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Articles of 2007

VEGAS DIARY: Real Men Don’t Use Straws

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Returning from Las Vegas where the biggest boxing match in eight years took place was a relief to put it mildly. Let me paint you a picture.

Any time Oscar “The Golden Boy” De La Hoya steps in the ring the city of Las Vegas lights up like New Year’s Eve. And if you add the world’s best boxer Floyd Mayweather to the mix well you get Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Eva Longoria, George Lopez and Mario Lopez to name a few.

World championship boxing was at its best.

It began around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning for this reporter as I dumped my luggage and photographer Paul Hernandez’s luggage into the trunk of my car. Off we went down the Interstate-15. Destination: Las Vegas.

Around noon after a quick three-hour drive we entered the MGM Grand parking lot structure that was surprisingly filled to capacity. Despite mid-week status when the casinos are usually less crowded we struggled to get through a throng of people milling around the Hollywood Theater inside the MGM Grand.

It was time for the last press conference for Mayweather-De La Hoya.

Inside the spacious theater that seats about 1,000 people, it was dark. We had arrived just in time for the entrance of both fighters whose arrivals were met with blaring music and flashing lights. When the regular lights came on it was apparent that reporters, photographers, camera crews, public relations specialists, trainers, boxers, and their groupies filled most of the seats.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Kevin Flaherty, an HBO executive who’s worked many boxing shows.

People scrambled for the food that was placed on carts. When the lights were dimmed the food was carted away as a number of reporters tried to get the scraps of food left before it was taken out of sight.

After both fighters gave their spiel it was time for the one-on-one interviews. The fighters were stationed on each side of the theater stage with about 200 reporters struggling to speak to each boxer.

It was a riotous scene as heavy-hitting sports reporters like Tim Smith from the New York Daily News, Kevin Iole of the Las Vegas Review-Journal (now with Yahoo Sports), Steve Springer of the L.A. Times and many others used their knowledge amassed from covering hundreds of other boxing cards to grab the fighters at the strategic moment.

With media hordes from Europe, Asia, South America and other parts of North America on hand, it was knowledge of the inner workings of boxing coverage that allowed the experienced to grab those boxers and flee.

“Let’s get out of here,” was my response. “I’ve got what I need.”

Grabbing our gear we headed out to the other side of the Las Vegas strip to Barry’s Boxing Gym where Floyd Mayweather Sr. was training WBO junior lightweight titleholder Joan Guzman. We had run into Mayweather during the earlier press conference and he invited me and Hernandez to drop by.

Though I’ve been to about a dozen boxing gyms in Las Vegas, Barry’s Boxing Gym is one of the newer spots for pro boxers that spring up from time to time. We got lost so I made a few phone calls to boxers in the area who knew where the gym is located. We found the gym around 3 p.m. Inside we saw Mayweather, who was still dressed in a suit, looking at Guzman hit the bag. From time to time he gave instructions on how he preferred the super-quick Dominican fighter to fire punches.

“If he listens to me he can beat anybody,” said Mayweather, whose style of fighting seems to be a perfect fit for Guzman. “He’s fast.”

Guzman was challenging interim WBO lightweight Michael Katsidis of Australia on May 26 at the Anaheim Arena in Anaheim, California. But he hurt his hand while sparring that day against Fernando Beltran. Mayweather and Tony Rivera inspected the hand that didn’t look bad but Guzman said it felt painful around the knuckle of the left pinkie finger.

Around 4:30 p.m. we headed out to another private boxing gym where lightweight hopeful Vicente Escobedo and Abner Mares were said to be training. Though we didn’t have an address I had visited the gym twice before; the first time when Felix Sturm was preparing for his fight with De La Hoya three years ago. At the gym located in back of a large house, we were told we couldn’t go inside. De La Hoya was using it for his final preparations. We returned to the hotel where I begin writing the fight advance for Saturday’s publication. By the time I finish it’s about 2 a.m.

Thursday

On Thursday afternoon we headed to the media center that’s about an acre in size where hundreds of reporters from web sites, newspapers, magazines, radio stations and television outlets were seemingly roaming inside in a daze. Fighters such as Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez were being interviewed in more than 20 languages. Trainers, cut men, managers, promoters and others linked to boxing were sitting with reporters and drinking coffee that was abundant.

