New York, N.Y. (September 30, 2008)—VERSUS, the network that celebrates real competition, announced a deal to bring the fourth season of THE CONTENDER to the network and that they have signed television icon Tony Danza to host. THE CONTENDER, which includes 11 one-hour episodes and a two-hour season finale, is currently slated to premiere in December 2008. THE CONTENDER is produced by Mark Burnett Productions and DreamWorks Television and the series will be produced in Singapore in cooperation with Mark Burnett Productions Asia who is providing production and logistical support.
“We are thrilled to announce our alliance with Mark Burnett, DreamWorks Television and THE CONTENDER brand. As VERSUS continues to build upon its ratings momentum, THE CONTENDER is a perfect complement to our ever-growing portfolio of programming in the genre such as WEC, TapouT and Fight Night,” said Marc Fein, Executive Vice President of Programming, Production and Business Operations for VERSUS. “When you have the opportunity to bring a top brand with an established following to the network, and the ability to work with someone with a proven track record such as Mark Burnett and DreamWorks, you jump at it.”
The fourth season of THE CONTENDER features 16 Cruiserweights from around the world who will face each other in a 12-episode competition. With former boxer and television star Tony Danza serving as host and mentor and veteran Tommy Brooks & John Bray serving as trainers, these fighters will go through the most intense training of their lives and battle in the most challenging fights of their careers. In the end, the two left standing will get into the ring to fight for the coveted title of Contender Champion. The 16 fighter’s biographies and two trainers biographies are attached with this release.
“The gang at DreamWorks and I are really excited to be partnering with VERSUS on the fourth season of THE CONTENDER,” said Mark Burnett. “If the work they've done with the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and Tour de France is any indication, we are confident that THE CONTENDER will be a successful franchise for the channel.”
The series is executive produced by Mark Burnett and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Jeff Wald, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Eric Van Wagenen and Page Feldman are co-executive producers.
“Versus has shown that they intend to be a factor in the boxing business and we are looking forward to a long and successful relationship,” said Jeff Wald. “Overall this is the best group of fighters we have had.”
Tony Danza was discovered at a boxing gym in his native New York and was cast in the critically acclaimed “Taxi” which earned him a place in television history. He then went on to star in the long-running popular television series “Who’s The Boss?” cementing his status as a television icon. In addition, Tony hosted his own daytime series “The Tony Danza Show” as well as numerous other television series and specials.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be hosting “The Contender” this season,” said Tony Danza. “Not only is it one of the best shows on television but one of the wildest shows ever dreamed up. I feel right back at home in this great boxing environment and I am looking forward to seeing this great group of fighters contend for the title.”
The Contender fighters, represented by Tournament of Contenders, have gone on to fight Joe Calzaghe, Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, and Oscar de La Hoya. In June 2008 Sergio Mora, the contender season 1 champion went on to become the first Contender World Champion by winning the WBC title.
“The Contender 4” Bios
Fighter and Trainer Bios
Hometown: Sydney, Australia via Samoa
Professional Record (W-L-D): 30-5-1, 17 KO’s
If boxing fans examined Tauasa’s life outside of the sport, they would never guess that he maintains a terrifying presence in the ring. To earn a living while he’s not boxing, Tauasa works as a home care nurse, spending his days rehabilitating the disabled and the elderly. He loves his job but is fully committed to becoming a renowned boxer.
Tauasa has been boxing since he was eight years old. He turned pro ten years later at age 18. Tauasa has fought the way to the top of the junior heavyweight division, and he is currently ranked sixth by the World Boxing Organization. Though he’s known for his great footwork and angles, Tauasa says that his greatest strength in the ring is his ability to break his opponents down mentally. He says the competition on “The Contender” this season is tough but that he is ready for the challenge.
Felix Cora Jr.
Hometown: Galveston, TX
Professional Record: 18-2-9, 9 KO’s
Hailing from Galveston, TX, this boxer proudly proclaims that he wants to make a name for his hometown. Cora has trained to be a boxer his whole life, and he hopes to follow in the successful footsteps of Jack Johnson, the first black Heavyweight Champion of the World who was also born and raised in Galveston.
Cora has been boxing professionally for 11 years but has been in and around the ring ever since he was young. Cora’s father, a boxer who once won the Golden Gloves amateur tournament, used to bring him to the gym during practice hours. Cora said that his natural boxing abilities coupled with intense tactical training and hard work allowed him to develop into the fighter he is today. Cora understands that he is in the midst of an elite group of fighters and is excited for the opportunity to be on the show.
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario via Guyana, South America
Professional Record: 17-1-0, 12 KO’s
Troy Ross is one of Canada’s most renowned athletes. This aggressive fighter has proudly worn Team Canada’s colors in the ring in two Olympic Games (he reached the quarter-finals in Atlanta in 1996 and participated in the Sydney games in 2000). He is currently known as one of the highest ranked boxers in Canada in the Light Heavyweight Division.
Boxing is in Ross’s blood. His father was a boxer who represented Guyana, South America, in the 1968 Olympics Games. Ross remembers training with his father in the gym since the age of seven. Boxing extends past Ross’s relationship with his father, though; his cousin, Edgerton Marcus, is also a prominent fighter. Marcus won the silver medal for Canada at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
As passionate as Ross is about boxing, he is also involved in plenty of work outside of the ring. Ross is known for his role as Light Heavyweight Champion John Henry Lewis in the movie “Cinderella Man.” He says that auditioning in front of director Ron Howard and fighting against actor Russell Crowe were two memorable moments of the filming process. Ross also designs sports clothing that he sells through his own fashion line, “Rosswear.” He is actively involved in Youth Assisting Youth, a Toronto-based organization focusing on aiding abused children and single parents in the area.
Ehinomen “Hino” Ehikhamenor
Hometown: Queens, NY via Benin, Nigeria
Professional Record: 12-3-0, 7 KO’s
Ehikhamenor cites his transition from Nigeria to New York as one of the most challenging times in his life. He moved to the United States when he was 13 to pursue a boxing career and although he experienced his share of disappointment and difficulty (specifically losing The Golden Globes in 1999), Ehikhamenor knows that his struggles have ultimately allowed him to become the boxer he is today. He says that though his move to the United States was taxing, it was the best thing that ever happened to him because he thinks that America is the land where people can make their dreams become realities.
