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Articles of 2006

Thank You, Castro, for Joel Casamayor

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LAS VEGAS, Oct. 6 – Cuban boxers may be great as amateurs, but a good cigar is a good cigar. This country’s refusal to do business with the Castro regime has cut off the supply of good smokes; not even the oppressive government has kept out star athletes.

But where baseball players have done well here, there has been a strange absence of the well-trained Cuban boxers to make it on these shores. Before Castro, there were of course plenty of great Cuban pro fighters – including the one I grew up rooting for the most, Kid Gavilan.

Since the revolution, though, the only two Cuban boxers to impact the pro level were Jose Napoles, who settled in Mexico, and Juan Carlos Gomez, who wound up in Germany.

Joel Casamayor, who walked out on the Cuban team before the 1996 Olympics with another amateur star, Ramon Garbey, is the only boxer to have taken full advantage of the American dream. And so, if his stint as one of the pound-for-pound best in the game nears possible finality with tomorrow’s rubber match against Diego Corrales, it would be remiss not to send him off with great praise.

This is not to say that Corrales, a 2-1 favorite, is a sure thing at the Mandalay Bay Arena tomorrow night (on a Showtime free weekend, too). Casamayor is 35, but great fighters usually have one great fight left – and El Cepillo (The Brush) was a great fighter.

His three pro losses were agonizingly close – Joe Cortez, who did a bad job, docked him two points and so it wound up with three scores of 114-112 against Casamayor against Acelino Freitas, who would never give him a rematch; and split decision losses to Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo.

Corrales wouldn’t give him a rematch until two and a half years after he evened the score against Casamayor, who had beaten him thoroughly I thought before their opener was stopped in the sixth round with Chico bleeding badly from a lip that was punctured with the help of a faulty mouthpiece. Casamayor gave Corrales a rematch a few months later; he’s had to wait a long time for the favor to be returned.

But this should not detract from the bigger picture of why Casamayor has succeeded where so many Cuban exiles have failed. Most of the best ones, including Teofilo Stevenson and Angel Hernandez, remained in Cuba. Casamayor, though, like Oscar de la Hoya, won an Olympic gold medal at Barcelona in 1992, and was expected to repeat in Atlanta when he and Garbey just walked out the door of the Mexican hotel where the Cuban team was staying. Luis DeCubas managed to get them away from under Bob Arum and signed them up with Main Events and Roger Bloodworth was brought in to train them in Florida.

But Calle Ocho, the capital of the Little Havana section of Miami, turned into the happy graveyard of most Cuban boxers post-Castro.

“The problem I had with Garbey (and with Cuban boxers before and since) was that he was a hero in Miami already, he didn’t have to be a champion,” said Bloodworth.

“It was like coming to Paradise,” said Bloodworth, who was deposed when DeCubas split with Main Events and Casamayor hooked up fortuitously with Joe Goossen and moved to California. “Just look at all the documentaries about living conditions in Cuba.”

Casamayor grew up in Guantanamo, where there were more torturous conditions on the Cuban side of the wall. He came home from Barcelona and Castro awarded him a bicycle. Wow. Casamayor traded it for a pig so he could feed his family.

Contrast that with the sudden riches of Calle Ocho, where they were wined, dined and feted by the anti-Castro populace.

“It was like they got out of jail and they were like kids in a candy store,” said Goossen. “They were overwhelmed with all the goodies.”

“At first, I had a little culture shock,” Casamayor said the other day. “But then I realized that in this country, you can’t live without money. People have got to go to work.”

He was the proverbial “slick southpaw” in the amateurs, a world champion as far back as 1989. But to his superior hand and foot speed, great reflexes and accurate punching, he added whole new playbooks on defense and on inside fighting. The great amateur became a pro’s pro, a guy who could box but would never shy away from a brawl.

He started a new life. He left behind his parents, a daughter (he and the mother had already parted when he decided to leave for America) and of course friends. Like Corrales, he has nine children – eight here. None will have to fight their way out of poverty.

