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Articles of 2006

Remembering a Violent Beauty on a Shimmering Night

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LAS VEGAS, Sept. 14 – Memory lane meanders down many detours and the best fight I’ve ever covered conjures up witch doctors, massage parlors and Howard Cosell. At my age, the mind wanders, but hopefully I’m young enough to appreciate that there can be no better way to celebrate the 25th anniversary Saturday of Leonard-Hearns than by watching the magnificent card here at the MGM Grand Arena.

Marcos Antonio Barrera, Israel Vazquez, Jhonny Gonzalez and friends may be under the impression they are celebrating Mexican Independence Day, which is fine, but the universality of the game gives the occasion even more to rejoice.

Barrera’s rematch with Rocky Juarez, the two matchups of champions – Vazquez and Gonzales, Jorge Barios and Joan Guzman – are all worthy birthday cakes, though it is unlikely any will hold a candle to Leonard-Hearns.

I remember, just before the start, standing in my seat next to Joe Flaherty, and yelling, “Let’s have a fight,” and thinking I had no idea who was going to win. Yet, when I returned home, a friend thanked me for touting Leonard in my New York Times articles. In those enlightened days, Times reporters were not allowed to make predictions and, frankly, I didn’t have a clue. What I did write, though, was that the fight might resemble a mirage in the desert, Thomas Hearns would be the boxer and Sugar Ray Leonard the slugger. Okay, I got that part right and my friend took that to mean Leonard would win and was able to cash in. But having forecast the role reversals did not mean I thought the slugger would win; and there was ample evidence during that wonderful night that Hearns indeed could have outboxed Leonard to win a decision.

I will not try and outdo Fast Eddie Schuyler’s sweet tribute to the fight as seen elsewhere on thesweetscience.com, but as he wrote, anticipation was as hot as the Vegas desert outdoors at Caesars Palace. There were 23,000 spectators there to see two future hall of famers in their absolute primes, and none would be disappointed. As Cosell would whine, and one of the pleasures of being ringside is not having to hear the announcers, “ebb and flo, ebb and flo.”

First, it was Hearns in charge. Then Leonard, then Hearns again, finally Angelo Dundee in Leonard’s corner issuing the warning after the 12th round, “You’re blowing it, son, you’re blowing it,” and Leonard’s gutsy reaction in the 13th.

Later, Pat Putnam would tell me that, in working on Leonard’s biography – never printed because the fighter decided to come back and fight Marvelous Marvin Hagler – that the virtually one-eyed slugger was in part tuning Dundee out and looking at his buddy, Janks Morton, in the corner for encouragement. Never mind, let’s not ruin a great story.

Memories. I remember Tony Ayala Jr., then a teenaged wunderkind who had won on the undercard, running up to the ring just before the start of the main event and calling out Leonard. It dawned on me then that you never heard anyone calling out Hearns. No one wanted to fight a 6-foot-1-inch welterweight with the power to destroy Pipino Cuevas and (later) Robert Duran inside two rounds each.

Hell, Leonard didn’t want to fight him again, either, waiting eight years before granting the rematch, and only because it appeared Hearns was shot. And, please, don’t tell me II was better than I – it was more violent, perhaps, and in its way just as exciting, but this was a no-longer-in-prime-time match, like Ali-Frazier III. Leonard and Hearns were diminished fighters by 1989, though the championship cores of their beings would always enable them to write great dramas in the ring.

In their primes, there were actually pockets of booing during the opening five rounds as Hearns outboxed Leonard, keeping his opponent on the outside with his fine jab and the threat of that right hand. Here were two great fighters, exchanging feints, neither one willing to lead, each hoping to induce the other into giving him something to counter. Few boxing fans would cheer Fischer-Spassky chess matches.

I remember Mike Trainer, Leonard’s brilliant lawyer, telling me he didn’t think his guy could get a fair shake with the judges. There was the misconception that Leonard, with his Olympic gold medal and ABC Television (especially Cosell) backing was the Establishment favorite. In fact, Leonard’s independence – using Bob Arum and Don King, not the other way round – had made him a feared outsider in the business.

That may not have been the reason Hearns was well ahead on the official scorecards after 12 rounds (remember, if there were no 15-round fights, Leonard would have lost on points). Leonard’s sixth and seventh rounds, where he had Hearns almost out on his legless feet, were scored 10-9, instead of the 10-8 I made them. That was in part the style of the day; after this great fight, giving a two-point round without a knockout became accepted, yea, mandated in some precincts.

Somehow, the same as Leonard was able to rise to the occasion in the sixth round, getting inside long enough to score a couple of damaging body blows before unloading on top, Hearns managed to regroup and, legless though he may have been, was able to stay away with his jab until he felt he was strong enough to start attacking again.