Initially, Ehikhamenor played a variety of sports, which contributed to the athletic stamina and build he possesses. Though he’s a relatively new competitor, Ehikhamenor is excited to be in the ring and to pursue his new passion. Outside of boxing, he participates in a variety of activities, ranging from doing party promotions and modeling to acting and spending time with family and friends.
Akinyemi “AK” Laleye
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV via Lagos, Nigeria
Professional Record: 10-1-0, 5 KO’s
Laleye never thought he would get into boxing. Despite his aggressive nature and his service to the US Navy in Iraq and Afghanistan during two tours, Laleye simply never pictured himself in the ring. It wasn’t until he randomly met boxer Winky Wright at a mall in Florida that his perception of boxing changed and he decided to give the sport a chance. Wright encouraged him to pursue boxing and after some tactical training, Laleye became one of Wright’s favorite sparring partners.
Though Laleye has only been boxing for two years, he says that his strength as a fighter comes from his knowledge of combat. He finds it easy to adapt to a variety of situations, making him a versatile boxer. Laleye appropriately received the nickname “AK 47” after fans watched him rapidly throw punches at his opponents.
Alfredo Escalera Jr.
Hometown: Winter Springs, FL via San Juan, Puerto Rico
Professional Record: 15-1-1, 11 KO’s
Escalera is a confident boxer who wants to be on “The Contender” to prove that when he’s at his best, no one stands a chance at beating him. Escalera has been in the gym since he was eight and began competing as he got older, citing an amateur fight at age 20 as his first battle. Escalera’s father was a junior lightweight champion. Though boxing is in his blood, Escalera did not have a close relationship with his father and pursued the sport because of his own passion.
Escalera’s patience in the ring greatly contributes to the success of his fighting tactics. He is a great counter-puncher and is a versatile athlete who is always able to alter his game to surprise opponents. He knows the competition on the show is tough but believes that he is in the running to win it all.
While Escalera’s competitive nature is obvious, he also has a softer side that is evident when he speaks of his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. He says that she is the best thing that has ever happened to him because her presence in his life forced him to mature and realize what is truly important.
Erick “Dynamite” Vega
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ via El Paso, TX
Professional Record: 8-2-1, 6 KO’s
Vega always knew that he wanted to be a boxer, and even as a young boy, he was prepared to overcome obstacles to ensure that his dream became a reality. His mother would not allow him to box when he was young so he studied fighting tactics by watching every match he could on television. He finally persuaded her to allow him to wrestle and box in high school, and that’s when his career truly began.
Vega’s first amateur fight came in March of 2001 and he turned pro in 2006. He’s a well-rounded, smart fighter, and he has incredible punching strength. He participated in the Olympic trials in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but narrowly missed the Olympic squad. The defeat didn’t disappoint Vega, however; instead, it inspired him to rise to the self-imposed challenge of becoming a world champion. His nickname is “Dynamite” because of his explosive personality and fighting style. He is thrilled to be on the show because he believes it will provide great exposure for his career.
Hometown: East St. Louis, IL
Professional Record: 9-0-1, 5 KO’s
Godfrey is an exciting young fighter who just began boxing three years ago. He cites Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones and Muhammad Ali as athletes whose careers inspired him to get involved in boxing. Godfrey thinks that his mental stamina contributes to his successful fighting career thus far.
While boxing is a priority for Godfrey, his family always comes first in his life. He uses his free time to be with his children and he says that finding his wife was the best thing that’s ever happened to him because she is so supportive.
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ via Detroit, MI
Professional Record: 20-2-0, 15 KO’s
Like many boxers, Hoye was born into the sport. Yet he has an edge over some because boxing extends through his family tree not just back to his father’s career but to his grandfather’s career as well. Hoye was introduced to boxing at age six by his grandfather, who was his first coach. Hoye fought in The Golden Glove amateur tournament at age nine. By age 21, he had turned pro.
Hoye is an all-around good fighter, and his right-handed jab is particularly noteworthy. He is an intelligent boxer who is constantly aware of his surroundings. He is always looking out for his next big break. He cracked the top 10 in the World Boxing Organization (WBO), and has won light heavyweight titles for both the North American Boxing Organization (NABO) and International Boxing Association (IBA).
When he’s not training, Hoye keeps himself busy with other activities. He spends as much free time with his family as he can while also juggling the responsibility of working as a personal trainer and teaching kickboxing and fitness classes.
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Professional Record: 12-2-0, 8 KO’s
Alexander began boxing in 1999. The very same year, he was the runner-up in at the Golden Gloves National Championship. Though he earned recognition from that fight, Alexander wants to be on the show to gain the exposure that his hometown of Columbus can’t offer him.
Alexander is a smart fighter who possesses great speed and power. He is a strong defender who can easily adapt to a variety of situations. Alexander’s toughest fight to date was against Chad Weatherspoon, a fight that aired on Showtime. He lost but says that the fight didn’t deter him from becoming a champion boxer. Alexander says that this opportunity to be on “The Contender” is the best thing that has ever happened to him.
Hometown: Brockton, MA
Professional Record: 20-4-1, 8 KO’s
Flamos was always an athletic, competitive young man growing up. He played high school football and still enjoys playing other sports, like golf and baseball. It wasn’t his athletic experiences that shaped his desire to box; rather, his passions were formed after engaging in a scholastic endeavor. After reading a book about Rocky Marciano, Flamos was inspired to box.
Flamos began fighting at age 21 and turned pro at age 28. He spends two to four hours in the gym, five days a week, to keep in shape. His toughest fight was one that lasted an incredible ten rounds. He calls the chance at being on the show the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
Hometown: Yonkers, NY
Professional Record: 7-2-1, 5 KO’s
While a member of the United States Marine Corp from 1998-2002, Schneider became a skilled wrestler. After four years of service, he decided to pursue a career in boxing. He says that his “Marine Corps mentality” forced him to become extremely disciplined and hardworking.
Schneider says that being on “The Contender” is a great opportunity, and that by participating in the competition, all of his dreams are coming true. He is confident that he can crush the competition, saying that the other athletes appear to be “very beatable.”
