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Articles of 2006

Paul Cavagnaro: A Fighter for Life

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The restaurant doorman was in his 20s, about 6’6” tall and 250 pounds of slabbed muscle. Paul Cavagnaro was in his mid-80s, and had weathered cancer, two major heart surgeries and a minor stroke. But as he sized up the young goliath holding open the door for him and his wife, Cavagnaro had the same thought that always flashed through his mind in such situations:

“I wonder if I could take him….”

Sixty years ago, after Cavagnaro had just a handful of pro fights, some sportswriters in his native San Francisco were wondering if he could take heavyweight champion of the world Joe Louis.

They never found out, of course, because when his mother couldn’t take the idea of her only son exchanging punches in the boxing ring anymore, Cavagnaro hung up his gloves rather than put her through the anguish.

“If you want to fight,” Eugenia Cavagnaro told him, “join the police force!”

So he did, putting in 30 years on the San Francisco force, becoming an inspector and one of the city’s best and most admired cops. But he never stopped training like a fighter and loving what Cavagnaro still calls “the manliest of all sports.” Today his home in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, where he and wife Ramona moved in 1986, is filled with photos and mementos of the boxers Cavagnaro knew and admired, sparred with and, in some cases, loved like brothers.

Tops in the last category is Richie Shinn, the Korean-American who was his best friend from childhood up to Shinn’s death over 20 years ago. In the 1940s, Shinn was a decorated U.S. war hero and a tough lightweight boxer. “The bravest man I ever knew,” says Cavagnaro of the man who introduced him to boxing when they were growing up together in San Francisco’s North Beach district.

By the time he was 12, Cavagnaro was making things miserable for neighborhood kids who boxed him in the makeshift ring Paul’s father, Gio Batto, set up in their front yard. One day a milkman out making deliveries saw Cavagnaro working over another boy, stopped his truck and ordered him to lay off. Invited by Cavagnaro to put on the gloves himself, the milkman quickly wished he had minded his own business.

Later Cavagnaro joined San Francisco’s famed Olympic Club, whose boxing program was run by the legendary Spider Roach. In Cavagnaro’s first real amateur fight, his opponent was Pat Valentino, who would go on to become a top heavyweight contender and unsuccessfully challenge Ezzard Charles for the title. The more experienced Valentino outpointed him, but when Roach sent Cavagnaro over to congratulate the winner, Valentino was so out of it from a right hand Cavagnaro had tagged him with just before the final bell it was all his handlers could do to hold him up.

Keeping his fighting a secret from his excitable Italian immigrant mother by stashing his boxing gear in the bushes in front of their house, Cavagnaro won local and Pacific Coast Golden Gloves titles as a light heavyweight, and in the spring of 1941 he went to Boston for the Amateur Athletic Union national championships.

After the rigorous cross-country train ride, Cavagnaro weighed only 156 when he fought heavily-favored local boy Tommy Sullivan –– a descendant of the great John L. himself –– in the 175-pound semi-finals. Sullivan was as foul-mouthed as his famous fighting forbearer as Cavagnaro punched him silly to win the decision. But Cavagnaro had nothing left for the finals later that same night, and lost on points to Detroit’s Tom Plesha.

After America entered World War Two the following December, Cavagnaro put boxing on hold and joined the U.S. Coast Guard, serving for four years.

When the war ended, he turned pro under the management of Joey Fox, one of the Coast’s most astute boxing people, with whom Cavagnaro formed a lifelong father-son-like bond. He stopped his first two opponents in the first round, fought a draw, and, after he won a couple more bouts, the Bay area scribes were impressed enough to mention Cavagnaro as a possible future challenger for Joe Louis.

In the fall of 1946, Fox sent Cavagnaro to Los Angeles to train for a while under Fox’s partner, Dutch Meyers. Cavagnaro was dubious about the arrangement, and his confidence in Meyers really nosedived when he heard the latter seriously advance the proposition to George Engle, who’d managed Harry Greb, that Greb wouldn’t have stood a chance in the ring against Bert Colima, a popular West Coast journeyman in the 1920s.