The massage parlor. It was the Oriental Health Spa and Massage Parlor in Detroit where Hearns, who weighed in officially that morning at 145½ pounds for his challenge of Pipino Cuevas, had to be taken to steam off some weight (a story denied to this day by Emanuel Steward). One of his buddies, Hollywood, who was later to be photographed holding a horizontal Hearns in his arms after the knockout by Hagler, told me it was all his fault Tommy had woken up overweight.

“He was hungry and I gave him some fruit and he didn’t dry out because of me, it’s all my fault,” he told me after the weigh-in. “Then they kept him in the steam too long. If he doesn’t knock out Cuevas in the first couple of rounds, he’s gonna be in big trouble and all because of me giving him fruit.”

What kind of fruit, the New York Times wanted to know.

Plums.

Hearns battered Cuevas, but the Mexican icon just kept advancing stoically until I thought Tommy was in big trouble, that he couldn’t put away Pipino and pretty soon the tide would turn. Just as I expressed my thoughts to a ringside neighbor, Cuevas went down.

Memories. Angelo Dundee had the foresight for Leonard not to fight Hearns earlier in their careers. He knew that this fight would build and build. Hearns, who was more like the original Sugar Ray than Leonard in terms of build and power, crossed the threshold with his second-round knockout of Cuevas. Leonard soon would avenge his only loss, to Robert Duran. Each would hold a claim to the welterweight title – those were the good old days before the IBF was formed.

It was decided to help the buildup by staging a massive card in Houston featuring both guys in separate matches. Bob Arum was hired to be the promoter. The card was looking like a financial disaster. “Tune-up” fights tend to be that way. Leonard was matched with an undefeated 154-pound champion, Ayub Kalule, Hearns with a tough fringe contender, Pablo Baez.

Kalule was from Uganda, though he lived in campaigned in Denmark so Arum’s longtime publicist, Irving Rudd – once described as a “Jewish leprechaun” by Red Smith – did what he always did to help promote a fight with an African. He brought in a witch doctor.

Kalule, naturally, was insulted. Copenhagen, after all, was a lot more sophisticated than the Third World climes from which Rudd hailed, the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. I also suspect he had read a lot more books than had Rudd. He was not the only one insulted, though. On the day at the Houston hotel where Rudd was going to embarrass the junior middleweight champion by introducing the “witch doctor” (if memory serves correctly, I think he ran a gas station), a bunch of writers – including Pat Putnam, Bob Waters, Schuyler and myself – decided it would be a good time to search out Baez, who told his compelling story of having lived in a Los Angeles bus terminal on his way to a title shot.

We got back to the main hotel to find the place abuzz. It was my first contact with Rock Newman, then a Washington radio host with a conscience. Newman, dressed in an all-white outfit, protested the inherent racism of bringing in a witch doctor. They were all outside, by the hotel’s swimming pool, when suddenly a flock of crows swooped down and began attacking Newman, chasing him into the pool.

Arum was crowing, too, that the witch doctor had magical charms. It turns out, we were informed by hotel personnel, that any jogger in Houston knew never to wear white for fear that the birds would attack.

Kalule put up a difficult fight before Leonard took him out in the ninth. Hearns went right through Baez and Arum was left on the outside, looking in to see if he could ruin the main event in Vegas.

Not even his magic touch and all the voodoo in the world could prevent Leonard-Hearns from writing a shimmering page in boxing history.

BY THE WAY: Oscar (Bait and Switch) de la Hoya, who was originally supposed to be fighting himself Saturday, which is how Golden Boy got the HBO pay-per-view date (hey, this card was worth it), is now talking about closing out his career against Felix Trinidad Jr. and not Floyd Mayweather Jr. It likely is a ploy to make Mayweather accept his terms for a possible May fight, but in any case, I just thought it would be sacrilege to mention Trinidad-de la Hoya in the same column as Leonard-Hearns.

De la Hoya and Trinidad were very good in their days. Neither would have lasted very long against Hearns, and he was the “loser” that night 25 years ago.

PENTHOUSE: Larry Holmes, for knocking out Gerry Cooney 24 years ago and preventing Dennis Rappaport from getting his greasy hands on the heavyweight division. The Menace, who just took his “Cinderella Man,” Oleg Maskaev, to a title, is already defacing it by matching him with some 34-year-old Ugandan based in Japan, Peter Okhello. Calling all sushi-eating witch doctors to Moscow? Look, I appreciate Rappaport getting in some extra cash for his guy before he has to face Samuel Peter, but this is a bad joke.

OUTHOUSE: The publicity machine at Golden Boy, which doesn’t tell reporters even when and where the press conference for this weekend’s show will take place. Calling Irving Rudd, but without the witch doctors.

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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