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Professional Record: 9-0, 3 KO’s
Coyne originally had every intention of pursuing a career in football. After being heavily recruited, he attended the University of Missouri. Coyne’s calling was cut short when he suffered from numerous painful shoulder separations. After graduating, Coyne found himself wandering into a boxing club to try something new. While there, he realized that boxing could be a new way to accomplish his dreams of becoming a successful athlete. Coyne dedicated his life to becoming a champion boxer.
Coyne’s newness to the scene doesn’t deter him from stepping up to the challenge of becoming a renowned boxer. He says that he wants to be the best, and his motivation and determination will surely aid him in achieving his goal of becoming a talented fighter. Coyne says that his family has played an instrumental role in his life, claiming that the support from his mother and fiancé have especially meant a lot to him.
Hometown: Van Nuys, CA
Professional Record: 9-0-0, 5 KO’s
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Elam is excited to step out of his comfort zone and travel to Singapore to participate in “The Contender.” Though he’s a relatively new boxer, Elam has the potential to develop into a great fighter. This talented all-around athlete picked up boxing as a means of socializing, seeing as he and his boxer friend used to spar with one another when they were 17. From there, boxing became a passion that Elam wanted to pursue. That very same year, Elam fought in the Olympic trials. Though he didn’t make the squad, Elam remained dedicated and motivated.
Just one year later, in 2005, Elam boxed in his first professional fight. Since then, Elam has participated in a variety of fights, continually discovering new ways to bolster his career. He says that his defensive abilities are amongst his biggest strengths. Elam’s career is noteworthy enough that Elton Brand, professional basketball player and boxing fan, decided to be his co-manager. While boxing is an integral part of who he is, Elam also says his family plays a huge role in defining his character and his priorities. He says that having his son, who is now 12, changed his life for the better.
Hometown: Claremont, NH
Professional Record: 9-1-0, 5 KO’s
Gingras attributes his boxing successes to his troubled past. Growing up, he fought a lot and suffered personal losses, including the death of his father. The struggles he endured caused him to develop a rebellious personality. Gingras decided to turn his life around by enrolling in college to become a personal trainer. While in school, Gingras picked up boxing and shortly thereafter, his career took off.
Within six months, Gingras had won the New England Gold Gloves. Soon after, he won a National Championship in Kansas City, MO. He has an intense training schedule and hopes that competing on “The Contender” will provide him with the exposure he needs to become a high-profile boxer. Gingras cites his son as one of the most inspirational people in his life. His 10-year-old son was born with a disability that impaired his ability to walk; doctors told Gingras that his son would forever be restricted to life in a wheelchair. Seven surgeries and a lot of perseverance later, Gingras’ son is now able to walk. His ability to overcome obstacles motivates Gingras in his boxing career.
Hometown: Takoma Park, MD via Cleveland, OH
Professional Record: 23-7-3, 20 KO’s
When Wilson was asked to explain his nickname, “Ding-a-Ling Man,” he responded, “I’m just the Ding-a-Ling Man. I hit you. I’ll ring your bell. I’ll knock you out.” True to his nickname, Wilson has been knocking out the competition for10 years. He is an incredibly hard hitter who is adept at punching with both hands.
Wilson says that he has had trouble securing fights recently because, in his opinion, the competition fears him so much. He wants to be on “The Contender” to ensure fights against strong opponents. Though there are some undefeated athletes on the show, Wilson says that he’s most likely the most popular fighter who won’t be challenged first to prove his talent.
Bray recently started his own boxing club, the John Bray Boxing Club, as a way to establish his legacy. Bray started boxing when he was seven and his amateur career didn’t end until the mid-90s. He works long days in his boxing club but says that the hours fly by because it never feels like work.
Brooks is a 54-year-old trainer who’s worked with a number of impressive boxers, including Mike Tyson, Oscar Diaz and Shaun George. He was a successful amateur boxer who won the National AAU Middleweight championships twice. Brooks began training boxers in the early 80s.
The Bernies! 1st Annual Year-End Awards
Editor Michael Woods has requested that I write an article listing my personal end-of-the-year awards in boxing for posting on TSS. Normally, there would be no problem with such an assignment, except that I have been in Los Angeles since just after Christmas to chronicle the 95th Rose Bowl between the Penn State Nittany Lions and USC Trojans. As I increasingly tend to concentrate on one thing at a time, shifting from a football mindset to a boxing one on short notice might tend to leave me more dazed and confused than usual.
So, no, my Fighter of the Year is not Southern California assistant coach Ken Norton Jr., son of the former heavyweight who once broke Muhammad Ali’s jaw. Prospect of the Year is not USC free safety Taylor Mays, although, at 6’3” and 230 pounds, this physical freak of nature (no one that size should be able to run 40 yards in 4.29 seconds) certainly looks as much like the next Lennox Lewis as the next Ronnie Lott. Nor will my Knockout of the Year nod go to any one of the many savage hits USC linebacker Rey Maualuga laid on some poor schnook of a wide receiver coming across the middle.
If he would consent to shave his head, I could make a decent case for 82-year-old Penn State coaching legend Joe Paterno as the winner of an Angelo Dundee lookalike contest, although JoePa is leaner and a bit more irascible than the perpetually sweet-natured Ange. But if the Nits are losing a close one in the fourth quarter, it wouldn’t be that difficult for me to imagine Paterno, still a bit gimpy after undergoing recent hip-replacement surgery, calling down from the press box and telling quarterback Daryll Clark on the headset, “You’re blowing it, son.” And we all know of such utterances are miraculous rallies launched.
