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Articles of 2006

Is Miguel Cotto still destiny’s child?

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With weeks to go and Roberto Duran having relocated his exotic training camps to whatever fight venue he was to defend his legendary championship prestige at, cigar chomping trainer Freddie Brown knew the critical phase of his work was really about to begin. Getting Duran through the disciplined rigors of a training camp demanded expertise in security, clinical psychology and an iron hand in a velvet glove. Brown knew the intricate matters of the mind under duress as well as how to parry a jab angling the body beyond counter shots and all things done elementary to do with bringing harm to an opposing boxer.

If ever there was a 24/7 problem child as barer of fistic genius, it was Duran!

Beating out staccato rhythms on his bongos was Duran’s idea of congeniality for photographers. Mostly, Duran was a late night campaigner, only buckling down a few weeks before his fights. Such was his woman hunting carnality, dance club vitality and his sheer love for spontaneous indulgence, calorie counting being damned. His idea of task orientated concentration manifest itself as pure exhibitionism – the Panamanian a riotous vaudevillian, jumping rope in a crouch, hitting the speed bag with his hands then his forehead, kissing babies only to fondle the mothers. When it came to sparring, however, Duran punished any hint of impudence in his paid-for-drubbing sparring mates, as if they were headlining contracted opponents. This was before the mid-1980s and gripping middle age infirmities and wrestling with Mickey Rourke made him look grotesquely yesterday’s man.

Swathed in Vaseline, the still blushing Duran’s logic was instinctive. “Whenever you get in the ring with me you are fighting Roberto Duran.”

Ever attendant, Freddie Brown hovered, squinting and whispering in the champion’s ear, guiding and suggesting defensive postures or gruffly reminding Duran of his unofficial office as boxing immortal, commanding or challenging him to work till exhaustion intervened. Awake before Duran, Brown would enter Duran’s hotel room and shake the bed, scrape the French fries off the Panamanian’s dinner plate or with a scowl reroute troublesome groupies, ever stoned and at the ready to party, intent on spending more of Duran’s very hard-earned money. If the elegant Ray Arcel kept the diamond talents of Duran polished to a glorious luster for macho punching displays against Vilomar Fernandez, Esteban DeJesus, Carlos Palomino and Sugar Ray Leonard, it was Brown who walked by his side, reintroducing the virtues of key fundamentals, devoted to keeping Duran from ultimate harm, from Duran eating himself alive.

* * *

Unlike Duran or fellow Puerto Rican greats Wilfredo Benitez or Edwin Rosario, Miguel Cotto has not shown himself to be a detriment to his own best interests. He may enjoy home cooking more than he should, but that’s been proven a reversible passion by fighters for ages, most recently by Ricky Hatton and Acelino Freitas, to name but two. Cotto puts in his road work, spars with concentrated fervor, generally applying himself to whatever his trainer/father directs. Perhaps, only genetics now determines that Cotto must struggle to remain at 140 and yet there are major incentives for him to do so, at least for a while longer; one is named Jose Luis Castillo, another Arturo Gatti and another Ricky Hatton. Those are just some of the essential names. Cotto’s promotional house, Top Rank, fully understands that their Puerto Rican star in the making literally has the world at his feet. Perhaps, we should say, all things are possible in the calculated future concerning Miguel Cotto.

And therein lays Cotto’s big concern. Somewhere along the way, during the drive to make Cotto boxing’s next big Puerto Rican superstar – yes, very definitely in the mold of Felix Trinidad, circa 1993 – well, Cotto’s future significance seemed to stall on the runway. Remaining undefeated has not exonerated him from critical scrutiny. His fan base has not materialized as a crossover demographic. His quotient of can’t-miss-anticipation was shaken by the fists of fighters as speculative as “Chop Chop” Corley and Lovemore N’dou. Never mind the circumstances, the home court advantage Cotto had fighting at the Rodriquez Coliseum in Puerto Rico, Cotto was being blitzed by winging hooks by both fighters. Punches that solid prospects with ten fights could have defensively picked off repeatedly hammered the next big thing at welterweight. We restate, for the record, Cotto came back to win and remain undefeated. He’s shown a warrior’s heart, if not always a champion’s intellect.

