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Articles of 2006

Jermain Taylor: Promises, Promises

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Sometimes we can delve too deeply interpolating and distorting essence or trace so close to the contours of design we merely copy shadows. Getting a clear image of a fighter — worth embodied by deed, the standing of a champion — merit realized against peerage, and the trajectory of a career — potential divided by possibility remaining, makes for a project of intense analysis.

And yet we want to just enjoy the champions as they fight and defend, taunt their generational adversaries and posture themselves against all of the myths and legends of the sport that they will never face in a boxing ring. When we try to see the truth of the boxer who is the WBC/WBO middleweight champion, Jermain Taylor, we cast a gaze beyond the expectations and the limitations, the achievement and the questioning. This is a fighter who is toiling now, in his prime, trying to finalize all of the elements of craft and reputation that will construct his eventual legacy. So we gaze, interested, waiting.

Yet something strikes us oddly about Taylor, powerful and successful though he continues to be, defending and reigning high among middleweights; high and mighty or a high wire act, high on agendas like fighting the best of the best out there, as he says. Why does the picture of Jermain Taylor remain so fragmented, as if in his incomplete state of being he’s still good enough to best the rest, looking good, then better, but never at his best, the best we still envision for him? Why does this man who seems so plaintively right there, simple, reticently direct still elude us, his ring performances becoming a puzzle?

Perhaps, we were always looking to find something of a colossus in the young man from Little Rock; the named place of near contradiction so like his moniker of “Bad Intentions,” because the self-labeling has not yet materialized, as if he’s stuck at the level of intention. His career to date a poster for the champion he hopes to become? Sure, he’s ambitious, but yet so measured, tongue-tied shy, only able to express himself in starbursts of forced emotion, like his reactive boxing flurries. And knockouts have not come Taylor’s way, of late. Despite his furry of tenacious effort and withering flurries, he — the champ — does not overwhelm his foes. The talk amongst boxing writers before the homecoming title defense at the Alltel Arena in Little Rock, Arkansas, basically conceded that finally Taylor was going to have his knockout title defending win, live and simulcast on HBO in HD: hot damn! The sometimes playful but always perpetually combative Kassim Ouma was there, for the full 12 rounds, basically right where Team Taylor had predicted he’d be, right in front of the champion waiting to be hit and hurt. Ouma closing, wading past what ever of the champion’s blows could be parried, avoided or absorbed, was more than true, it was guaranteed due to the Ugandan’s size, fighting style and compunction.

And hit Ouma Taylor did. Repeatedly, with force, to the head and midriff and even between the gloves to the point of the chin, the champion’s punches slammed home. The punches coming not as a torrent ala Ray Leonard or Hector Camacho, but more in the manner of a Terry Norris, selectively served to explode as dynamite to alternating regions of Ouma’s awaiting anatomy. Yet the more the champion loaded up to detonate gloved distress the more he seemed to expel at the expense of inflicting damage. It’s true, fighters might not topple over at the impact of Taylor’s signature blows, but, one suspects — all the same — his opponents aren’t feeling too lively after the cameras are turned off, showered and dressed, the impact of a night with Taylor must come back into their systems like venom of poisonous recirculation, deep into tissue and the vital organs.

But the fans crave the big blow, the definitive ending marking the clearest statement of dominance. That’s what tradition tells us. That’s what champs do; they knock guys out, turn contenders into defenseless heaps. Taylor desperately wanted the knockout finish for his hometown fans, too much, and he swatted the air with recklessness over the first two rounds as proof. Ten rounds later, at the close of the full 12, no knockdown, no knockout had been executed. And still the effort was there, the striving and desire of a man sensitive to the speculations as to his championship quality and the criticisms of what he’s managed to make happen, thus far, as the main man in the world of middleweight boxers. The words Bernard Hopkins had uttered to try to deflate the “heir apparent” in the lead up to their July 16, 2005 showdown — yes, he’s got youth on his side, but, in boxing terms he’s still a boy — almost seemed to list, flutter just above the action like a truth telling specter, the man-child Taylor still fighting without total professional composure and honed deliberation.