So without further adieu, here are my picks for boxing’s best of 2008, stained as they might be by thoughts of blitz pickups, bubble screens, seal blocks and fade patterns in the red zone.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR: MANNY PACQUIAO As something of a contrarian, I hate to always go with the obvious choice. A little voice in my head kept telling me to give more consideration to the superb years turned in by Antonio Margarito and Paul Williams. And, well, it is true that, upon closer inspection, Margarito’s comeback stoppage of the favored Miguel Cotto probably is more impressive than Pac-Man’s start-to-finish domination of the empty vessel that was Oscar De La Hoya. Williams, meanwhile, won bouts in three separate weight classes and won titles in two of them. But Pacquiao is now the little big man of boxing, and his conquest of Oscar is only the cherry on top of the ice-cream sundae. He outgutted pound-for-pound rival Juan Manuel Marquez for a split decision and the WBC super featherweight title and then bludgeoned David Diaz for the WBC lightweight crown. With his ridiculously easy TKO of De La Hoya, Manny even had some enthusiasts comparing him to the legendary Henry Armstrong. Such comparisons might be overblown and premature, but for now homage must be paid to 2008’s ruler of the ring, King Manny of the Philippines.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR: ISRAEL VAZQUEZ-RAFAEL MARQUEZ III In boxing, first impressions are not always the ones that count the most. For many fans, the greatest fight in any given years is always the most recent really good one, which is why there is so much late support in this category for the Dec. 11 pairing of Steve “USS” Cunningham and Poland’s Tomasz Adamek, in which Adamek wrested the IBF cruiserweight championship from the ex-sailor on a rousing split decision. Another strong contender is the welterweight showdown in which Antonio Margarito, trailing on two of the three official scorecards entering the 11th and what proved to be final round, finally wore down WBA 147-pound champ Miguel Cotto en route to win on an absolute pip of technical knockout. But, for me, the third pairing of Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez has to be No. 1. These guys don’t know how to do anything except to draw the best out of each other, and the round-by-round, punch-for-punch action in each instance is about as good as boxing ever gets. Vazquez retained his WBC junior featherweight title on a razor-thin split decision, but, really, both of these gallant warriors walked away winners in my book.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR: KENDALL HOLT KO1 RICARDO TORRES From my experience, individual knockout preferences tend to be separated by categories. Are you more impressed by, say, the emphatic, one-punch variety? A stoppage that occurs when a fighter who has gone down himself and seemingly is in trouble somehow regains the upper hand before delivering the takeout blow? Or an ending that is the result of a sustained combination of punches, each landed shot adding to the accumulation of damage? My vote as 2008’s king of KOs goes to Kendall Holt’s one-round, roller-coaster ride in which he regained the WBO junior welterweight title from Ricardo Torres. Torres twice put Holt down in the first half-minute, but he left himself open moving in for the big finish and wound up catching a huge right hand that rendered him unconscious along the ropes. Elapsed time: 61 seconds. The list of potential runners-up is long, but I’ll go with David “The Hayemaker” Haye’s second-round wipeout of Enzo Maccarinelli and Edison Miranda’s turn-out-the-lights third-round knockout of David Banks. Really, would Haye now be considered such a threat to the Klitschko-dominated heavyweight division had he not knocked the snot out of Maccarinelli in their cruiserweight unification bout? Miranda clipped Banks with the sort of bomb that leads to everything fading to black for the clipee, at least for the next 10 seconds.
ROUND OF THE YEAR: KENDALL HOLT KO1 RICARDO TORRES For my money, this was a nearly dead heat between the minute’s worth of spills and thrills in Round 1 of Holt-Torres II and the sustained fury in Round 4 of Vazquez-Marquez III. Can I call it a draw, Mr. Woods? No? OK, I’ll throw my support to Holt-Torres, if only because so many rounds of Vazquez-Marquez III could be included in this category. It’s like three actors from the same film being nominated for an Oscar; they tend to split each other’s vote. Not much chance of that happening when you cast your ballot for boxing’s top round to a fight in which all the action was compressed into 61 seconds of ups, downs and hairpin turns.
UPSET OF THE YEAR: BERNARD HOPKINS UD12 KELLY PAVLIK There is a movie now in theaters, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” in which star Brad Pitt is born into this world as a prematurely aged infant who, miraculously, gets younger as he gets older. A fantastic tale, no? Except that Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins seems to be actually living the life of Benjamin Button. B-Hop, who turns 44 on Jan. 15, was a 5-to-1 underdog in his 170-pound catchweight bout with undefeated middleweight titlist Kelly Pavlik, the guy who once and for all was going to demonstrate that the Philadelphian is as susceptible to the natural laws of diminishing returns as all normal human beings. If this keeps up, Bernard “The Baby” Hopkins will need to be burped and changed when he’s, oh, about 95. For now, though, he is boxing’s ageless wonder, the sipper of a Fountain of Youth that apparently runs beneath his Delaware estate. There are no runners-up in this category. Hey, Hopkins would have pulled the upset of the year had he eked past Pavlik, but he toyed with the hotshot kid as a cat might play with a mouse.
PROSPECT OF THE YEAR: VICTOR ORTIZ The smooth southpaw is 21 years old, 23-1-1 with 18 victories inside the distance. Sure, there are other up-and-comers who are similarly young and bearers of shiny records, but this junior welterweight looks like the real deal. And for all of you who haven’t seen him yet, consider this a heads-up to monitor the progress of welterweight Danny Garcia, who’s 10-0 with seven knockouts. He’s my early projection to win top prospect designation for 2009.
BAD DECISION OF THE YEAR: NIKOLAY VALUEV MD12 EVANDER HOLYFIELD Yeah, Commander Vander needs to be sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of his suburban Atlanta mansion and sipping an ice-cold beverage while enjoying his retirement from the ring. At 46, he’s merely a shadow of his once-magnificent self. That said, however much is left of him was more than enough to expose WBA heavyweight titlist Valuev as the pituitary-gland fraud that he so obviously is. Shouldn’t a 7-foot, 310-pounder be scarier than this? Guy looks like Frankenstein’s monster, but moves slower and hits like Mr. Softee. “No one roots for Goliath,” the late Wilt Chamberlain once observed, but apparently three non-neutral judges in Switzerland were more inclined to reward a robotic Russian giant for doing nothing than to hand a fifth version of the heavyweight title to a more active American who, if only fighting by memory, deserved better than this heist by pencil.