In the media center I got a chance to speak to old friends like Doug Fischer of Maxboxing.com. He’s a class act who loves boxing and knows the sport inside and out. He’s one of the few boxing writers who actually goes to local gyms to see new talent or fighters preparing for combat. There are not many boxing writers like Fischer who visit different gyms on a weekly basis. Most just hang out in one gym or not at all.

On the other side of the vast media room is Rich Marotta who does television and radio. He has a weekly boxing show that is greatly received in Southern California. He an his producer James are hustling around the room grabbing boxers walking around to provide their listeners inside scoop. Marotta is another guy who loves boxing. If you get a chance to listen to his show you always come away with satisfaction that you didn’t waste your time. He’s one of the last of his breed.

While sitting at the table with a few of the other reporters, Ray Ontiveros, who works in featherweight contender Rocky Juarez’s corner, spots me and comes to talk. Though he’s not the primary trainer for Juarez any more (Ronnie Shields is the new trainer) he doesn’t harbor any ill feelings. We spent most of the afternoon talking about Houston and its boxing scene. Ontiveros also talked about the journey he and his protégé had taken during the last 12 years. About an hour later we realized there wasn’t going to be any lunch for the starving media horde so we walked to Nathan’s Hot Dogs to grab something to eat. Ontiveros is an interesting guy who has been all over the world. Some of his tales have us laughing including those he told us regarding Brazil. He’s a straight-shooter.

Later that night, the boxing writers were herded into Studio 54 to watch the last installment of HBO’s 24/7. We sat next to several reporters from England who exchanged information with us about boxing in both countries. It’s plain to see that boxing is not dying in England nor Mexico. Fans from those countries are rabid about the sport and continue to send exciting fighters to the professional ranks.

After the screening, Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram and Chuck Johnson of USA Today and I were led to another boxing function to meet HBO executives. Tommy Hearns was there along with a few dozen more beat writers from across the country. Sitting next to HBO executive Tony Walker we spoke mostly about one subject: jazz music. Turns out Walker likes jazz as much as I do. We also talked about UCLA sports. I’m a UCLA Bruin circa 1983 and everyone at the table follows UCLA basketball and football. Morales and I go way back to 1993 when we first met at a De La Hoya boxing match at the Olympic Auditorium. He was born in East L.A. but raised in West Covina. I was born and raised in East L.A. like photographer Paul Hernandez. We all have East L.A. in common and that’s saying a lot.

After the dinner we headed back to the media center where hundreds of boxing fans were milling about in hopes of spotting De La Hoya, Mayweather or any celebrity. No luck today.

A final fight advance story by me about the upcoming super fight between Mayweather and De La Hoya is sent around 1 a.m. It took me a little too long to finish, maybe because I had that last margarita. That’s my weakness: margaritas on the rocks with no salt.

No straws please. Real men don’t use straws.

Friday

Friday morning we woke up as early as possible to head out to the east side gym where Escobedo and Mares were supposedly training. We arrived at the same time as the fighters this time. We find out Mares is not in town. But Escobedo is there.

Inside the large hangar-like facility Mexico’s famous Nacho Beristain, who manages and trains world champions Rafael and Juan Manuel Marquez, was giving instruction to Escobedo. Much like UCLA’s John “Wizard of Westwood” Wooden, the Mexican trainer feels every iota of preparation is vital: from tying your shoelaces to proper shoulder rotation while punching. It was like watching Rembrandt paint a picture.

Beristain put Escobedo through a simple dodge and counter drill for more than 40 minutes. Over and over he made his new charge practice the drill until his stance, reactions, and precision were up to his standard.

“He has good quickness and the tools to be very good,” said Beristain about Escobedo who he accepted as a pupil to return a favor to Golden Boy Promotions. “I can tell he is very dedicated and motivated.”

Escobedo listened intently as his new mentor explained the importance of firing a left hook without dipping the shoulder. He also showed the exact geometric angle he wants the left hook delivered.

Beristain professes precision and demands textbook excellence.

“I can see the difference in Vicente already,” said David Gutierrez who helps train Escobedo and has known him for years.

While looking at Beristain train Escobedo, I meet young Michele Gutierrez. She’s a boxer planning to move to San Diego for training. She looks intently at the master trainer tutor his pupil. Beristain is boxing’s Aristotle.

