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Articles of 2007

Rocky Balboa and the fight crowd

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There are few comebacks in boxing as glorious as that of Rocky Balboa. In the sixth installment of the “Rocky” series, titled “Rocky Balboa,” Sylvester Stallone returns the film to the character’s humble Philly roots. The movie – Balboa – is both likeable and meaningful.

It’s been 30 years since the fight game was introduced to Balboa. We asked a variety of people some questions about the series:

Your favorite 'Rocky' movie?

Steve Farhood, boxing analyst, Showtime: “As far as I’m concerned, there IS only one Rocky movie, and that’s the original. The original was different from the others in one significant way: It wasn’t directed by Stallone. John Avildsen did a brilliant job. Also, Rocky was fresh and brand new back then, and as such, was a totally believable character.”

Mark LaMonica, sports and celebrity blogger, Newsday: “Rocky III is probably my favorite, which could be considered heresy in Philadelphia and Rome. But everyone always says I and II. But, in Rocky III, Balboa has a few gutcheck moments where he needs to find his heart and soul after getting embarrassed by Clubber Lang. To me, that's the essence of the character that we know as Rocky Balboa. He was all heart, and when he lost in III, we all felt a little uneasy . . . until he beat Apollo Creed in the beach race scene.”

Bobby Cassidy, former No. 1 light heavyweight contender and cast member, Rocky I and II: “The first one. It had everything, even a love story. The anticipation of the fight was fantastic. And what made the movie great was the he didn't win. It wasn't your typical Hollywood ending. Burt Young's character, Paulie, was great. He had emotion, envy and a love-hate relationship with his sister.”

Michael Bentt, former WBO heavyweight champ who played Sonny Liston in “Ali”:
“Looking back and appreciating it now, the first one was awfully compelling and raw. But there is something in the current one, 'Rocky Balboa' that strikes a chord in me on many different levels. Maybe I'm old enough to appreciate the 'process of other men.' The thing that resonated mostly is Rocky's yearning not to be defined by anyone but himself, and even then not being comfortable or complacent with what he has. The courtroom scene was poignant and transformative. Stallone's best work since Rocky I and Copland. But everyone's a critic.”

Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, former WBA lightweight champion and actor-director: “The first one, it's a classic.”

Tommy Rainone, welterweight: “The original because it was done so well, the music, the dark grainy look that it had. The movie was written perfectly and the casting was even better.”

John Cirillo, president, Cirillo World PR: “The original Rocky was a true movie classic, I remember standing and cheering in the movie theater as if it was yesterday.”

Ron Ross, boxing author and columnist: “The original Rocky, because all the others are just like branches on a tree. Gotta go back to the root.”

Ed Brophy, Executive Director, International Boxing Hall of Fame: “The first Rocky was my favorite. It is one of the most inspirational films I have ever seen.”

Which was the worst “Rocky” movie?

Farhood: “The worst of the worst was Rocky V. Even though I wasn’t big on Rocky II, III, or IV, at least Apollo Creed, Mr. T, and Ivan Drago were good characters. That was missing in V. And the we-can-save-the-world speech after the Rocky-Drago fight in IV was fairly pathetic. Talk about taking yourself way too seriously!”

LaMonica: “Sadly, it's gotta be Rocky V, although I contend that it wasn't as bad as everyone makes it out to be, kind of like Godfather III.”

Cassidy: “Rocky V, who cares about a street fight?”

Mancini: “It's a toss up between 5 and 6. I understand what Sly was trying to do, he was trying to keep up with the times. But in 4 and 5, he got lost along the way. He became a caricature of what the modern fighter is.”

Rainone: “I'd have to say 5 although the street fight was amazing and it wasn’t a bad flick but in comparison it wasn't as good as the others.”

Cirillo: “Rocky III, I was just never a big Mr. T fan.”

Earliest memory of the “Rocky” series?

