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Articles of 2006

Enrique Palau: What boxing and fighting is all about

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On the evening of December 19, undefeated junior middleweight sensation Enrique Palau spent the evening gambling at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut with his trainer, onetime middleweight prospect Sean Fitzgerald.

Both hailed from Worcester, Massachusetts, where Fitzgerald, who was known as “The Irish Express” in his heyday, runs the Camp Fitzy boxing gym.

Although the 37-year-old Fitzgerald had known Palau since he was about ten, the two had become very close in recent years. It was Fitzgerald who convinced Palau, who had always displayed great pugilistic skills but lacked willpower and discipline, to finally utilize his God-given talent in a positive way.

Under Fitzgerald’s guidance, Palau turned pro in November 2005. Fighting throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut, he compiled a 7-0 (5 KOS) record in just 13 months. He was a slam-bang fighter with bone-jarring power and immense fan appeal.

There was no doubt that the 27-year-old Palau was going places. On the way back from the Foxwoods, where Fitzgerald says that both he and Palau made a few dollars, they talked about both of their pasts, present and futures.

Just four days earlier, Palau had won a unanimous six-round decision over Hollister Elliott at The Castle in Boston. Fitzgerald, who compiled a 29-2-2 (11 KOS) record during a career that lasted from 1990-2001, was still gently admonishing him for dropping his hands, loading up on his punches, and for putting himself in a position where he had to lose 12 pounds in one day in order to make weight.

Amid all the shop talk, the two still found the time to do what they did best when together, which was incessantly breaking each other’s balls.

Their night ended at about three o’clock in the morning. Palau, who was scheduled to fight again in February, called his trainer at one o’clock the next afternoon to say hello. He called again at nine in the evening to check on Fitzgerald’s father, who had received a medical treatment that day. Five hours later Palau was dead.

Fitzgerald knew something was terribly awry when he was awakened early the next morning. He was expecting an oil delivery man. Instead he was greeted by Worcester police officer Tom Duffy, who Fitzgerald knows personally, WBA junior middleweight champion Jose Antonio Rivera of Worcester, who Fitzgerald co-trains, and a local boxer named Flaco.

They told him that Palau, as well as a female companion, had been killed earlier that morning in a car crash. The accident is still under investigation, but it appears that the car ran a stop sign and crashed headlong into a stone wall. The chances are that neither Palau nor his companion ever knew what hit them.

“We had a very special relationship,” said Fitzgerald as he choked back tears. “The day before we were talking about what a good year 2007 was going to be. This happening to him makes no sense. If God was going to take him, why didn’t he take him when he wasn’t doing good, when he was screwing up? He finally had his life in order. Things were really coming together for him. That’s why this is so hard to swallow.”

As a youngster Palau had won numerous amateur titles, including the New England Junior Olympics. Never known as a hard trainer, most of his success was attributed to his natural abilities, the bedrock of which was his tremendous physical strength and power.

“He only wanted to punch,” said Fitzgerald. “He just loved to fight, with or without mitts. He was the real deal, the kind of fighter that trainers dream about having.”

Palau’s amateur progress was interrupted by a conviction for armed robbery when he was 17 years old. According to Fitzgerald, Palau, who had been an A student, was fired from the fast food chicken restaurant that employed him.  

An angry Palau returned to the eatery with his face obscured by a mask and demanded money. The owner knew right away that it was Palau who was hiding behind the mask, and implored him to stop the charade. Palau followed through with the robbery and was arrested, convicted, and ultimately sent away to some of the state’s most dangerous prison facilities.

Fitzgerald says that he, and many others, were surprised he got such a heavy sentence for what they believe was his first offense.

“He was a nice kid in a bad environment,” said Fitzgerald. “He was a little wild, like a lot of us are when we’re young, but he had a great heart. He was a really good kid.”

Upon his release from prison, Palau won the 2004 New England Golden Gloves 152-pound title. He even made it to finals of the national tournament.

“He got there without hardly training,” said Fitzgerald. “He’d come to the gym and spar with Jose, who was a world champion. He had unbelievable natural ability.”

Fitzgerald, who had squared off with the likes of Roberto Duran, Dana Rosenblatt and Peter Manfredo Sr. during his career, finally convinced Palau to get serious. He wasn’t getting any younger and he had so much to offer the pro boxing game.

“He was smoking cigarettes and hanging around the gym,” said Fitzgerald. “He’d spar with Jose, but not really try to get better. He just relied on what came natural to him. He was a fighter, so all he wanted to do was fight.”

Under Fitzgerald’s stewardship, Palau decided to make a serious run at boxing’s brass ring. He began training with diligence. By fighting so often he became better known in Worcester and the best qualities in him came out. Prior to his untimely death, he had established quite a fan base at home. The roar of the crowd when he fought locally was deafening.

“He really learned from his mistakes,” said Fitzgerald. “He’d talk to the kids in the gym about doing the right thing. He’d help serve meals to the kids who weren’t going to have supper on the table when they got home. He’d give rock-solid advice.”

I had met Palau on the evening of September 23 in Hartford, shortly after he won a four-round decision over James North at the Connecticut Convention Center. I remember thinking to myself that he had a glow about him.

I don’t know if it was his boxing ability, the force of his friendly personality or the obviously tight relationship he had with Fitzgerald that was so appealing. What I do know is that I realized right away that this was a fighter worth following.

It was obvious that he was very comfortable with his boxing abilities, yet he didn’t seem the least bit boastful. And it didn’t bother him in the least that North was the first of five opponents to go the distance with him. He was glad to get the rounds in and more than happy to learn on the job against a well-traveled and durable journeyman.

Fitzgerald described Palau as having big balls. Coupled with his power and crowd-pleasing style, Fitzy assessed that he had superstar potential. He wholeheartedly believed that Palau had learned from his past indiscretions, and was mature enough to know that his best shot at a bright future was through boxing.

After Palau’s death, Rivera, who is a court officer by day, told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that Palau knew he messed up when he went to prison.

But, added the well-respected champion who is scheduled to defend his title against the undefeated Travis Simms on January 6, “When he came out of prison, he came out repentant. A lot of people had given up on him, but he wanted to prove to everyone that he was serious. I saw him transform himself into a real man.”

Rivera thought so highly of Palau, he said he was hoping to pass his championship torch onto him in the not too distant future.

It is obvious that in his relatively short life Palau positively affected a lot of people. Earlier today he was laid to rest at the Hope Cemetery, which is within walking distance of Fitzy’s gym.

It is hard to imagine that Palau, who left behind two young children, will not continue to affect people in a positive way.

“This kid meant so much to me, to a lot of people,” said Fitzgerald. “His being gone has left a big void in my life, in a lot of lives. You don’t meet people like Enrique everyday. He was what boxing and fighting is all about. Building yourself up, chasing dreams, and becoming a better person. Guys like him don’t come around very often. He’s going to be missed by a lot of people.”

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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