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Articles of 2006

Lauren Bacall's Bad Call

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The first thing that I remember noticing about Lauren Bacall was that she was as tall as she sounded. That sultry, breathy voice was a perfect fit for all 5'8'' of her. It's 1964, a cold February evening and a friend of mine, Vinnie Vitale, and I are waiting to get into a Loews movie theater on the upper west side in New York. We're standing right behind Lauren Bacall and Jason Robards, who were married at the time and made a suitably compelling couple, Robards topping out at nearly six feet alongside the statuesque Bacall. We're all in a line for what passed for PPV forty years ago, a heavyweight championship fight broadcast on what passed for cable TV in those days. It was called closed circuit television and was, essentially, 'live” TV on movie screens.

Vinnie and I had grown up together in Brooklyn and he was, at the time, trying to work his way out of a Wall Street back office, while I was trying to work myself off the “obit beat” on an outer borough daily newspaper. And there we were standing behind everyone's movie fantasy of a femme fatale and the actor who was the embodiment of Eugene O'Neill's “Iceman.” I recall making what I considered a clever comment about how we had all “cometh” to the West side to see the fight. That prompted Robards to glance backwards, witheringly and disapprovingly, just as Vinnie, no O'Neill scholar, shot me a “what the **** are you talkin' about” look. Vinnie did, however, catch Robards' glance and took the opportunity to ask, “Who you like, tonight?” Before Robards could answer, if, indeed, he was going to respond, Bacall, without even a glance in our direction, breathed, “Liston, inside four.” Robards nodded his head in agreement and two simultaneous thoughts occurred to me: I'll bet anyone who's married to this woman does a lot of nodding “yes” and it's worth the six dollars, that we're paying to get in to the theater, to hear Lauren Bacall deliver any line of any kind.

It was the first Sonny Liston/Cassius Clay heavyweight title fight on February 25, 1964. Clay would transform into Muhammad Ali, shortly after the bout, but Liston would remain in type, playing the oversized bully for his remaining six troubled years. Liston's “thug rep” had it's incarnation in St. Louis, where he achieved a certain renown as a “collector” for the local money lenders who put out dollars on the streets of East St. Louis (see the Stallone character in the original, and best, “Rocky”). I remember doing a story on jazz spots in that beaten down town of mean streets and during an interview in one of the clubs, the guy I was talking to turned the discussion to Liston's days on those streets: “You paid Sonny on time and in full or you woke up in the middle of next week, with the juice still running.” What I specifically recall about the guy who gave me that line was the way he kept turning on the barstool as if he expected Sonny Liston to come barreling through the door at any moment with bad intentions in his wild eyes. At that point in time, Sonny Liston had been dead for five years.

Liston was steered into boxing, during one of his respites in jail, by a Catholic priest whose name is lost to the winds of “Good deeds, punished.” When Liston started as a professional boxer, the mob connections remained, like any upbringing does, but at least as a fighter Liston was now putting people “into the middle of next week” in the mostly approved manner of the dark art Jimmy Cannon once called, “the red-light district of sports.” Liston had culminated a Goliath-like rush through the heavyweight division to the title with a thorough and absolute dismantling of the champion, the recently deceased Floyd Patterson, in two consecutive first round KOs Those two bouts, within ten months, lasted, cumulatively, less than five minutes. Based on what had gone before this February night, it appeared that Cassius Clay was simply the next offering in line for Liston and that Lauren Bacall's prediction of “inside four” was just about right.