Farhood: “I saw the original Rocky with my buddy John when the film first came out. There wasn’t much buzz yet, and we didn’t know what to expect. I distinctly remember people standing and cheering during the fight scene, something that just doesn’t happen in Manhattan movie theaters. And I remember running all the way home, even though we saw the movie on the West Side and I lived on the East Side. I think John and I could’ve run a full marathon.”

LaMonica: “I was first introduced to Rocky Balboa in the den of the house I grew up in when I was about 5. I remember sitting on the floor watching Rocky on regular television with my parents.”

Bentt: “I just turned eleven when the first Rocky premiered. I remember not really being all that excited about the film. I always maintained that fighters are compelled to fight out of the experiences in their lives. And those experiences include fighting as a response to the relationships in a boxer's immediate culture (family) and the greater culture (society). In Rocky, I didn't see anything remotely mirroring my experience. Or if I did I  wasn't sensitive or secure enough to acknowledge it. But the parallels were  there, even as an 11-year-old. A guy I nicknamed 'The Babe' made sure of  that. Here's a bit of irony with The Babe. I'm in a dressing room waiting amongst a group of junior Olympians in the 1976 regionals. A heated discussion about Rocky erupts. I go into my best Muhammad Ali-esque Rocky is fake routine. The only kid not joining the debate was this kid in the corner. I'd soon find out this short Italian fireplug with thick arms and legs was my opponent. Think Babe Ruth meets Vern Troyer. We were eleven and he already had the beginnings of beard growth! During my harangue he never took his eyes off me. I was just a puppy selling wolf tickets and I wasn't bad enough to  ask him 'What the f— are you looking at, white boy?'. Anyway, we fought 45 minutes later and this cat proceeded to get in my face royally. Bang, bing, bang. I remember him swarming all over me and thinking 'I made a mistake by talking because this guy really isn't fighting like it was a sport'. I don't remember his name. All I know is that put a stop to my trash talking before a fight.”

Mancini: “I was 15 when the first one came out, I was a freshman in high school. I don't think anyone who saw it wasn't inspired by it. America needed something to hold on to. Everything he did, I tried. I had my first amateur fight in April of that year. I did the one-arm pushups. I drank the raw eggs. I ran the steps. I did all of it.”

Brophy: “My earliest memory of the Rocky series was seeing the first film when it debuted in 1976. It’s a year I will always remember because it was the year of Rocky, the 1976 Olympic team and also the year I graduated from Canastota High School.”

Which character was the best Rocky opponent?

LaMonica: “Drago! He had everything. The height, the deadly punch, the hot wife, the Cold War stare, the great access to performance-enhancing drugs. Plus, he killed the man who gave Rocky his title shot. He was the quintessential antagonist for our hero Balboa.”

Cassidy: “The Russian. He was tall, he was strong. He looked like a fighter. Plus, he was in my acting class.”

Bentt: “For sheer charisma and as someone who had the 'external' look of a fighter, it had to be Apollo Creed. His technique left a lot be desired but to the masses back then it didn't matter how he threw his punches. He had the look of a champion, he talked the talk of a champion and he commanded attention when he entered a room.”

Mancini: “Apollo Creed was fantastic. He was the quintessential opponent. But I did like the Clubber Lang character too.”

Rainone: “By far, Clubber Lang, He is one of the greatest villains to ever be in a film and a lot of his lines were improv, at least that's what Stallone said. Amazing character from the opening scene when he's standing over a fallen opponent screaming, 'I want Balboa!'”

Cirillo: “Carl Weathers from the original Rocky, he looked like a fighter.

Ross: “When a character stays in your mind the way Apollo Creed does, I guess  it's the 'Creed' rises to the surface.”

Brophy: “Apollo Creed, to me, was the best Rocky opponent. The actor who portrayed him (Carl Weathers) did such a great job in making him larger than life.”

Rocky Balboa reminds you of which real-life fighter and why?

Farhood: “Rocky doesn’t really remind me of any fighter. The easy answer is, of course, Chuck Wepner, but when Wepner got his shot at Ali, he was a legitimate top 10-top 15 heavyweight. Before fighting Apollo, Rocky was a total nonentity.”