Casamayor was back in Miami this year when he heard that Fidel Castro was so sick he had to at least temporarily turn control of the country to brother Raul.

“I prayed to God to let him live,” he said. “This is a decision to be made by God, not by a boxer. I’m not a Communist, but I’m not a guy who wishes bad on people.”

Well, maybe other than on Corrales, for whom he declares an avid dislike.

Bloodworth was with Casamayor for The Brush’s first dozen or so pro fights and returned to the Cuban this year. He recognized that Casamayor was not just lucky by making the switch to California, and away from Calle Ocho. Casamayor said his first reaction to Miami was “I’m free.” Bloodworth said, “He was smart enough to realize that boxing would really set him free.”

Goossen said he had no idea that getting Casamayor out of Miami was just as important as getting him out of Cuba as far as pro boxing was concerned.

“I’m glad I didn’t know anything about that,” said Goossen, who after parting with Casamayor following the first Corrales fight, wound up training Chico. “Later, I came to realize that.”

Goossen said he was surprised that an Olympic champion “had no clue how to fight on the inside.”

He taught him the techniques of “how to be rough, how to throw elbows and forearms.” He didn’t have to teach him the desire.

“He’s a natural badass,” said Goossen admiringly.

Corrales has accused Casamayor of being “dirty.” This bemuses the Cuban, whose corner has complained that Corrales himself jabs with a backhand to hide the straight right that follows.

“Boxing is dirty,” said Casamayor. “Period. Do you call judges who rig fights dirty? Do you call fighters who take dives dirty? The day I’m not ready to be a dirty fighter is the day I don’t fight anymore because it will mean that I have no heart for it anymore.”

Besides, he said, he’s only 5-foot-7, Corrales is almost 6 feet tall and he should expect a few bumps of the head or elbows.

There probably has never been a good fighter who wasn’t an expert on extracurricular targets, from Willie Pep to Muhammad Ali to Michael Spinks. Casamayor has lots of company, except for post-Castro Cubans.

He’s got a big chance against Corrales tomorrow night and not because Chico is (a) too well rested and might be rusty or (b) has been in too many wars. If Casamayor wins, it’s because he’s a hell of a fighter and don’t look too closely at his recent outings.

“I don’t think he took Lamont Pearson seriously,” said Bloodworth of Casamayor’s last opponent. “This camp has been totally different. If he doesn’t win this fight, he has no excuses.”

Eric Bottjer, the wise matchmaker who works for DSL, Casamayor’s promoters (the “R” is for Roberto Duran, a big admirer of the Cuban), said “he was in Arizona in late July training for this – he knows this is it.”

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

PENTHOUSE: Kris Kristofferson for writing that last line.

OUTHOUSE: The Illinois commission, if any, for allowing Don King’s Russian giant, Nikolai Valuev, to face Monte Barrett tomorrow night in an 18-foot ring. Nevada has a rule that the ring size is always 20 feet – and that should be standard everywhere. Put in the fickle New York commission, which allowed Miguel Cotto to have an 18-foot ring when he fought Paulie Malignaggi earlier this year….The WBC for ordering a rematch of Samuel Peter-James Toney. Yes, I was among the many who thought Toney won, but he did not deserve any rematch. The fight was close, the decision controversial and that’s what boxing is all about. Every time there’s a close call, you don’t say do-overs. The bright side is that Oleg Maskaev, who was supposed to fight the winner, Peter, now will have a chance to make some extra bread by working in a second voluntary defense after he gets past Peter (Who?) in December (okay, his last name is Okthello, but the question “who?” still applies), possibly against Bernard (It’s All Right, Ma, I’m Only Lying) Hopkins. Thing is, I think if Hopkins again goes back on his promise to his late mom about retiring, he can beat Maskaev – who at least would make a nice bundle for not having to face the Peter-Toney II winner (or maybe, if Toney gets the next decision, there will have to be a WBClowns-mandated rubber match).

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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