Cassius Clay did have an Olympic gold medal and nineteen straight professional wins, but none of those wins, it was reasoned, had come against anyone who approached the menace, size and sheer ferocity in the ring that Sonny Liston did. Clay was quick on his feet but it was thought that Liston would “walk him down” and in a nod to the heavyweight division's storied past, it was pointed out, by the “experts,” that running and hiding were mutually exclusive tactics. That was the thinking of the “smart money” guys as fight night approached. Most pundits considered the Liston fight a case of “too much too soon” for Clay and made him a 7-1 underdog. Indeed, at the weigh-in the day before the fight, Clay appeared almost on the verge of nervous collapse. His blood pressure rose to a level that indicated to some doctors in attendance that the fighter might be close to having a heart attack. The possibility of postponing or even canceling the fight was given some thought and consideration. I recall the New York tabloids had a headline field day the next day proclaiming, in bold-faced variations that, at the weigh-in, “Cassius had a lean and frightened look.”

The line in front of the theater moved and we were soon inside, and, in the process, I lost sight of Bacall and Robards, who were probably led to some sort of VIP seating somewhere in the theater, unknown and unavailable to obit writers and back office guys from Brooklyn. I remember also thinking that the picture on the screen, for six bucks, a fortune to go through a movie turnstile in those days, was not as focused as it should have been. Neither, in top form, sadly, was Joe Louis, who was doing “color” on the telecast and who seemed to be “in there for a check,” much as he had been in the final fights of his career.

The bout was being telecast from Convention Hall in Miami Beach, a location that was in its last throes as a major fight town, the sport about to begin it's migration to Las Vegas parking lots. It was the only bout to be shown, no preliminary fights and, certainly, in 1964, no female boxers or even ring card girls. It was a “no frills” boxing telecast that made even more absurd, at least to me, the six dollar tab. I forget who was doing the blow by blow, it might have been Les Keiter and he and Louis talked briefly and awkwardly about the upcoming bout. Doing color commentary was not going to be the answer to the question “what will Joe Louis do after boxing?” Mercifully, the fighters soon made their appearance, without any machine-made fog or music or the embellishments that would later become staples in those Las Vegas parking lots.

There were introductions of the celebrities at ringside including the Brown Bomber, who took momentary leave from his broadcasting duties to lumber into the ring along with Frank Sinatra, known as a knowledgeable fight guy. Finally, the fighters were introduced and the referee, Barney Felix, motioned them to the center of the ring for their instructions. As the fighters came together, still in their robes, Vinnie poked me in the ribs and in a full throated voice, more at home in Ebbets Field than in a New York movie theater, proclaimed what all in the audience could now plainly see, “Lookit that,” Vinnie exclaimed, “Clay is as big as Liston.” And Vinnie was right, standing within inches of each other, Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston were eye to eye. Liston, the massive Goliath, the leg breaker from St. Louis, the monster who had sent Floyd Patterson sneaking out of town in a disguise after their second fight, was being stared down by a fighter, who the day before had been deemed “scared to death.” It was, of course, the first of several surprises to be telecast into that west side movie theater over the next half hour. I wondered whether Lauren Bacall was reconsidering her “Liston inside four” call.

The fighters, finished with the instructions, turned back to their corners, removed their robes and turned towards the center of the ring, awaiting the bell. And though no one knew it at that moment, one fighter was about to step into storied and controversial legend, the other about to begin a slow, sad public downfall that commenced six rounds later when he sat on his stool and relinquished the most coveted title in boxing. Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and his subsequent transgressions in and out of the ring, real and perceived, were mostly overcome by the enormity of his skill as a heavyweight champion. Sonny Liston's reign as the terror of the heavyweight division diminished quickly and was largely forgotten by the time he died, alone in a Las Vegas bedroom, under circumstances that still provoke discussion and dispute. I remember, to this day, the fighters, as they were that night; I remember Vinnie Vitale and his Flatbush tinged exclamation about Clay's size; I remember the six bucks I had to come up with to get into the theater; I even remember Joe Louis and what a great fighter he had been and what a bad broadcaster he was. But what I remember best was that 5'8″ beauty we stood behind in line to get in. I remember Lauren Bacall and I remember her line about the fight. It was a bad call, but she threw the line out there like a perfect left jab. With a voice like that, you just had to be 5'8″.

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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