LaMonica: “Vinny Pazienza. Crazy Italian guy in the ring who could throw punches and take punches until either the bell rung or his face fell off.”

Cassidy: “That's a tough one. But I'm going to say me. We were both southpaws and we both beat the odds. I turned pro without a single amateur fight. Teddy Brenner said the odds of me becoming a contender, without any kind of amateur background, were 1,000-to-1.”

Rainone: “Arturo Gatti.”

Mancini: “As far as career trajectory, we can talk about James J. Braddock, a knock around guy, finally getting a title shot. I know the movie is based on Chuck Wepner. And what about Carlos Baldomir, he's the modern-day Rocky.”

Bentt: “For pure drama and an Italian-American tie-in, Rocky Balboa is the heavyweight rendition of Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini. Boom Boom was never in an easy fight and neither was 'Rocko'. Both were bleeders. It was blood and guts when they fought. But how about a runner-up? Frank 'The Animal' Fletcher. Although the obvious difference is pigmentation, go back and take a look at Fletcher's fights. He probably most closely resembles Rocky in ring style and temperament.”

Cirillo: “Paulie Malignaggi, Italian, tough, charming and never will give up. The Cotto-Malignaggi fight was like a real-life Rocky.”

Ross: “I know he's supposed to be based on Chuck Wepner but whenever I see Arturo Gatti, I see a pocket Rocky.”

Brophy: “Rocky doesn’t’ remind me of one particular real life boxer, but Stallone’s portrayal of a boxer who is trying to prove himself is exactly what most boxers are all about. They all have that Rocky spirit in them.”

In real life, Rocky Balboa would be … a champ, a contender, a club fighter, a tomato can.

Farhood: “In real life, Rocky would be ignored. Nobody wants to fight a left-handed heavyweight.”

LaMonica: “Despite the 24 losses on his record, the Rock is a champion.”

Cassidy: “A contender, especially today. But they'd stop all his fights in the first round.”

Rainone: “A contender probably similar to Micky Ward.”

Mancini: “First of all, real fighters, can fight. But let's look at the heavyweight division during the late '70s and early '80s. He'd be a contender. He would have gotten a title shot, Larry Holmes would have needed an opponent like him, a tough, good-looking white guy to beat up.”

Bentt: “If I were being honest, Rocky Balboa 'should not' have been licensed to fight after more than a couple of years in the gym if the character existed. Fighting is a dangerous game. No matter how tough and durable a Rocky Balboa is, those characteristics eventually give way to fighters being reduced to perennial sparring partners and/or punching bags. Not very healthy at all. A guy like Rocky Balboa would not have survived very long in the gyms of New York, Philly, Detroit, or Jersey. But sadly, boxing is such that no one is really there to protect the Rocky Balboas from the themselves.”

Cirillo: “Since he is also a lot like Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, he certainly could be a champion, maybe not the greatest in history but a champion.”

Ross: “In today's world of multi-championships, he would definitely be a champ. Why not? Everyone else would, too. A generation back, a club fighter.”

Most inspiring Rocky moment?

Farhood:
“Anything that’s accompanied by Bill Conti’s music. Rocky accelerating during roadwork … climbing the steps … rallying against Apollo … If you didn’t find virtually everything in Rocky I inspiring, you watched with a blindfold and ear plugs.”

LaMonica: “Just hearing those opening bells in the soundtrack during key moments in fights and other scenes. Instant  Goosebumps.”

Rainone: “It's probably when he says, ‘One more round,’ in Rocky 5 after getting knocked down and looking finished in the street fight. That whole scene is realistic and inspiring to me as the streets are somewhere Rocky seemed comfortable fighting. I relate to that.”

Cassidy: “This might be a little offbeat, but to me it was when he took back Mickey as his trainer in the first movie. He came to Rocky's apartment, he was begging but not begging, and Rocky was ignoring him. Then Rocky ran downstairs and got Mickey. That was great. The love won out.”