TRAINER OF THE YEAR: FREDDIE ROACH A disciple of the late, great Eddie Futch, Roach told us exactly how Pacquiao-De La Hoya would unfold, and he prepared Manny to follow the script to utter perfection. Then again, Roach is no stranger to getting his fighters ready to deliver bravura performances. He was voted the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Futch-Condon Trainer of the Year for 2003 and 2006, and the exit polls should soon have him being projected for a third such honor for 2008. Runner-up nods go to Javier Capetillo (Antonio Margarito), Rudy Perez (Israel Vazquez) and Naazim Richardson (Bernard Hopkins).
EVENT OF THE YEAR: END OF SOLO B0XEO ON TELEFUTURA Coming on the heels earlier in the year of the cancellation of ESPN2’s Wednesday Night Fights, the termination of this eight-year series, which gave needed exposure to fighters on the rise, is a dark day for boxing, maybe as dark or darker than the day when the USA Network pulled the plug on its Tuesday Night Fights in 1998. Runner-up is Pacquiao-De La Hoya, which had 1.25 million pay-per-view buys and generated $70 million in PPV revenue despite a weak economy, again demonstrating that a good fight, or the prospect of one, always resonates with the public. Unfortunately, even those numbers have a downside. Although all available tickets were snapped up just 17 minutes after they went on sale, mainly of the costly ducats went to speculators who hoped to resell them at a profit. Some scalpers got scalped, proving, at least, that there is at least occasionally justice in the world.
INSPIRATION OF THE YEAR: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SHAUN NEGLER Bernard Hopkins’ most devoted fan, 18-year-old Shaun Negler, was given no more than a couple of weeks to live as cancer ravaged the body of the Philadelphia teenager, a former amateur boxer. But Shaun refused to yield to the inevitability of his death for over three months, or just long enough to see his hero, B-Hop, dominate Kelly Pavlik, on TV. He slipped into a coma the next morning and passed away five days later.
The Ronnies! The First Annual Year End Awards
The end of the year is a time for nostalgia and remembrance and so it is in the boxing world as well.
We pine for the Golden Days when boxing was king and we remember back to a time when the heavyweight division really made a difference rather than being in such a sorry state that it is a part of the business largely ignored by the sporting public.
Clearly boxing has begun to lose the attention of the mainstream fan that it once had for an assortment of the same old reasons: too few compelling matches, too many champions, dysfunction and disaster in the heavyweight division and a general inability for the sporting public to see the sport’s best fights without having to shell out an additional $50 or more at a time when the economy is tighter than Willie Pep’s defense.
Yet for all its warts, boxing remains the most compelling sport. It is a test of the will and the skill of two men stripped half naked and left to compete in the most primal way – with their wits and their two fists. No one else to blame (although they sometimes try) for failure and no one else to praise (although they sometimes try) for success.
While 2008 may have been a disappointment in boxing’s boardrooms it was not in the ring, where there were enough rising stars and compelling moments to make us yearn for what comes next while wanting to revisit what has already begun to fade into memory one last time before we move on.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR: Manny Pacquiao
Some years there is a debate over this issue that can get as heated as a round between Israel Vasquez and Rafael Marquez but this is not one of those years.
This year there is Manny Pacquiao and then everyone else. Or, perhaps more accurately, there is Manny Pacquiao and nobody else.
That is no disrespect to fighters like Antonio Margarito, Chad Dawson, Victor Darchinyan, Joe Calzaghe, Juan Manuel Lopez, Paul Williams and the comebacking Vitali Klitschko. They all achieved major accomplishments in 2008. It is just that Pacquiao accomplished more than all of them in a year when he was quite often, and quite justifiably, compared to Henry Armstrong.
Sugar Ray Robinson is universally regarded as the greatest boxer who ever lived but Armstrong could not have been far behind. Among his many accomplishments was a 10-month stretch between October of 1937 and August of 1938 in which he won and held world titles at featherweight, welterweight and lightweight. That came at a time when boxing was a purer sport, one with only eight weight divisions instead of the current 17, and with only one champion rather than present pile of (depending on how many different organizations you can stomach) upwards of 100.
To have 100 champions is to have none, which is what makes Manny Pacquiao so remarkable. Whether he has a sanctioned belt or not, he is a champion in the eyes of the public, something he emphatically proved this year by winning a hard-fought split decision from Juan Manuel Marquez in March to win the WBC super featherweight title. He then moved up to 135 pounds and stopped WBC champion David Diaz to win the WBC lightweight championship with a spectacular ninth round knockout of a brave but beaten Diaz.
Then he completed his remarkable trilogy by stopping six-time world champion Oscar De La Hoya in eight rounds in December without losing a minute of the fight to lay claim not to a portion of the welterweight title but to claim he had been the man to retire boxing’s Golden Boy.
Unlike Armstrong’s situation, there was no welterweight title on the line when Pacquiao squared off with De La Hoya but he dominated the driving force of boxing, a 35-year-old De La Hoya who had not fought at the 147-pound limit in 7 1?2 years, while moving up three weight classes in less than a year.
De La Hoya was a better than 2-1 favorite in large part because he had lost a close split decision to then pound-for-pound champion Floyd Mayweather, Jr. 18 months earlier and so the consensus was that De La Hoya’s size advantage and his proven skills against Mayweather would prevail.
Not even close.
Pacquiao dominated the fight in the same way he had Diaz in his only fight at 135 pounds, winning every minute of every round until a disheartened De La Hoya finally quit on his stool after the eighth round.
Pacquiao was too fast, too slick, too powerful, too aggressive, too everything for De La Hoya to handle. Remarkable as that performance was that alone did not win him my nod as fighter of the year but when you combine it with capturing world titles in two other weight classes over a 10 month period and again dropping Marquez to gain a razor-think edge over his nemesis and doing it all while moving up over 20 pounds in the process, it is impossible to think of anyone who did more since the days when Henry Armstrong roamed the ring.
TRAINER OF THE YEAR: Freddie Roach
Roach is the man who prepared Pacquiao for all those victories and so you could stop right there and have a hard time coming up with another trainer to make this a debate.
Certainly Antonio Margarito’s trainer, Javier Capetillo, has done an admirable job as well this year but Roach was the first man to believe Pacquiao could defeat De La Hoya and he convinced first himself and then his fighter of it by showing him a plan Pacquiao could believe in and then training him perfectly.