But just where in his boxing does the uniqueness manifest itself?

The net effect of Cotto at times struggling instead of dominating on his WBO title run of HBO televised outings has put a hush over the exuberance to do with his arrival at the top of the boxing ladder. Knockout wins are expected and yet when realized coming with a sense of relief. So, now the question defining him as a champion remains: Just how good is Miguel Cotto? To do with matters of strategic necessity, that question has taken on a contextualizing presence. In a way, it normalizes Cotto for fellow championship fighters from Castillo to Hatton to Margarito and beyond. They all have expressed a desire to take a shot at Cotto, not in Puerto Rico, but live on HBO, for they think there is glory to be grabbed.

The developing and promoting of Miguel Cotto has become something of a balancing act. Bob Arum and Top Rank have never wavered in their public assertion of confidence in Cotto’s ring abilities and his ultimate realization of pay-per-view outings. Many boxing insiders have been just as vocal in expressing the opinion that Cotto needs a top flight trainer, the mentoring phase with his father from rank amateur to Olympian and WBO titlist is now viewed as being tapped out, a phase completed. Team Cotto have an admission of limitation to internalize and an outreach to make happen.

As for US based cable giants HBO, they have factored Cotto as a prominent championship presence in the post-Felix Trinidad, post-Roy Jones, post-Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis eras, with only a brief De La Hoya resurgence sustaining this classic generation of pay-per-view giants. Four years ago, Cotto was thought to be the natural replacement idol for Trinidad. And as Cotto begins to move through the final developmental phase of his maturing career, Team Cotto and Top Rank sign him to fight Paul Malignaggi, a young willow-the-wisp, dart and dash boxer who runs and guns to the frustration of his astonished opponents. Perhaps, the true winner of this fight was rival promoter Lou DiBella who somehow courted and secured this fight for the troublesome Malignaggi. By troublesome we mean a guy who entertains with pace not power, who contorts and avoids to counter and confound at alarming speed. So with a massive fight looming with Jose Luis Castillo in the fall why take on a Willie Pep clone, a guy with a rabid fan base in the Eastern US?

It seems Cotto is finally being asked to grow up and find ways to win difficult fights. Undoubtedly, Cotto’s going to have to leave the comfort of his economically paced power boxing at times against Malignaggi and fight with interpretive hunger, not just driving selectivity. Simple flourishes of body shots mixed in with left hooking dingers will not be enough. One might say Cotto has been asked to prove his merit and the sustain hype that’s accompanied him since he turned professional. Being the heir to the mantle of the great Felix Trinidad only gets harder, requiring a fighter to produce tidal waves of excellence at conspicuous moments, such as fighting the popular Paul Malignaggi with everything expected on the line.

Championship boxing careers come down to nexus points of defining criticality. A fight against the talented Malignaggi is precisely the kind of fight that a young Felix Trinidad would have turned into a theatre of self-glorification. Trinidad would have left no doubts. Of course, that’s what legends in the making do; they turn expectation into inevitability, the energized bodies and expansive dreams of their rivals falling by the wayside, falling into trivial facets of history.

Cotto must feel like he’s been on this hump before, being asked to prove himself yet again, the hurdle before him having been raised. So where does the crucible end? Just what exacting balance of idealized weight, technical facility, endured experience and engrained confidence will be enough? Why doesn’t it yet feel to him like he’s in the zone, all things realizing the best of an imaginable self? When will opponents and their torturing challenges be erased by his best boxing?

* * *

Duran would know most of the answers. He heard Freddie Brown tell him often enough, “If you let the questions get into your head, you’re done.” So Duran just ignored him when he could and went back to the excruciating rigors of trying to look like Roberto Duran, yet again.

Patrick Kehoe may be reached at pkehoe@telus.net

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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