Mancini: “In the first one, when he was in the locker room saying his prayers before the fight, I could identify with that. I used to do that. You have that alone time before you head out to the ring. That was a great scene. One scene in the last one I really liked too was when he says, ‘What's a matter with a guy standing in the middle of the ring, going to-toe-to saying: I am.’ Every fighter can identify with it.”

Bentt: “I connected with the courtroom scene in Rocky Balboa. The subtext of the whole debate to me was ‘I won't allow you to define me or pigeonhole me.’ What he has to say in 'Rocky Balboa' transcends race, faith, education and political affiliation.”

Cirillo: “Actually, in a way, the latest Rocky film provided the most inspiring Rocky moments, he got up off the canvas of life!”

Ross: “The same in every movie. The last ten minutes of the picture when he climbs off the canvas and finds TRUE REDEMPTION!”

Brophy: “The most inspiring Rocky moment was during his training when he hit the sides of meat in the cooler.”

Best Rocky line?

Farhood: “My favorite is extremely underrated: ‘These are my pet turtles, cuff and link.’ I spoke to Bill Shakespeare the other day and he told me he wishes he wrote that line.”

LaMonica: “'Take her to the zoo, Rock' – Gazzo's friend from inside the car in Rocky I after telling Rocky that he thinks Adrian is retarded and that ‘I hear retards like the zoo.’”

Cassidy: “Yo, Adrian!”

Rainone: “’Cause ya cant win Rock! This guy will kill ya to death inside of 3 rounds.”

Bentt: “Unsilent majority bigmouth, Paulie's line to the Russian diplomat. I thought I'd give props to ‘Bed Bug Eddie Grant.’”

Mancini: “The best exchange came after the first fight. Apollo: ‘There ain't gonna be no rematch.’ Rocky: ‘I don't want one.’”

Cirillo: “Yo, Adrian!”

Ross: “It's not so much what he says, but how Stallone puts it over. He speaks the mundane into the magnificent.”

Brophy: “Yo, Adrian!”

Articles of 2007

St-Pierre, Liddell, Clementi Win @ UFC 79

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LAS VEGAS-A reinvented Georges St. Pierre proved he’s ready for the true Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title with a dominating win over Matt Hughes and Chuck Liddell returned to the win column in his big showdown on Saturday.

St. Pierre took the final chapter in the trilogy with Hughes and now is the UFC interim champion at the 170-pound division.

Hughes just shook his head after tapping out before a sold out audience at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. It was called “Nemesis” and St. Pierre conquered his nemesis.

“Georges is just a better fighter,” said Hughes (43-6) who beat St. Pierre several years ago, but lost two years ago in a title match. “I just don’t know how much longer I got.”

St. Pierre (15-2) found Hughes using a left-handed stance to change up his attack, but the Canadian quickly adapted and used his quickness, skills and raw strength to take Hughes to the ground.

“If it wasn’t for my wrestling training I wouldn’t have been able to adjust,” said St. Pierre who had been preparing to represent Canada’s Olympic wrestling team.

Inside the Octagon the Canadian was never in danger. In fact, Hughes was the fighter teetering for the entire fight that ended in 4:54 of the second round.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

Hughes, known for his wrestling skills, just couldn’t solve St. Pierre’s quickness. Every move the Illinois fighter attempted was squashed.

St. Pierre is now promised a fight against the current UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra, who pulled out of the fight with Hughes because of injury.

“If I don’t get my belt back, I’m going to consider myself champion,” said St. Pierre filled in for Serra with less than a month of training.

After dominating the first round on top of Hughes, the second round was even worse as St. Pierre landed elbows and fists. Though the Illinois fighter escaped from underneath, he was quickly thrown down. Within seconds St. Pierre grabbed Hughes left arm and turned it into an inescapable arm bar.

Hughes screamed out: “I tap!”

