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Articles of 2006

Is the Rocky road boxing’s only path to redemption?

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Suggestions that 41-year-old Bernard Hopkins will end his short-lived retirement in a clash with WBC Heavyweight belt holder Oleg Maskaev or WBO/IBF Super-Middleweight titleist Joe Calzaghe in the next year caused me to contemplate the current fascination with veteran fighters, as opposed to rising talent, whether it risks becoming an unhealthy obsession and the factors cultivating it.

If the continuing service of veterans like Hopkins is the only way to fuel the carbon burning pay-per-view machine or invoke curiosity amongst the wider sporting public then what hope for the future remains? Are prolonged careers like Hopkins’ the happy result of improving knowledge of nutrition, training techniques and protection of fighters? A more worrying reflection of boxing’s ageing viewing demographic, a lack of raw talent emerging from the amateur system perhaps or, in truth, the proliferation of belts that enable fighters to avoid the most demanding contests?

When 45-year-old George Foreman rendered Michael Moorer prone in the tenth round of their IBF World Heavyweight title fight twelve years ago next week, the self-styled punching preacher declared the win a triumph over accepted wisdom that age is a barrier to achievement.

His victory met with astonishment and derision in equal dose. An incredulous public, though cheering Foreman’s accomplishment, assumed boxing was a sport in decline – after all, how could an overweight middle-aged man win the heavyweight title, the perceived bastion of athletic perfection? Now a dozen years on, and with a collection of heavyweight contenders in their late thirties and early forties still vying for world-title honors, the significance of the achievement is greatly undermined, though as yet not replicated. But was the underlying assumption about the health of the sport ultimately correct?

This newfound longevity certainly doesn't begin or end with the heavyweight division. If it did, it would be easier to theorise that the weight class where strength and power are paramount would be a sustainable feeding ground for older fighters. After all, one of boxing’s oldest truisms is “the last thing a fighter loses is his punch.” But the phenomenon reaches much further. Even in the lower divisions where speed, reflex and the youth that fuels them is supposed to prevail, fighters are competing far beyond traditional expectations.

A generation ago, fighters were regarded as veterans or shop-worn by their 30th birthday. Ripe dinosaurs. Now they're the leading attractions. A fighting prime no longer the exclusive preserve of the young. In the 21st century, boxers in their 30's still seek definition and crescendo in their careers, the soon-to-be 35-year-old Joe Calzaghe a classic and topical example. It isn’t that fighters from bygone eras didn’t fight on into their late thirties, though the practice appears more rare, but they typically cut forlorn figures; desperately eking out small purses from expiring talent. Their modern day counterparts compete at a level of significance and remuneration far beyond their predecessor’s wildest imagination.

Of course, to propose only Bernard Hopkins and George Foreman as evidence for this changing landscape would undermine the suggestion’s legitimacy from the outset. After all, both Hopkins and Foreman could be discredited due to their almost unique physiology. Foreman, blessed with power unrivalled in heavyweight history and maintained throughout 'two' careers, was able to mask his increasing weaknesses with this huge advantage in power. Only premier opponents could outwit him during his second career, youth certainly wasn’t enough in isolation, and even then not without a painful struggle.

The Executioner meanwhile harnesses a physical prowess, ring-craft and zeal for self-improvement only the Ole’ Mongoose Archie Moore could match. But there are plenty more behind these exalted torchbearers.

In the heavyweight division only 27 of the current top 100* are yet to reach their 30th birthday, exactly matching the number already beyond their 35th. Add the years of Oliver McCall (41), Evander Holyfield (43) and Henry Akinwande (40) and the average rises still further. Is the heavyweight division really so devoid of talent and vigor that these fossilised warriors cannot be ousted? Does the sport really lack sufficient impetus and personality that a pay-per-view price tag for a 40-year-old Mike Tyson exhibition bout is a plausible sell?

Has boxing’s self-destruction reached such depths that only a bastardised version of the sport, a super-heavyweight tournament in the fistic backwater of Australia complete with replays, big gloves and back-to-back fights, capable of engaging a modern audience? Can the sport ignore – or indeed repel – the continued emergence of UFC and other assimilated combat sports? How does a sport so dependent on ageing protagonists reach out to a new generation of fans?

All troublesome questions. The Australian tournament a discernible attempt at an answer, the Contender television series another.

