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Articles of 2007

Boxing Chatter: It’s Always Mayweather

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Last weekend I spent a couple of days with the Mayweather camp talking boxing, dancing and the future of the sport, and of course, watching Barrera and Pacquiao.

First we arrived on Thursday afternoon to catch the Top Rank fight card that featured WBO junior bantamweight titleholder Fernando Montiel defend his belt against Colombia’s rugged Luis Melendez. We got more than we expected.

Ever since Montiel knocked out Pedro Alcazar, who ultimately died a day later from injuries to the brain sustained from that fight five years ago, the Los Mochis boxer-puncher seems to lack that extra oomph whenever he gets in the ring. He’s satisfied to simply deploy his speed and tactics to gain lackluster wins.

Melendez didn’t leave him any other path but the direct route. And that was hazardous.

The Mexican and Colombian engaged in one of the most brutal fights of the year that saw Montiel land hellacious bombs that finally dropped Melendez in a heap during the sixth round. It looked like it was over for Melendez. So much so that Montiel decided to walk his opponent back to the fighter’s own corner before returning to his own.

When round seven started you could see the smug confidence in Montiel’s face who began looking for an opportunity to land the final blow. During an exchange Montiel left his hands low and the Colombian fired a left hand that crunched Montiel and down he went. The look of surprise was priceless.

Montiel coolly gathered himself and instead of boxing and moving, he engaged in a battle of bombs that featured enough firepower to light up the darkest part of the desert. Every time Montiel hurt Melendez, the Colombian rallied back with at least one great punch in the final five rounds.

A right hand on the chin wobbled Melendez in the 11th but he survived the round. Then Montiel stepped up the pace even more for the finale and dropped the Colombian with a left hook to the body. He crumbled. Melendez beat the count but Montiel jumped right back on him and forced referee Kenny Bayless to halt the fight at 1:58 of the final round.

But what a war.

A day later Montiel looked like a team of Teamsters had taken a bat to his face. But the way he fought made it clear he’s ready for Cristian Mijares, Martin Castillo or Jose Navarro. Any of those three would be an epic.

Friday

On Friday photographer Paul Hernandez and myself drove over to one of the boxing gyms to speak to Roger Mayweather and cut man Rafael Garcia. The two corner people are among the best in the business and you can always get incredible boxing insight from speaking to the two veterans.

Roger Mayweather spoke about fighting guys like Pernell Whitaker, and how to prepare for some of the best fighters in the world.

“It’s not about speed. Just cause your fast don’t mean you’re going to win a fight,” said Mayweather in his corner office. “It’s about being smart.”

About his nephew Floyd Mayweather participating on Dancing With the Stars before his fight with Ricky Hatton on Dec. 8, Mayweather just waves it off.

“He can’t fight, he’s just a wrestler,” said Roger Mayweather about Hatton. “All he do is hold.”

Mayweather said Hatton’s only good win came against Kostya Tszyu but that it wasn’t fighting that took place that night, just holding and hitting.

“He got a win over Kostya Tszyu, that’s a good fighter,” Mayweather said. “But if he were fighting legitimate fighting he wouldn’t win. You can’t fight like that. You can’t hold and hit it violates the rules of boxing.”

Mayweather expects the judges to honor the rules when Hatton fights his nephew in Las Vegas in about two months.

“He beat Kostya Tszyu on the back of the head all night,” Mayweather said. “But the referee wasn’t going to do nothing in front of 35,000 fans.”

After about 90 minutes with Mayweather, we all separated. We agreed to meet at Floyd Mayweather’s gym later on, but first we drove over to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino to catch Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera being officially weighed. Both fighters hit 130 on the nose, but Pacman looked rather gaunt and feeble.

We jumped back in the car and headed to Mayweather’s gym and found a fleet of cars in the parking lot that easily cost more than $60,000 each. It was Mayweather territory alright.

Inside the gym we passed through a series of checkpoints with bodyguards big enough to play offensive line for the New England Patriots. Once inside there was Floyd, Roger, Leonard Ellerbe and several others including a television crew from ABC. It was Floyd’s first day back in the boxing gym.

Soon WBO lightweight titleholder Joan Guzman showed up with his relative. He’s training with Big Floyd who is using his son’s gym to train fighters too. Guzman comes up to me to say he is certain that Barrera will beat Pacquiao.

“A boxer knows when someone is too weak,” said Guzman. “Did you see his (Pacquiao) face?”

“Money” Mayweather is what he likes to be called now. Since cracking the $20 million plateau in his last fight with Oscar De La Hoya the name fits perfectly.

As he goes through the first session of training it’s amazing to see Mayweather doesn’t get tired. Plus, he’s talking the whole time. It got me tired to see him work that hard while talking. I figured he would tire out later, but it never happened.

Both Mayweathers put on the gloves and practiced on the mitts. Of course they showed speed like you’ve never seen, but Floyd continued talking while shooting lightning combinations and blocking. This went on for about six rounds.

“Watch this,” said Roger who leaned over to me. “I can train him with my eyes closed.”

When the buzzard went off both Mayweathers began their mitt work with their eyes closed. Not just Floyd, but Roger. And they never missed.

It reminded me of that Japanese Samurai movie character the blind swordsman “Zatoichi.” I still don’t know how they did it.

All the while Mayweather was working out he talked about how the future of boxing and the role he wants to play as a promoter. He also predicted that Sugar Shane Mosley is going to knock Miguel Cotto out when they meet in November.

“Shane is going to knock that boy out the first time he hits him,” said Mayweather.

As the training begins to wind down, Joan Guzman came back to talk to me again.

“I’m telling you, Pacquiao is going to lose to Barrera,” he said.

Of course we know that Barrera lost a 12-round decision. But Guzman is a solid bet himself to take Pacquiao to another level if they tangle. But that’s another story. First Guzman has to beat Mexico’s Humberto Soto. That won’t be easy.

“Whoever wins between me and Soto will be big,” says Guzman. “The winner gets bigger.”

Saturday

In the morning I jumped out and drove back to the Mandalay for Rich Marotta’s radio show. On this morning he had a panel discussion about the biggest topics in boxing. If you like to hear about “our beautiful sport” as Barrera says, listen to Marotta every Saturday morning in Los Angeles. It’s the best boxing show there is nationwide. Marotta has been covering the sport for two decades now.

Also on the Marotta radio show was Kieran Mulvaney who writes for Reuters and ESPN.com. He’s originally from Great Britain and now makes the States his home. A very passionate writer for the sport and extremely knowledgeable. The other guest panelist was Robert Morales of the Los Angeles Daily News. He’s a fellow Chicano brother from Southern California who has roots in East Los Angeles. Morales has been covering the sport since I began covering the sport in the early 90s. He’s another passionate writer who prefers slugging to boxing. That’s his style.

After the show Joel Casamayor dropped by the pressroom to talk about signing with Golden Boy Promotions. He’s waiting to see what happens with the Diazes in Chicago this weekend.

He also gave homage to Diego Corrales “My friend and a warrior.”

Antonio Margarito was also in the pressroom. He’s going to be on the Nov. 10 fight card in Madison Square Garden.

“I don’t want to stay inactive,” Margarito said. “We’re waiting for the winner of Mosley and Cotto.”

After the mini press conference, a few journalists hopped in a rented limousine to catch Mayweather practice with his Dancing With the Stars partner Karina Smirnoff at a dance studio in the Westside of Las Vegas.

Inside the studio Mayweather had been memorizing the steps with the beautiful Smirnoff. As we walked in Smirnoff tapped my press credential badge and asked me who I felt would win the Pacquiao-Barrera fight. I told her Pacquiao and she frowned.

Mayweather and Smirnoff performed their routine for the dancing style called “Jive” and they looked pretty comfortable. But it was obvious that they barely learned the routine. The steps were extremely complicated.

“Sometimes he misses practice,” said Smirnoff with her playful anger.

Karina Smirnoff motioned to me to come dance with her so she could show me the steps. I tried but she had these crazy leg movements that bend the leg this way and that way. My knee just doesn’t respond any more. I injured my left knee stealing third base 10 years ago. It never recovered completely. I can walk but I can’t dance anything complicated any more. But Karina was understanding.

After all of the talking was done, we walked outside to return to the limousines but they were gone. I walked back into the studio and saw Floyd. I told him our predicament and “Money Mayweather” came through.

“No problem, take my truck and take them back,” said Floyd to Ellerbe.

“I owe you Floyd,” I told him.

We barely caught the fights in time at the Mandalay Bay.

And guess who I sat directly behind?

Mario Lopez, fiancé of Karina Smirnoff.

What a weekend.

Evander vs. Ibragimov for World Title

Evander Holyfield, 44, attempts to win a heavyweight world title for the fifth time when he faces WBO titleholder Sultan Ibragimov of Russia.

“I am one day closer to fulfilling the goal I set out to accomplish,” said Holyfield during a telephone press conference call. “My goal is to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and that’s it.”

Ibragimov, 32, captured the title last June against big Shannon Briggs by decision after 12 rounds. The fight takes place in Moscow, Russia on Saturday Oct. 13, and will be available on pay-per-view television. The heavyweight title fight will be televised live at 10 a.m. Pacific Times

“I don’t think it will be hard at all to become undisputed heavyweight champion of the world,” said Holyfield should he beat Ibragimov. “Because everyone will line up to fight me.”

Navarro Fights for Title in Moscow Too

Former 2000 U.S. Olympian Jose Navarro travels to Russia to face Dimitri Kirilov for the vacant IBF junior bantamweight title on Saturday Oct. 13. It will be the semi-main event and be televised on pay-per-view television.

Navarro has twice fought for world titles and lost by controversial split-decision to Japan’s Katsushige Kawashima in 2005 and by unanimous decision to Masamori Tokuyama in 2006.

“We have nothing to lose by taking this fight,” said Frank Rivera, who trains and manages Navarro in Los Angeles.

Kirilov also lost to previous title bids, one to Tokuyama in 2004 and to Nicaragua’s Luis Perez by split decision in 2006.

Alfonso Gomez Fight in LA Oct. 16

Popular Alfonso Gomez has been promised a crack at Mexico’s Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. next year on one condition: beat Ben Tackie at the Home Depot in Carson on Tuesday Oct. 16.

It’s a tall order for the former participant of the Contender reality television series. Tackie is one of the toughest junior welterweights to ever lace up boxing gloves and has faced Kostya Tszyu, Ricky Hatton and many other top fighters in the division. He’s never been stopped in the ring.

“We’re looking to match Alfonso Gomez with Chavez maybe in March,” said Bob Arum, of Top Rank. “We’re also hoping to put Martin Castillo against Jorge Arce on the same card.”

Also on the Carson fight card will be middleweight Sergio Mora of East L.A. facing Elvin Ayala of Maryland in a bout planned for 10 rounds.

For tickets or information call (213) 480-3232.

David Rodela Fights Thursday

Oxnard’s David Rodela faces Derrick Moon of Texas on Thursday Oct. 11, at the Oceanview Pavilion in Port Hueneme.

Rodela served as Manny Pacquiao’s primary sparring partner for the Filipino superstar’s fight this past Saturday in Las Vegas. The Oxnard fighter spent several weeks in the Philippines preparing Pacquiao for the fight he won against Marco Antonio Barrera.

For tickets or information call (805) 986-4818.

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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