St. Pierre now awaits Serra to recover from his back injury.

The semi-main event was no less intense.

The light heavyweight showdown between Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell and Brazil’s Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva was a three-round punch out between two famous sluggers. In the end Liddell’s sharper punches in the first and third round decided the fight despite a knockdown in the second scored by Silva.

Silva (31-8-1) dominated the second round for four minutes and 30 seconds but Liddell rallied and took the Brazilian to the ground. Two judges were somehow impressed by Liddell’s last 30 seconds and inexplicably gave him that round.

With both fighters huffing and puffing, and Silva with a bad cut over his right eye, Liddell seemed the stronger puncher and landed a back-handed fist and a right hand that stunned the former Pride FC fighter Silva. But he survived the round.

The judges scored it 29-28, 30-27 twice for Liddell who won his first bout after back-to-back losses.

“I knew it was a big fight for everybody and especially for me to get back on track,” said Liddell (21-5). “He had a lot more than I thought he had.”

Silva, who was making his first UFC appearance, was gracious in defeat.

“He won,” said Silva. “I gave my best.”

Temecula’s Rameau Sokoudjou fell short against Brazil’s undefeated Lyoto Machida (12-0) in their light heavyweight contest. The Cameroon native was unable to use his punching power with effectiveness against the karate-trained fighter. Then, unexpectedly, Machida landed a left hand that dropped Sokoudjou (4-2) and proceeded to gain an arm triangle that forced a submission at 4:20 of the second round.

“I’ve been working on my ground game,” said Machida who wants a world title match. “I beat the Alaska assassin, the African assassin, what other assassins are left?”

A heavyweight bout featured two Southern Californians eager to punch out. But San Diego’s Eddie “Manic Hispanic” Sanchez’s experience proved decisive in beating Temecula’s Soa Palelei (8-2) with uppercuts for three rounds. With his nose bleeding profusely and sustaining three consecutive uppercuts, referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the fight at 3:24 of the third and final round for a technical knockout.

“He was out of gas,” said Sanchez (10-1). “He was always putting his head down.”

Undercard

A grudge fight between two Louisiana fighters ended in a decisive submission victory by Rich Clementi of Slidell over the favored Melvin Guillard of New Orleans. A rear naked choke at 4:40 seconds of the first round forced Guillard, who had been predicting domination, to tap out. Though the fight was definitively over, Guillard attempted to assault Clementi but referee Herb Dean grabbed the fighter.

“He still didn’t learn his lesson,” said Clementi after Guillard attempted to rush him after the fight. “I validated what he’s known for six years, I’m the better man.”

James “The Sandman” Irvin (13-5-1) was nearly put to sleep by an illegal knee to the eye from Brazil’s newcomer Luis Cane (8-1) in the first round of a light heavyweight fight. Unable to continue, Irvin was declared the winner by disqualification at 1:51. Cane seemed unaware that UFC rules disallow knees to the head while the person is on the ground. Some mixed martial arts organizations allow it.

Former Ultimate Fighter participant Manny Gamburyan (6-3) quickly took his fight to the ground with former boxer Nate Mohr (6-5). Once on the ground the lightweight used his quickness to grab an ankle and twist. Mohr screamed to stop the fight at 1:31 of the first round.

“I’m so sorry for you man,” said Gamburyan who suspects he broke Mohr’s leg. “Nate’s a great guy.”

San Diego’s Dean Lister (10-5) scraped out a unanimous decision win over Bulgaria’s punch-crazy Jordan Rachev (16-2) in a middleweight bout. The judges scored it 29-28 for Lister.

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Articles of 2007

Pavlik Or 'Money': Fighter of the Year Is…

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There’s nothing like the terror felt when you have a big black bear snarling and snorting and hunting you down, eager to stuff your tender head into his mouth, to make you run as fast as you’ve ever run.

Thanks, Dana White, aka the big black bear.

