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Articles of 2006

Few Did It As Well As Willie Pep

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In the 1950s a Mexican featherweight boxer named Kid Campeche won only seven of his 31 pro fights, but nevertheless achieved a certain immortality for what he said after losing a 10-round decision in '-56 to Willie Pep. Asked what it was like to fight the legendary featherweight champion  the frustrated Campeche said it was akin to “trying to stamp out a grass fire.”

The great writer W.C. Heinz called Pep, who died on Thanksgiving Day at age 84, “the artist supreme.” In his book Once They Heard The Cheers, Heinz wrote: “When I watched him box, it used to occur to me that, if I could just listen carefully enough, I would hear the music. He turned boxing contests into ballets, performances by a virtuoso in which the opponent, trying to punch him out, became an unwilling partner in a dance, the details of which were so exquisite that they evoked joy, and sometimes even laughter.”

But not in the opponent, of course. “Stand still and fight!” growled Chalky Wright during their 15-round bout for Wright’s featherweight championship on November 20, 1942. “Do you think I want to get killed?” answered Pep, who won New York State recognition as ruler of the 126-pound division by winning a unanimous decision over Wright, and then unified the title by beating National Boxing Association champion Sal Bartolo on June 8, 1943.

To Pep, whose professional record was an astonishing 230-11-1, with 63 KOs, it all boiled down to a simple proposition. “The main idea,” he said once, “is to learn how to win without getting hurt.” It helped that he had the reflexes, as Heinz wrote, of “a housefly.”

An easy target for neighborhood bullies in his native Middletown, Connecticut, the diminutive Pep started his boxing career after being told by a friend, “Why don’t you go to the gym? You’re getting beat up, and you can get paid for it.”

He became the state flyweight and bantamweight amateur champion. One of his amateur losses was to a New Yorker called Ray Roberts, whose real name was Walker Smith and who later became Sugar Ray Robinson, another boxing legend.

Pep turned pro on July 3, 1940, and won 62 fights in a row before former lightweight champion Sammy Angott won a decision in their March 19, 1943 bout at Madison Square Garden. Pep disputed the duke. “He wasn’t tough at all,” he said of Angott years later. “I was sure I’d licked him.”

He was only 20 when he won the featherweight title, and after losing to Angott in their non-title fight, The Ring magazine’s 1945 “Fighter of the Year” won 72 more fights in a row (including one draw, which he avenged with a KO) before Sandy Saddler took the belt from him in 1948 by KO in four.

Those are flabbergasting figures because in those days fighters fought so much oftener than today, and against top-flight competition.

Here’s another stunner: In January, 1947, it was widely believed that Pep’s career was over after the plane in which he was a passenger went down. He lived, but when the medic who pulled him out of the wreckage saw who he was, he said, “That’s tough luck, Willie. I guess you’ll never fight again. You’ve got multiple injuries.” His back was broken, and so was his left leg. But six months later Pep was back in action. His injuries had robbed him of some of his speed, but not the guile which once moved columnist Red Smith to say that if Pep “had chosen a life of crime he could have been the most successful pickpocket since the Artful Dodger.”

He picked right up where he left off, and fought for another decade, gilding his legend by outboxing Saddler to take back the featherweight title. He lost to Saddler in two subsequent title bouts, but continued to fight regularly up to 1959. In December of ‘-58, the 36-year-old Pep was stopped by then-featherweight champ Hogan “Kid” Bassey, whose 10-year age advantage wasn’t obvious until Pep wore himself out making Bassey look silly in the first half of the non-title fight. Pep was stopped in round nine.

By then, Pep’s days as a headliner in the Garden were long past. So he gave a thrill to customers on boxing’s tank-town circuit, fighting for a few hundred dollars a bout against local kids who didn’t have a clue. “I move around these kids,” he said in a 1958 interview, “jab ‘em and keep ‘em off balance. I spurt about 30 seconds of every round. The crowd loves it when I bang away with both hands to the body. It looks real good, so I give them a show. Most of the kids I fight these days you probably never heard of. To tell you the truth, I never heard of them myself till I heard the announcer say their names.”

Being in the ring with the great Willie Pep made some of them forget their own names. Pep told Bill Heinz about a fight he had in the South against a kid who approached him at the weigh-in and said, “Mr. Pep, can I have your autograph?”

“I said, ‘Get away from me, kid. There’s people watchin’ here. We’re boxin’ tonight, and what are they gonna think?’”

When the referee called them to the middle of the ring pitched in a ballpark, Pep recalled, “I look at the kid, and he’s white. He’s scared stiff. I’m thinking, ‘Oh boy, what kind of a fight can this be?’ So the bell rings and we move around, and a lot of guys turn white, but this guy is startin’ to turn purple. I figure I have to do something, so I threw a right hand over his shoulder, and that would look good to the crowd but that would miss, and I stepped inside and grabbed him under the arms, and I said, ‘Look, kid, just relax. These people here paid their money, and we’ll give them a show. We’ll just box, and you won’t get hurt. We’ll have a nice evening, and everybody will like it.’

“So I take my arms out from under his and let him go, and he falls right on his face and the referee counts him out.”

Multiple marriages, bad investments and a cavalier attitude in general about money kept Pep hustling for a buck for most of his life. He even made a comeback in the mid-1960s, when he was in his 40s. “I’m a relic that people will come and and see, like something in a museum,” he said when he started fighting again. Plus, “I want to show the fans a few things they don’t see no more.”

He did. “Even looking at Willie’s performance in the cold light of the next morning, he showed us more skill, faster and sharper hitting, better footwork and swifter combinations than a majority of our current crop of ‘stars,’” wrote Boxing Illustrated editor Lew Eskin after Pep won a six-round decision over Jackie Lennon on April 26, 1965.

A charter inductee of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Pep was a regular at the Hall’s annual Induction Weekends until ill-heath intervened. Boxing historian Bill Schutte of Wisconsin, whose favorite fighter was Pep when Schutte first became interested in boxing over a half-century ago (“I think it was the name that got me”), says that no one was more accessible and accommodating than the great featherweight.

“What I really remember best about Pep over the years was how willing he was to autograph things,” said Schutte. “One year I had a whole stack of boxing photos, and a picture of him that I asked him to sign. He signed it most pleasantly, and then asked if I wanted him to sign any of the other photos in my stack. Unlike some other guys, Pep was always more than happy to sign for people during all the years I saw him in Canastota, and he always seemed to have great fun during those weekends.”

It all came down to what Pep told boxing writer Lester Bromberg in 1962: “I’m crazy over boxing, always have been, always will be. I think it’s the fairest of all sports, man against man, no two-one or three-one situations as develop in, say, football or basketball. And it’s best to watch when done reasonably well. In other words, when two men stand up there and fight with their brains as well as their brawn.

Few in the whole history of the Sweet Science did it as well as Willie Pep, the man who rebuked once and for all old-time lightweight champion Ad Wolgast, Pep's antithesis in the ring, who once sneered, anent Wolgast's great rival Willie Richie, “Who ever heard of anybody named 'Willie' ever becoming a great fighter?”

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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