Whilst acknowledging the irony of using pay-per-view status or title belts as a barometer for a fighter’s standing and the cumulative health of the sport given the damage both have done to its wellbeing, the current crop of boxing stars are unquestionably an ageing breed.

Fifty-five years ago this month, a 37-year-old Joe Louis was regarded ancient when his comeback culminated in a clash with Rocky Marciano. Time Magazine reported, “Only those right at the ringside could see that Louis at 37, balding and thick-waisted, was little more than a bloated, moonfaced caricature of the famed Brown Bomber.”In 1974, and approaching 33, Muhammad Ali created fear amongst fans who felt he could be seriously hurt in his contest with George Foreman.

Now 32 years later Nicolay Valuev, a similar 33 years experienced by his gargantuan frame, is arguably the division’s best active chance of re-establishing interest amongst a new audience. His wider appeal has as much to do with his physical enormity and the biological voyeurism it encourages than the pugilistic excellence he’s demonstrated to date. And besides, a 33-year-old Russian is the future of the heavyweight division? If you’re seeking an alternative, perhaps the 38-year-old James Toney could yet save the blue ribbon weight class?

At the outset I surmised there were a number of potential factors behind the trend, in truth the situation is more complex than a single explanation. Shorter championship rounds, fewer fights, improving nutrition, the plethora of sanctioning bodies creating more opportunities and a reduced need to make risky fights all contribute.

Alongside these sits the oft-repeated explanation for America’s failure to develop a leading heavyweight in recent times; the athletic talent increasingly gravitate toward the rewards of the NFL and NBA suggest boxing’s intelligentsia. Without the inspiration and example of a meaningful and consensus heavyweight champion, with what does the sport attract or entice new blood? Particularly in America, boxing’s richest playground.

This vacuum is presently filled by the emergence of hungry young fighters from the former Eastern Bloc and a relocation of the heavyweight powerbase has ensued. Currently custodians of all four heavyweight belts and with a growing profile across the weight classes, ‘Soviet’ boxing is in the ascendancy. Watercooler economists would conclude boxing no longer provides the same path of aspiration from the impoverished neighborhoods and ghettos of the western world it once did.

Whilst boxing has always been a global sport with exponents from a disparate collection of countries and cultures, the one consistent source of excellence in the heavier weight classes has been America. From Johnson and Dempsey, to Holmes and Frazier. Of course, boxing doesn’t begin and end with the heavyweight division but despite the efforts of fighters like Duran, Barrera, Gatti or Hamed to educate audiences to the brilliance and entertainment contained in the lighter weight divisions, heavyweight boxing remains the pulse on which the sport’s health is judged.

In the absence of a unifying fighter or transcending personality like Ali or Tyson, the sport perhaps needs one shared experience to re-establish interest and participation amongst younger audiences. It’s certainly hard to conjure a scenario where the confusing and detrimental presence of the sanctioning bodies is purged, allowing new fans to decode the significance of different fights, bout by bout.

Nor is it likely that premier level fighters, whatever their age, will return to the frequency of combat their predecessors relatively meagre rewards necessitated. Without television, fighters simply don’t get the wages they crave or expect, and television dates are a finite resource – in this era of title fights being ‘the only’ fights – off-television non-title fights for established performers are never likely to be de rigueur.

Equally, with sanctioning bodies surviving proven infidelities and the television networks legitimising their numerous belts, fighters continue to avoid meeting their leading contemporaries, preferring rewarding low-risk defenses. Boxing’s current setup rewards and favors the fighter, which is to be applauded, but longterm, it may be to the further detriment of the sport.

In short, boxing doesn’t help itself through its organisation or lack thereof. On current evidence, answers to the sport’s problems won’t be answered from within, whether that be the emergence of a charismatic, dominant fighter or a sanitation of the sewer boxing’s “movers and shakers” inhabit.

Perhaps paradoxically, the way to exorcise the lingering ghosts of Hopkins, Jones Jr., De La Hoya, Mosley, Trinidad, Tarver, Tyson, Holyfield and Toney from boxing’s chorus line and entice a new audience to the sport lays in the fists of the sport’s most famously aged heavyweight.

That’s right, 60-year-old Sylvester Stallone, and the forthcoming sixth installment of his Rocky Balboa story, could be the sport’s most endearing, conspicuous and, arguably, final great white hope.

*October rankings from International Boxing Organisation’s (IBO) Computerised System – find them at www.iboboxing.com

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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