Thanks for waking up the semi-slumbering powers that be, and forcing them to acknowledge that boxing needed to step up its game, or be eaten alive, and shifted even further back in the sports world’s relevance race, in 2007.

With UFC threatening to snarf up those much lusted after PPV dollars, the suits went into overdrive, and worked smarter, and harder, to give fans compelling matchups.

They agreed to get along to get money, and they relegated the sanctioning bodies, with those moronic mandatories, and instead listened to you, the consumer, and booked the fights that made sense.

Nobody worked smarter or harder than the PR arms for HBO, and “Money” Mayweather, the artist formerly known as Pretty Boy Floyd. Through his appearance on the ABC reality dance competition “Dancing with the Stars,” and stubbornly effective marketing by HBO (24/7 before the De La Hoy and Hatton showdowns were masterful mini-movies which whet appetites of even non fight fans), “Money” emerged as a pay per view attraction who can take the baton as the premier earner from Oscar De La Hoya.

He transcended the sport, and boxing added another player to the mix of fighters that even non-fight fans in the US recognize the name of. Now there’s Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, and Floyd Mayweather…

Boxing, a sprawling mess of interests lacking a central organization that insures cohesiveness in marketing, and message, and mission, relies on a central figurehead to maintain its precarious perch in the mainstream sports information flow. Mayweather, a savvy marketer who has outgrown his periodic outbreaks of youthful indiscretions, is a superstar that fits our age to a T.

He knows exactly what buttons to push to keep his name in the papers-—or, more accurately today, on computer screens—and feeds us rabid presshounds of negativity and turmoil red meat, with his intra-familial beefs and 50 Cent-inspired rants proclaiming his peerlessness.

The only thing holding Mayweather back is his own talent, probably, as he owns too much of it. He blew out De La Hoya, and Hatton, and like Roy Jones in his heyday, he so dominates his opposition, that drama is missing from his fights. Most of us tune in to the sport to savor the drama that comes from one man reaching deep into the well of heart and guts to bring forth reserves even he didn’t know he possesses, and imposing his will on an opponent who had been imposing his will upon him. That sort of drama, as manufactured by the late Diego Corrales, is the variety that the sweet science can deliver like no other sport.

We saw it in excess in 2007, from my personal choice for 2007 Fighter of the Year, Ohio’s Kelly Pavlik.

He dug into his well, after getting knocked to the floor in the second round of his tussle with middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, and refused to lose.

All of us could apply his tenacity in staying on his feet, and roaring back to topple Taylor with a furious flurry in the seventh round of their Sept. 29 battle, in our own lives. We all could identify with, and root for, the TSS Fighter of the Year.

One could argue that Mayweather, with ultra high profile wins over De La Hoya and Hatton, who did as much as anyone to keep the sport relevant in the last 12 months, deserves the TSS FOTY honor. As referenced before, maybe his superior level of talent has set the bar too high for us nitpickers. We may be prone to be too hesitant to bestow praise on Floyd, because he makes it look too easy. Sorry, Money, it’s possible you are being penalized for just being too damned good. You certainly are the runaway frontrunner for Fighter of the Decade…

Pavlik, we didn’t know how good he was coming in to this year. We knew how good his promoter, Bob Arum, thought he was. But we reserved judgment, unwilling to make too much of wins over Lenord Pierre and Bronco McKart. We became believers, to a point, when the Ohio native showed boxing skill and a closer’s mentality with his January win over Jose Luis Zertuche (KO8), and true believers with his dominant march over Edison Miranda (TKO7), the heavily hyped Colombian who was no match for the Youngstown hitter’s work rate in their May match.

But we still withheld a measure of respect before Pavlik met Taylor, the middleweight king, in Atlantic City. Maybe we had been burned by (not as great as we were led to believe) white hopes in the past, and were worried that hype and marketing were his greatest attributes as a boxer. The respect came pouring forth when he stayed on his trembling legs in the second round of his September scrap with Taylor, and intensified when he closed the show with a KO crack in the seventh.

The fighter has to be rewarded for staying the course, and not allowing himself to be knocked off the title path since turning pro in 2000, and progressing at a sometimes snailish pace, and sticking with his no-name trainer Jack Loew even though some experts urged him to trade Loew in for a flashier model, and battling frail hands, and getting pinched for slugging an off-duty cop in 2005.

Pavlik’s rise in 2007 came the old fashioned way, via training his tail off, and staying on message mentally, and rising to the occasion when the situation offered a softer, easier choice.

There was no mega marketing machine bombarding our short attention spans with a campaign to make Kelly Pavlik into the torchbearer for the sport in 2007.

But the 2007 leg of his march to prominence reaffirms the best of what the sport has to offer, and reminds us that with talents like Pavlik, the sweet science will never crumble into obsolescence.

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Articles of 2007

Resolution Time For Harold Sconiers

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When Harold Sconiers of Tampa, Florida, looks in the mirror these days he doesn’t see the journeyman heavyweight with a 15-17-2 (10 KOs) record that most other people do.

What he sees is the dynamic, hard-hitting heavyweight who made it to the finals of the 1996 Olympic Trials, and began his pro career with six straight knockouts and one decision victory.

Since being stopped in the first round by then undefeated Bermane Stiverne, who had won all nine of his fights by knockout, in February 2007, Sconiers has completely reassessed his life and career.

He has come to understand what transformed him from an exciting amateur and fledgling young pro with seemingly limitless future to a nominal heavyweight who had at one point lost 10 fights in a row.

Now aligned with a new manager, David Selwyn of New York, he plans on utilizing that newfound knowledge to embark on what he believes will be the comeback story of 2008.

“I always knew I had a lot of talent, but I never let that talent completely develop,” said the 31-year-old Sconiers, who has lost to such notables as Clifford Etienne, Maurice Harris, Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, David Defiagbon, DaVarryl Williamson and Eric Kirkland.

“I had a lot of different problems, but my biggest problems were self doubt and self sabotage. I would do things to make sure I never rose above a certain level.”

During his intensive, exhaustive and brutally honest re-examination of himself, he chose to forego all of the negative aspects of his career and instead focus only on the positive. Through lots of reading and candid discussions with his former trainer Larry Berrien, he went about changing the mindset that made him so comfortable with losing.

The first thing he did was look at his complete record from a totally different perspective. Rather than just dwell on the losses, Sconiers lauded himself for beating six previously unbeaten or once beaten fighters. Among them was Ray Austin, who was 14-1 at the time and later challenged Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight title.

He also fought Edward Escobedo, who was 12-1, to a draw, and lost a split decision to Ruddock, who has always been a formidable ring presence.

When he examined his 10 fight losing streak, he realized that his opponents had a combined record of 164-32-8. Of the 32 losses, Harris, who had revitalized his once dismal career in much the same way Sconiers hopes to, had incurred 10 of them.

And the always competitive Sherman Williams, accounted for another 10, which means eight other opponents had only 12 losses between them. Several were undefeated at the time they faced Sconiers.

“Losing to all of those guys gave the boxing world the perception that I was washed up and just didn’t care anymore,” said Sconiers. “I realized I had to change that perception, and the only way to change it was to change my old habits and my old ways of thinking, dissect everything I’d been doing wrong, and working really hard to establish a new belief system.”

Tapping deep into his own psyche, Sconiers came to realize that much of his lack of self worth was rooted in childhood issues. As a kid he had a passive personality, and both of his parents were college graduates who held what he calls high ranking positions in the corporate world.

He was bright enough to skip grades in school and he scored high on IQ tests. In no way was he destined to become a boxer. His parents had told him on many occasions that he would be well-suited as psychiatrist or attorney.

His life changed when his father held a Mike Tyson fight party at the family home. To say that Sconiers was mesmerized would be a gross understatement.

“I was instantly locked in,” said Sconiers. “I told myself that I have to do this.”