While De La Hoya was drawn and at weight far too soon (more than three weeks before the fight he already weighed 145) and the strain to maintain it for so long proved to be more than he could handle, Roach had Pacquiao perfectly prepared at 142 1?2 pounds.
Roach made no mistakes in readying Pacquiao for any of his three title fights while also maintaining a jammed gym in Hollywood, CA. where he trains some of the world’s top fighters.
That now includes a reclamation project which has only begun to bear fruit. Roach has been asked to retool young Amir Khan, the British Olympic sensation in Athens, who was knocked cold in one round by a none descript fighter brought to England to serve as mere cannon fodder for the well protected Khan.
Now Roach has been asked to revive his career by teaching him how to protect a vulnerable chin and to date he’s 1-0 with him. But regardless of how successful he might be with Khan, in the end Freddie Roach will be remembered for what he did with Manny Pacquiao – which simply put was to help turn him into a legend.
PROSPECT OF THE YEAR: James Kirkland
This is a tough call because although Kirkland has the kind of power that makes not only champions but ticket sellers, he did not stand alone this year among rising stars.
There was also Victor Ortiz, who is not called Vicious for nothing; the Cuban sensation Yuriorkis Gamboa, who is an all-offense kind of guy who is 12-0 with 10 knockouts but who has already been down four times in his career and thus makes every fight a potential adventure; Devon Alexander, the best fighter in promoter Don King’s shrinking stable, who is 17-0 with 10 knockouts and this year was particularly impressive defeating former world champion DeMarcus “Chop Chop’’ Corley and ex-title contender Miguel Callist.
Alexander has probably been in with the more difficult competition, Ortiz probably has the most charismatic personality and Gamboa’s loose defense makes him the most intriguing fighter in the group yet in the end it is Kirkland who seems to have the greatest upside primarily because he tends to put people on their backside.
Kirkland (24-0, 21 KO) is trained by Ann Wolfe, a demanding and hard-nosed former women’s champion who seems to understand power punching is what sells tickets. Kirkland comes into the ring not only with bad intentions but with concussive ones and thus far he has left with his hand held high and his opponent’s head hung low most of the time.
He was 3-0 this year, all victories coming by knockout. Although his level of competition needs to be stepped up, thus far he seems to have as much upside as any young fighter in the world. What he does with it is up to him but he has already said “No 154 pounder can beat me,’’ and he intends to prove it in 2009.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR: Antonio Margarito TKO11 Miguel Cotto
It was a tough choice between Margarito’s stoppage of Cotto and Israel Vazquez’s split decision over Rafael Marquez in the third fight of their trilogy. That night Vazquez was down in the fourth round and wobbled in the seventh before rallying to the point where he hurt Marquez badly in the 11th round during a three minute assault. Vazquez then came out for the final round sensing he needed to do something spectacular to win and he did. He overwhelmed the tiring Marquez, finally dropping him late in the round for his margin of victory.
Yet as stirring as that fight was it was overshadowed by Margarito’s late rally to beat down Cotto and cement his position as the best welterweight in the world.
Early in the fight Cotto boxed slickly and effectively, landing solidly enough to control for a time Margarito’s relentless stalking of him. He also seemed at times to cause him problems with his speed and movement but as the rounds wore on and Margarito refused to take a backwards step Cotto, the smaller man by far, began to wear down and be hurt by Margarito’s body shots and nasty uppercuts on the inside.
Margarito, trailing on the scorecards in the late rounds, continued to stalk Cotto regardless of what he was being hit by before finally beginning to bust up Cotto’s bloody face late in the fight. Along with it he broke his spirit.
By the 11th round Cotto was weary, wary and in retreat, by now fully aware that despite having hit Margarito with flush shots that time and again snapped his head around as if he was a bobble head doll he could neither hurt him nor dissuade him from pursuing him and throwing howitzers back at him.
Margarito finally dropped Cotto early in round 11 and when Cotto got up he was a beaten man in full retreat. Margarito followed him across the ring but before he could nail him another flush shot, Cotto simply took a knee without being hit, the universal sign of surrender. As he did, his cornermen rushed into the ring and stopped the fight, crowning Margarito as the king of the welterweight division.
ROUND OF THE YEAR: Holt-Torres II, Round 1
Although you could make a strong case for Round 4 of the Vasquez-Marquez II fight (and many others have) my vote goes to the 61 seconds that constituted the entirety of the rematch between Kendall Holt and Ricardo Torres.
Most 12-round title fights don’t pack in as much drama and action in 36 minutes as these two did in the 61 seconds their match lasted beginning with Torres dropping Holt barely 12 seconds into the fight with a massive overhand right. When Holt (25-2, 13 KO) arose he was clearly in trouble and Holt didn’t waste a lot of time trying to keep him there.
He swarmed Holt, finally dropping him a second time when after a flurry of punches both of Holt’s gloves touched the canvas. The fight was now 32 seconds old and Holt appeared to be getting old.
But as Torres charged him wildly to try and finish him off, the two collided heads accidentally and Torres came out the worst for wear. After their heads slammed together, Torres was both cut and dazed and when Holt realized it he rallied himself and went after Torres with vengeance in his heart.
This time he landed a flurry of punches himself that drove Torres to squat on the lowest rope, out on his feet before he slumped to the floor completely out of it. By the time he came to, he learned he’d been on the wrong end of the Round of the Year.
STORY OF THE YEAR: Sadly it is not about a fight or a fighter but rather about the continuing economic collapse of boxing, at least in the short term.
A year ago boxing seemed to be in a revival. Attendance and pay-per-view sales were up and the suits that run the business side of the sport finally seemed to understand that interest in boxing wasn’t dying, interest in the boxing matches these guys were putting on was dying.
But just as 2007 was a revelation, 2008 became a disappointment. Pay-per-view numbers were down significantly as the larger economy began to crumble and both ESPN2 and Telefutura cancelled their regularly televised boxing shows, a sign that the long-term health of prize fighting as a main stream sport is seriously being compromised.
ESPN2 moved to pull the plug on its summertime, Wednesday night series, retaining the Friday Night Fights with Teddy Atlas at ringside but still giving up a sizeable share of a shrinking market.
