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Articles of 2006

Remembering Big George: A Boxing Giant

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George Washington is one of the most important figures in American history. He was a general, a war hero and the first president of the United States.

He was a leader of men and the father of our country.

Maybe there’s something about that name. I knew a George Washington, and whether or not you’ve ever heard him, this George was one of the most beloved figures in boxing history.

The George Washington that I knew was a surrogate father to hundreds of boxers. He was also a leader of men. More precisely, he led boys into manhood and his success cannot be measured simply in boxing terms.

Washington was 79 years old when he succumbed to congestive heart failure on June 11, in New York City. Washington was a U.S. Marine and a husband and a father. He was Big George to anyone who walked into his gym in Bedford Stuyvesant, a section of Brooklyn in which your only birthright is that you are a long shot.

With the help of guys like Artie Cintron, Washington saw to it that Bed Stuy became synonymous with domination on the amateur boxing circuit. He built a dynasty at the New Bed Stuy Boxing Center that lasted more than two decades. It is one that certainly compares favorably with New York’s other great sports dynasty – the Yankees.

“He meant a lot to me,” said Mark Breland, who first came to the gym as an 80-pound 8-year-old. “He was my mentor coming up. One thing I can say about George is that I never heard him curse. I’ve been with George all those years and I never heard him curse and I’ve never seen him upset. That’s unbelievable in the boxing business. You don’t get that in boxing.”

In terms of boxing, this is what we got from George Washington.

Mark Breland – five-time New York Golden Gloves champion, U.S. Olympic gold medalist and WBA welterweight champion

Riddick Bowe – four-time New York Golden Gloves champion, U.S. Olympic silver medalist and world heavyweight champion.

Michael Bentt – five-time national amateur champion, four-time New York Golden Gloves champion and WBO heavyweight champion.

Brian Adams – national amateur champion, three-time New York Golden Gloves champion and world-rated lightweight contender.

That represents merely a partial list of Washington’s fighters. But more than the titles and the trophies, his pupils tell the story of a man who was a pillar of decency in one of the most dangerous sections of Brooklyn.

“George was the opposite of most boxing trainers,” said Bentt. “He was very jovial, very lovable, very respectful. He was a special man. He had reverence for his fighters. I never heard him curse either. I don’t know if he ever did, but if he did, I never heard it.”

“He never neglected a soul,” said Adams. “The worst boxer in the gym, George would have him thinking he was a champion. He never played favorites, whether it was Mark Breland or an average Joe working out, George would yell up to that ring, ‘Right hand champ.’ I remember George as a big, imposing figure when I first met him. But when I spoke with him, he was more of a pussycat than a grizzly bear.”

“I don’t care who came in that gym,” said Breland, who is now 43 and himself a boxing trainer. “I don’t care if people thought the kid was a bad kid. He could have just gotten out of jail, the police could have followed him to the gym, but George would never turn a guy away. People might look at a certain kid as troublesome, but that never meant anything to George. He’d just say to them, ‘Come on, let’s get the gloves on, let’s work.’ He tried to guide them, he tried to convince them they didn’t need to get into trouble, get into street fights, stuff like that.”

When Breland turned pro he was the hottest commodity the sport had seen since Sugar Ray Leonard. He was signed by Main Events and had high-powered trainers like Joe Fariello and Lou Duva in his corner. Like the Little League coach who develops Mickey Mantle, guys like Washington are often pushed aside when it’s time to turn pro. But Breland made sure Washington was in his corner for all his pro fights.

Want more fighters developed by Washington? Not all of them were Mickey Mantles, but this list is impressive – Tunde Foster, Owen McGeachey, Stephan Johnson, Ronald McCall, Carl Jones, Chico Bell, Eddie Gregg, Webster Vinson, Ernest Mateen, Leon Taylor, Henry Brent and Winston Bentt.

This should tell you a little more about Washington’s coaching style. Of all the fighters I’ve interviewed in over a decade of covering this sport, Breland, Adams and Bentt are among the most polite, respectful and successful away from the ring.  

Indeed, Washington taught so much more than jabs and hooks. To me, his greatest success was giving kids hope, encouraging them to reach for the stars in a neighborhood in which too many people reached for a gun or a crack pipe. If he kept one kid out of jail, or the morgue or off drugs, that's a bigger accomplishment than any of the champions he trained.