Sconiers ventured to the Frontline Outreach Gym in Orlando, where he met Antonio Tarver, who was roaring through the amateur ranks en route to the 1996 Olympics. Because Tarver was a few years older than Sconiers, he became a surrogate big brother to him. To this day, Sconiers has the utmost respect for Tarver as both a fighter and a friend.

During Sconiers’ amateur career, which consisted of 77 fights, of which he lost 9, his mother continuously reminded him that, in her opinion, “boxing was for dummies.”

Still, he managed to win a silver medal in the 1996 U.S. Nationals, where he beat eventual Olympic representative and future heavyweight title challenger Calvin Brock, as well as the finals of the 1996 Olympic Trials. In that tournament he lost to Williamson and Lamon Brewster.

When his pro career began to get derailed, the young and immature Sconiers blamed everyone but himself for his shift in fortune.

“I thought the problem was outside me, and thought everyone was responsible but me,” he said. “I dumped Larry in order to self-manage myself. I left what had always kept me grounded. Some of the fights I lost I could or should have won. There’s no way I should have lost to Etienne, but all I did was show up. The Ruddock fight should have been mine.”

As Sconiers lost interest and motivation, he also began dabbling in drugs and alcohol. More times than not, he would take fights on short notice. Even if he had time to train, he never cared if his opponents were switched or where he was lacing them up. Resigned to the fact that he was just fighting for money, he didn’t train hard, if at all.

He’d also pick up a few dollars working as a sparring partner for the likes of Etienne, Shannon Briggs, Jameel McCline, Larry Donald and Kirk Johnson, but the passion was gone. Many of those fighters, as well as their trainers, told Sconiers to snap out of his trance because he was a lot better fighter than he gave himself credit for.

While working with Etienne, the esteemed trainer Don Turner told Sconiers he could make him heavyweight champion of the world if only he’d “get his (stuff) together.”

Sconiers said he was at his personal abyss in mid-2003, when he was stopped by Kirkland, who was 16-1, in the first round in Vallejo, California.

“That was a real bad time for me,” he said. “I was up all night using drugs and alcohol and just didn’t care about anything.”

Although it would be nearly four more years before Sconiers embarked on his personal renaissance, when he looks back on his sordid past that is his most vivid memory. He has learned to use that memory to his advantage.

“A lot of people go down the same route I did and destroy themselves completely,” he said. “I was close to that point around the time of the Kirkland fight, but managed to survive another four years. It is so obvious to me now that I was trying to destroy myself.”

Sconiers is the first to concede that once you fall into the role of an opponent, it is hard to extricate yourself.

“A lot of guys go through this and fall by the wayside,” he said. “Look at Emanuel Burton (Augustus). He’s an immensely talented guy who’s good enough to be competitive and probably beat anyone. But he is in that opponent role, which is hard to snap out of.”

Having done lots of reading on positive thinking and overcoming psychological roadblocks, as well as completely revising his physical training regimen, Sconiers believes he has snapped out of it.

Besides the steadfast support of his beloved wife of six years, Jennifer, who just earned her master’s degree, he believes that his association with Selwyn is a pivotal component to the success he foresees for himself.

They plan on having a momentous and memorable 2008.

“Harold says he is going to be the Cinderella Man of 2008,” said Selwyn. “We plan on keeping a very busy schedule. History has shown that heavyweights are always just a few wins away from redemption. At his best, Harold is very good. It is undeniable that he was his own worst enemy in the past. Now he believes in himself, Larry believes in him, and I believe in him. I’m really looking forward to working with him so he can reach his full potential.”

“We plan on a busy schedule and a lot of upsets,” added Sconiers. “After my first couple of wins, people will probably say they were a fluke. I’m not quite the Cinderella Man and I’m not quite Rocky, but I am an underdog who can make it. Hope sells in boxing, and I plan on being one of the biggest stories of the new year.”

Manager Dave Selwyn can be contacted at: Boxingkid@aol.com or 845-893-2829.

*photo courtesy Harold Sconiers

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