Meyers took his time lining up a fight for Cavagnaro, and finally told him on a Friday that he was meeting Dale Hall the following Monday at the Olympic Auditorium. Cavagnaro headed fight for the Main Street Gym and tore into a sparring partner with such ferocity and skill that everybody in the gym stopped to watch. At the end of the session, Cavagnaro was called over by California Jackie Wilson. “White boy,” said Wilson, a great welterweight of the 1930s and ‘40s, “where’d you learn to fight like that?”

Dale Hall would become a decent heavyweight in time, but Cavagnaro had no problem outboxing him in a fight that went the distance only because the strange Meyers ordered Cavagnaro not to go for a KO.

By then, of course, Eugenia Cavagnaro knew all about her son’s boxing, and not even his opponents suffered as much as she did when he fought. When Paul came home from a bout, he would walk for hours all over town with his mother in an effort to calm her nerves.

But it kept getting worse, and after the Hall fight it was Joey Fox who suggested to Cavagnaro that for his mom’s sake he find another line of work.

As a policeman, Cavagnaro trained just as diligently as he had as a fighter. He did roadwork with his friend Bobo Olson, the 1950s middleweight champion. After running sprints for an hour on a football field, Cavagnaro would hook his feet on the top of a chain-link fence and grind out 500 pushups. A 6’1” and 225-pounds, he was built like Hercules, and needed specially tailored jackets to fit his powerful physique.

Once he ran into fitness guru Jack LaLanne, who took a gander at Cavagnaro’s muscles and wondered how much weightlifting he did to get them. “I’ve never lifted a weight in my life,” Cavagnaro told him. Later that same day, the disbelieving LaLanne got into a heated argument with some of Cavagnaro’s friends on the subject, insisting that nobody could get that sculpted without pumping a ton of iron.

A by-the-book cop, Cavagnaro was admired and respected by his colleagues in blue –– and, on one occasion, feared. When the Police Department went out on strike, Cavagnaro refused to join the picket line and continued to do his job. One day he radioed to headquarters that he was bringing in a murder suspect. The word came back that the striking cops had ringed the building and refused to let anyone in. When he pulled up there, the enraged Cavagnaro leapt out prepared to fight his way inside if he had to. He didn’t. Seeing the look on his face, the picketers quickly got the hell out of his way.

That episode notwithstanding, “Few officers have more friends in the police department,” noted the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle in 1967, because “from the day back in 1947 when he joined the department and began to work his way through the ranks, (he) has been a good officer.

“But more than that, he has the touch –– in many ways. He wears a size 51 coat because of his wedge-like shoulders. Trainers at the Police Academy think he could give Cassius Clay a good go –– anytime.”

When he retired from the force, his fellow cops presented Cavagnaro with a trophy jokingly inscribed to “Inspector Canvasback.”

After he and Ramona (who wears Paul’s 1940 Pacific Coast Golden Gloves championship medal around her neck on a gold chain) moved to Wisconsin, Cavagnaro turned the basement of their home into a shrine to his boxing heroes, including his great friend Ray Lunny Jr., the 1940s featherweight contender; Eddie Booker, the great Golden State light heavyweight with whom Cavagnaro often sparred; and onetime heavyweight contender Turkey Thompson, who in a gym session gave Cavagnaro two black eyes he wore as proudly as he later did his police shield.

At 88, health issues have slowed him down and made it hard to keep up the heavy bag workouts that he made an art form. But I’d still take him over any hulking doorman, and even some of our current heavyweight contenders.

As for Joe Louis (who Cavagnaro ranks as the best ever heavyweight), who knows what would’ve happened had Cavagnaro not loved his mother even more than boxing. But he regrets nothing, except maybe the time when the man Cavagnaro regards as the greatest fighter in history wanted to spar with him, and Joey Fox said no thanks to Charley Burley.

“He would have killed me,” says Cavagnaro dreamily.

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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