Then Telefutura, which was doing about 40 shows a year, stunned the boxing world when it announced it would no longer do live televised boxing either despite gaining a consistently high rating because the cost of those shows could not be justified in light of other debt taken on when the network was sold.
That meant the sport had lost two of its main venues for showcasing young talent and getting them some recognition and a much-needed spotlight among fans. Those opportunities are gone now and no one is stepping up to take their place, which is alarming long term.
Worse, it appears the public has grown weary of watching old stars in decline, even though HBO in particular continues to try and foist them off on the public.
That’s why Calzaghe vs. Jones, Jr. and Hopkins vs. Pavlik did so poorly on pay-per-view, barely cracking 200,000 household buys. The public wants new faces, new stars. They want to see guys like Andre Berto and Andre Ward and the Dirrell brothers and Amir Khan and many more, rather than old shadows of fighters who used to be great but the cable networks would rather try and capitalize on old reliable names believing that sells more than the sport itself.
This is nonsense but it’s been their formula for short term success for some time. Unfortunately, while they line their pockets the sport deteriorates because fans neither know who the champions are, nor who the young faces on the rise might be.
The December showdown between De la Hoya and Pacquiao did do near record box office and PPV numbers but even that success seemed a Trojan Horse, a reminder of what the fight game used to be and still could be with proper promotion and long-term thinking but which it is a far cry from at the moment.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR
You have to hand it to Vitali Klitschko. Admittedly the heavyweight division is in a steep decline but he did come out of a 4 1?2 year layoff during which he ran for political office, performed charity work in Africa and paid little attention to boxing beyond watching his younger brother, Wladimir, win two of the four bogus world titles.
Then he decides it’s time to earn a paycheck again and, without a tuneup, comes back and batters Samuel Peter so badly it appeared Peter was the one coming off a long layoff.
Eventually Klitschko made Peter quit on his stool to lay claim to the WBC title belt and arguably the title of true heavyweight champion because, frankly, I’d like his chances against his brother if the two ever met. They won’t, they insist, and it’s probably true. Sadly, it’s also the only really compelling fight in the division unless young David Haye proves his chin is as strong as his punch… which we know it isn’t.
DISASTER OF THE YEAR: Bernard Hopkins dec. Kelly Pavlik
As admirable a job as the 43-year-old former middleweight champion did in undressing and exposing Pavlik’s modest boxing skills, Hopkins did his sport no favors by knocking off one of the few boxing stars who had begun to get national recognition in magazines and on television while crossing over into the consciousness of the general sports fan after twice beating up Jermain Taylor.
Although the lopsided Hopkins victory keeps him alive in the sport, boxing suffered overall because what it needs right now is not the resurrection of another old face but the spawning of fresh new ones that young fans can relate to. Kelly Pavlik was one of those until Bernard Hopkins made that face all but unrecognizable by exposing his limited boxing skills.
No one knows where Pavlik will go from here but boxing goes back to the drawing board in 2009, a sport in search of a new identity and some new faces the public will latch on to. Until that happens there’s always Manny vs. Ricky Hatton and then, perhaps, the return from exile of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. to square off with Pacquiao by the end of the year in what would figure to be a blockbuster affair.
It is that kind of hope that keeps fight fans believing that next year, which soon will be this year, is going to be better than last year.
Avila’s List Of Boxing’s Best In 2008
Fighter of the Year
In 2008, Manny “Pac Man” Pacquiao accomplished something that was last seen in October 1937 to October 1938 when the great Henry Armstrong won the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles in a year’s span. Pacquiao won junior lightweight, lightweight world titles and beat an elite welterweight boxer all in the same year.
Many said that Armstrong’s feat would never be repeated, but Pacquiao came very close to the feat, though not in the same weight divisions. All that was missing was a world title in the welterweight bout.
The super charged Pacquiao last fought as a featherweight in 2004 and had been residing in the junior lightweight division for the last several years. Earlier this year he beat Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez in a fierce battle for the WBC junior lightweight title that ended in a split decision win. He then dominated David Diaz for the WBC lightweight title in June and finally capped the year with another dominating win over a former Pound for Pound champion Oscar De La Hoya several weeks ago.
It may be another 70 years before you see someone duplicate Pacquiao’s feat.
A few other candidates should be mentioned in this category. Welshman Joe Calzaghe had the best year of his career when he beat Bernard Hopkins in a close battle last April. He followed that win with a one-sided beating of Roy Jones Jr. last November in Madison Square Garden. Though Jones is not nearly the fighter he was before 2004, you can’t say Calzaghe had youth on his side. He’s 36 and Jones is 39.
Mexico’s Antonio Margarito also had a pretty good 12 months. The Tijuana Tornado collided with Kermit Cintron again and stopped the power puncher a second time and won the IBF welterweight belt. Proving he wasn’t concerned with keeping a belt, he lit after Miguel Cotto, the WBA welterweight titleholder, and beat him up in 11 rounds. Fans could never call Margarito’s style pretty, “brutal” might be a more appropriate word.
And finally there was Australia’s Vic “The Destroyer” Darchinyan. After getting knocked loopy a year ago, the Armenian slugger returned with knockout wins over Russia’s Dimitri Kirilov and Mexico’s Cristian Mijares. He also showed he could box very well in dominating Mijares in his last fight. A very impressive showing for Darchinyan.
All of the aforementioned fighters had a great year, but Pacquiao’s year will go down in history as one of the all-time great 12 months.
Fight of the Year
Without a doubt Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez III is the Fight of the Year. Their third encounter proved to be the best of the trilogy that began in March 2007 and ended in March 2008. In my eyes the only trilogy that matches it would be Tony Zale-Rocky Graziano’s three middleweight encounters in the 1940s for sheer mayhem.
The Mexico City warriors lit up the Home Depot Center with 12 rounds of fury that held the crowd in awe and ended in a split decision. A left hook from Vazquez that sent Marquez reeling into the corner (and correctly ruled a knockdown) in the final 10 seconds of the last round, proved the deciding factor and the coup de grace for the three epic battles. Boxing fans will be talking about these three collisions for decades. It was pure and scientific violence at its best and exemplified why boxing is called the “Sweet Science.”