He kept his title: Jermain Taylor, middleweight champion, WBC/WBO, if you need the distinctions of political endorsements. His Arkansas fan base had their fill, ten thousand strong at the arena, and rhyming his name with JT, bad intentions to be left for another night, for Winky or that Welshman JC. Hopkins’ unrealized threat echoes back to us: the truth will be told all over his face and when he’s brought to his knees. Taylor’s record remains intact, made to bend only when he’s allowed for angles to be bisected, counters to be measured; traps he sets to be sprung from off the ropes. Even though boxing at ring center he can dominate, even Ronald Wright. Thus you are made to wonder why does this guy six-foot-one and streamlined, with power and the ability to prepare so completely, why does he still manage to limit his total effectiveness. Why?

Winning fights can be art or escape, wrath or survival, calculation or miracle. Jermain Taylor winning middleweight title defenses seems to follow a plan that no one has written, a story improvised at the demands of last second emotions, completing a narrative, but with its ending lacking the overall full impact of excellence.

Maybe we have dreamed of a career for Taylor too large for him to fill, a picture too classical for him to fill. The man who dared to follow Hopkins: Jermain Taylor. The facts of his ring accomplishments tell us that in his last six professional fights (William Joppy, Daniel Edourad, Bernard Hopkins, Bernard Hopkins, Ronald “Winky” Wright and Kassim Ouma, in that order) he’s been undefeated and only once held to a draw, in what amounts to one of the most torrid big fight stretches in boxing over the period from December 2004 until December 2006. Yet we want more from Taylor. There have been moments of drama and check points during this stretch, which only his bravery applied has managed to keep him whole, brimming with undiluted promise. As a fighter Jermain Taylor still exists in the future; the full terms of reference regarding his career adding up and unfolding as if in super high definition slow motion replay, preview.

Two years ago to this month, the characterization of Taylor, as he headed into his bout with former longtime WBA middleweight titleholder William Joppy was of THE contender on his way up, the guy with the golden jab. Jermain Taylor, in 2004, was The Contender. Tactically and aesthetically, Taylor was the middleweight with the jab. That left lead was his ticket to someday landing him a shot at the legend of Bernard Hopkins. Promoter Lou DiBella, ensconced in his Manhattan office, dreamed of the night his guy would take down the House of Hopkins, brick by burdensome brick. First, Taylor had to look a champion against a former champion, that inevitable audition hungry fighter’s live for, inhale. Though he battered and blanketed Joppy with almost every punch he wanted, it was that left lead that carved and clubbed his way to the threshold of the middleweight division’s royal chamber. Funny, how the Taylor signature punch for twenty-three fights began to erase itself soon after, lost in what his trainers and he felt was a more devastating arsenal.

Manny Steward who took the place of Pat Burns in the Taylor corner as trainer (before the Wright fight) has tried to give symmetry to the young champion in the ring, with reminders of structural flaws to be corrected: balance issues. Taylor, trying to turn the tricky corner from being a retreating jab enthusiast to a boxer-puncher capable of right hand attacks or surgical body tattoo artistry, had to learn to punch from different angles balanced, weight shifting for maximum power. Command ring center with the jab, jab and jab and lay down the law with right hand power then jab, jab until you need to clean up with the hook or send a message with an uppercut from downtown. Boxing Made by Manny. Motor City Madness! Thomas Hearns LIVES!

Promise.

So far, Taylor has remained lost in transition. Remember the fighter who stormed out for round two against Bernard Hopkins in their first fight, all rash power hitting and conductive electricity almost short circuiting Hopkins right then and there? Then think about the guy with the belt facing Ronald Wright, who took mainly what was offered, ramming Wright’s body with thundering force and looking more the champion down the stretch. What we got were fragments, moments of daring and discharged not connected, not immediately repeated, patterned.

Pure promise.

Jermain Taylor, the champion in progress, hasn’t graduated yet and still he reigns. Wonderful news for anyone associated with him or proud to cheer for him can hear. The air about him spells out champion, no matter how irritating that must be for Wright. He doesn’t rock the imagination, doesn’t emit a sense of awe. Yet he remains the almond-eyed gentleman from Arkansas with the title of middleweight champion who takes to the body in clusters, mostly abstaining from the dictates of his classic jab, still trying to master the old one-two with a Hearns like kick at the end of it; Manny has his man but the message has not yet been downloaded, made second nature to this middleweight who still, for all the world, looks more like the man than any one else has a right to.

I know that what I need to do is fight the very best fighters in the world and I will. That’s all I want to do. That’s what I want.

Promises, promises.

(Patrick Kehoe may be reached at pkehoe@telus.net)

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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