The truth is, it wasn’t just one kid. There were so many. Some high-minded people, none of whom ever actually visited Bed Stuy, once made fashionable the slogan “Just say no,” to drugs. George Washington wasn’t a slogan, he was there for those kids every single day. He was the foundation upon which lives were built.

“He was extremely important to the Brooklyn community because he gave kids something to strive for,” said Adams, 34 and a boxing broadcaster. “Riddick was from Brownsville, probably the worst section of Brooklyn, and he made Riddick believe that the atmosphere does not make the person. Mark was from Thompkins projects, maybe not as bad as Brownsville, but rough, and he instilled confidence in Mark that even at 6'2″ and all bones, he could go out and dominate anyone he wanted. I was from Albany projects, probably the third worst projects in Brooklyn, and he made me understand that a person can leave such an area and be a productive part of society.”

“He touched countless lives, countless lives,” said Bentt. “There were guys like Terry Branch or Richard Brent, guys who flew under the public radar, but George left an indelible mark on them. The qualities that George instilled in us would always follow us no matter where we went or what we did.”

In a sport that is often cold and unforgiving, Washington had compassion. “Once I lost to this kid, Henry Milligan, he was a white fighter from Delaware,” recalled Bentt. “He was a national champion and I lost. My father was yelling at me. He couldn’t believe I had lost to this white kid. After the fight, George just walked up and embraced me in front of my father. He was that kind of guy. He was compassionate and sensitive.”

This is reality, not fantasy. So, no, not everyone who came through his gym was saved. He may have tried, but he couldn’t wrap those big arms around an entire neighborhood. Places like Bed Stuy have plenty of sad stories and the New Bed Stuy Boxing Center wasn’t immune. But one of the wayward souls that George touched was Harry Keitt, himself now an established boxing trainer. “I grew up with Harry,” said Breland. “Harry was notorious in the neighborhood. George changed his whole life around.”

When you are around kids for so long, two things happen – you stay younger yourself and you try to memorize a lot of names. It seems the kids kept Washington young, but remembering all those names was another story.

“I was with him for years and I don’t even think George knew my name,” said Breland, with a smile. “Because from day one he called me champ. I always called him Big George and he called me champ.”

“He called everyone 'Champ' because that's what everyone was who came to him,” said Adams. “When guys insisted that George call them by their name, he would make up a name. One guy’s name was Norwood and George changed his name to Norfolk. A trainer named Owen became Orange. One guy who I swore his name was Abdu because when I first met him 14 years ago that's what George called him. This is a true story. About four years ago I ran into the guy and he told me that his name was Abdilla. I fell out laughing.”

Bentt, now 41 and an actor and himself a father, remembered this about Big George while driving his son to school one day. “The thing that I recognize and appreciate now is that George never let what he saw and experienced in life and in the world of boxing rob him of his basic humanity.”

Washington had a modest record as a pro fighter. He was a heavyweight during boxing’s Golden Age and was good enough to once beat Charley Norkus and Keene Simmons; the latter went eight rounds with Rocky Marciano. Big George was also a sparring partner for the great Joe Louis. This is what he told me about Louis during an interview a few years back.

“After I got out of the service, that’s when I started sparring with Joe Louis,” he said. “We were from the same small town in Alabama, but I didn't know him from there. They picked me out of Stillman's Gym to be his sparring partner. He wanted someone who was going to make him work and I was going good then. I was his sparring partner for both Jersey Joe Walcott bouts. I went to his training camp in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. He'd give me $20 a round. That was good money back then. I'd box four or five rounds a day with him. He didn't do all that much moving in the ring. It was short quick moves. He moved his arms like he was playing checkers, not far at all. But fast. He had great hand speed. He was the best heavyweight ever. That's the way I see it.”

Washington’s respect for Louis went beyond what the accomplished as a fighter. “He was my mentor and my idol,” Big George said of the champion. “He loved his people. He'd give anything to help you if he could.”

And so would George Washington, a man who gave his life to boxing and a Brooklyn neighborhood. Those who fought for him and loved him will always look beyond what he accomplished as a trainer. There lies the true measure of his greatness.

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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