Other candidates for Fight of the Year were Pacquiao’s return match with Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez last March. A fifth round knockdown of Marquez proved to be the deciding factor in this nip and tuck battle between two remarkable fighters.
In third is Antonio Margarito’s bludgeoning win over Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto. When they entered the ring Cotto was the 3-1 favorite and undefeated. It was a classic Mexico vs. Puerto Rico war and it did not fail to incite the fans present at the Las Vegas fight this past summer. In the end, Margarito proved he would walk through fire to win the fight and did in bludgeoning fashion.
Round of the Year
The rematch between Kendall Holt and Ricardo Torres for the WBO world title was held in Las Vegas in front of a small number of journalists at the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino. Many fight reporters were busy attending a mixed martial arts fight card across the street and missed one of the most electrifying matches in years. The two junior welterweights tore into each other with homicidal punches and no jabs. Holt was dropped twice but recovered and ultimately knocked out Colombia’s Torres with a right hand and a simultaneous accidental head butt. All this took place in a mere 61 seconds. It was one of those fights that if you blinked too much, you missed the fight.
In second place was Riverside’s Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola and Florida’s Travis “Freight Train” Walker heavyweight clash. In most heavyweight bouts you can count the number of blows fired on one hand. You can sleep through most of their bouts, but not this one. Walker dropped Arreola in the second round with a perfect right hand to the chin. Then, 30 seconds later, Arreola returned fire and landed a crunching left hook. The crowd went crazy. Arreola proved he could take a punch and come off the deck to win a fight. He’s poised to fight Wladimir Klitschko in April or May.
Knockout of the Year
Venezuela’s Jorge Linares has been impressing boxing fans with his fighting prowess and immense physical talent. Against Mexico’s iron chinned Gamaliel Diaz he proved he can punch with the best. In the eighth round, after missing with a left, Linares pivoted on his left foot and beat Diaz with a right hand to floor the Mexican fighter in crunching fashion. Diaz legs were short circuited by the punch and down he went. It was a decisive victory for Linares who is not as well known as his fellow countryman Edwin Valero. But that knockout woke up the eyes of boxing fans that saw the fight on pay-per-view.
Coming in a second was Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero’s right uppercut, left cross combination to turn out the circuits on Jason Litzau in another featherweight contest last February for the IBF title. Guerrero is slated to fight in January 24, at the Staples Center.
Ironically, both Linares and Guerrero are moving up to the junior lightweight division. Will they be fighting each other in 2009? Wow.
Upset of the Year
Palm Spring’s Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley’s victory in London against the feared Junior Witter for the WBC junior welterweight title grabs him the honor of being the best of the area for 2008. While other junior welterweights avoided Witter, Bradley traveled to London where he was given a room with no air conditioning, no bed and stalled at the airport, then proceeded to out-box and knock down the feared Witter. It was a fairy tale come-to-life for a boxer who never had fought outside of California. Bradley is set to meet Kendall Holt in a junior welterweight unification bout.
Worst result of the Year
Canada’s Lucian Bute retained the IBF super middleweight world title but it really should be in the hands of California’s Librado Andrade. If not for a horrible, if not purposeful, mishandling by the Canadian referee, the title should have changed hands by knockout. When Andrade knocked down Bute he looked done. But the referee wasted 17 seconds telling Andrade to go to the neutral corner, though he was in the corner. Bute won by decision, but only because the referee interfered on his behalf.
Trainer of the Year
It’s difficult to surmise the best trainer of the year because it really depends on the fighter to win or lose a fight. The trainer can’t fight the fight for their charge, but he can prepare someone and give strategy for a fight.
Freddie Roach has to win this year for his guidance of Manny Pacquiao. It was Roach who spotted the weaknesses in Oscar De La Hoya and surmised that Pacquiao could beat the East L.A. boxer. Last summer Roach debated with me the reasons and every point he made came true. Even his strategies worked perfectly.
In second place is Floyd Mayweather. The trainer was perfect in big fights. First he guided De La Hoya to victory over Steve Forbes in May, then, he guided Ricky Hatton to victory in November. Both fighters looked their best in years. Could Mayweather have made a difference for De La Hoya in his fight? Hard to tell.
Promoter of the Year
I’ve got to go with Goossen-Tutor Promotions. The California-based promotion company worked hard in 2008 to find new ways to work for its fighters that include venturing to the Cayman Islands last June to stage a boxing show. They also put on a fight card featuring Paul Williams and Chris Arreola in a brand new venue, the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. Maybe 2009 could be the year for Goossen-Tutor as both Williams and Arreola are primed for major fights. They also signed Olympian Shawn Estrada and lightweight prospect John Molina.
California’s Pat Russell is this year’s best referee. He did a masterful job in the Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez III fight last March and is always in top form for any fight. He rarely makes bad decisions in the ring and is one of the more respected referees in the world. Those gray hairs don’t mean he’s losing a step, they’re signs of wisdom.
In close second is Nevada’s Tony Weeks. In the past three years he’s climbed to the top of the ladder with his great handling of prizefights. The only thing Weeks does that can be corrected is his staying in one position too long. But his calls in the ring are right on and always on time.
Third place is a tie between California’s Jack Reiss and Nevada’s Kenny Bayless. Both are very fair and stay out of the action unless necessary.
Jerry Roth of Nevada has to be on the top of any list of boxing judges. He has a way of scoring fights that is consistent. He likes boxers who throw a lot of punches and make a fight happen. In the past five years he’s been the top judge out of Nevada and is a welcome sight for any big fight.
Max DeLuca is another consistent and sharp-eyed judge. In most fights it’s easy to judge the winner. But when you have two elite fighters who are good defensively, then you want DeLuca scoring the fight. The California judge can spot who is landing and who is blocking with the best of the judges. There wasn’t a fight he scored that could be called a bad decision.
Tom Kaczmarek wrote a book on how to score a fight. It shows. He’s very consistent and has that ability to surmise when a boxer is actually landing blows, not just hitting his opponent’s gloves and arms. Kaczmarek has been very good for a long time. He’s the best of the East Coast judges in my opinion.
Most Entertaining Fighter
It’s always very close but this year it goes to Ricardo “El Matador” