married in the third grade.

Sons Randy and Kevin are police officers in different Louisiana police departments. Both of their daughters, Melanie and Amy, live in the Philadelphia area.

The past few years have been extremely challenging for the entire family. Ann Marie’s brother Jude suffered a stroke on August 29, the same night that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. He lapsed into a coma and died on September 5, his 47th birthday.

Fernandez’s mother Alice was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Because she lived by herself in New Orleans, Fernandez and his wife convinced her to move to Philadelphia six weeks prior to the hurricane. When she moved north, it was determined that she had another form of cancer. She passed away on October 2.

“Both died in close proximity to Katrina,” said Fernandez, who still has scores of other relatives living in that ravaged city. “My wife and I were very depressed. I couldn’t focus on anything. Suddenly going to games and to fights seemed insignificant. Some days I could barely pull myself out of bed. As much work as I always put into the BWAA, I couldn’t do it anymore. For the benefit of the organization, I stepped down.”

Fernandez believes that the BWAA is in very good hands under its new president, Tim Graham. “Things always benefit from new and different ideas,” he said. “I’ll serve as an advisor for the transition, but when this year’s dinner is over I’ll be like General Douglas MacArthur and fade away.”

One thing that hopefully won’t fade is the lessons Fernandez imparts on the scores of schoolchildren that he visits with regularly. Powered by his own sense of altruism as much as the lesson he inadvertently learned from the negativistic reporter at the Times Picayune so many years ago, he would like nothing more than to inject the same measure of enthusiasm for writing in tomorrow’s journalists that he had at their age.

“I might have five, six, seven years left as a writer,” he said. “In this business, one day you have a byline, the next day you don’t. Newspaper journalists are like sand castles because they are very impermanent.

“This is how I give back. If one kid takes from me something like I took from Sister Camilla, it will help them. And then they can pass it on to the next generation.”

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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