Around 5 p.m. on the same Friday, we headed toward the Palm Casino to watch a boxing card featuring several heavyweight hopefuls. One of them is Riverside’s Chris Arreola who is facing his biggest and most risky opponent yet.

The final bell rings about 9:45 p.m. and a story is sent around 10:15 p.m. We meet with various boxing promoters later that night and discuss Saturday’s mega fight over a late dinner with a public relations specialist. Her fascinating stories have us captivated and wanting more late into the night. We’ll leave her nameless to protect the innocent.

Saturday is finally here.

Like a Christmas morning in May you feel the day is going to be different the moment you awake. Boy, am I hungry.

We arrived at the MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theater to attend a press conference for the upcoming bout between light heavyweight world champion Bernard Hopkins and former undisputed junior middleweight world champion Winky Wright. Everything was nice and cordial until Hopkins reminds every one “we’re promoting a fight” and promised to annihilate Wright on July 21 in Las Vegas.

“I’m looking to execute Winky,” Hopkins said. “I respect Winky but I don’t like him.”

We’re a little upset because all of the free grub was carted away before we arrived. It’s already noon and a reporter gets hungry tramping around the huge casinos. Hopefully we can get some comida at the next press conference planned within a half hour.

Immediately after the Hopkins-Wright press conference ends we grabbed our heavy gear and walked outside toward a steakhouse located on the strip. We arrive early to grab a seat for the promotional kick-off for WBC heavyweight titleholder Wladimir Klitschko’s title defense against Lamon Brewster. Inside many of the boxing press come from Germany where the heavyweight title fight is going to be held on July 7, 2007 in Koln, Germany.

No grub in sight.

Klitschko promises a different ending. In their first meeting Brewster knocked out the big Ukrainian.

Still no grub.

“That was my very first fight (working) with Wladimir Klitschko,” said Emanuel Steward who trains the champion Klitschko. “You all know what happened.”

The conference ends and still I haven’t even seen a piece of bread. But finally we see one waiter bringing in monstrous hamburgers so a few of us wait including several fighters. Inside the upstairs room Javier Castillejo (who fought De La Hoya in 2001), middleweight Andy Lee and an undefeated light heavyweight grab a bite before leaving.

Finally satisfied we head back to the MGM Grand for the first bout that begins at 3:05 p.m. About 200 people are already inside the arena. Outside, thousands of people are milling about the entrance in hopes of grabbing an extra ticket or an autograph. Security officers have built an artificial wall to separate the onlookers from those with tickets or passes. About 100 people ask me for an extra ticket. One guy kindly asks how he can get one. I tell him the sad news.

Whenever I cover a fight card I try to watch every single bout. I feel it’s my duty as a boxing writer to see even the four-round fighters. You never know which guy is going to be “the one.” I especially want to see the young Filipino sluggers AJ “Bazooka” Banal and Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista. They have some good opposition and this is their big tests. They pass.

During the fights I get about a dozen phone calls from people wanting to know what’s going on. One of my friends (who is always late for every event) calls for help to get inside the event. I run outside to the hordes and finally spot him after about five minutes. People are everywhere. I show him where to get his credential then run back to the fights.

About 8 p.m. most of the 16, 500 seats inside the arena are filled and the crowd has settled in for the big fight. I’m seated alongside veteran sportswriters Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, Franklin O’Neil of Newark Ledger, Bill Dwyer of LA Times and Paul Gutierrez of the Sacramento Bee. We’re all trading opinions about who is going to win the fight.

At 8:33 p.m., Mayweather enters with rapper 50 Cent at his side into the arena as boos from the crowd filter the structure. De La Hoya follows and the fans erupt into cheers. It’s intense with the crowd cheering every time De La Hoya unleashes a combination and ooohs every time Mayweather fires a sneaky counter.

During the fight the reporters at press row exchange viewpoints. We ask each other how we’re scoring the fight. Most have it a close battle.

After 12 rounds are fought, the post fight interviews are taken, and 45 minutes later I send in the story. About 30 minutes later, we head back to the car and drive toward Riverside, California. We arrive about 4 a.m. on Sunday morning. Just in time to read the morning paper.

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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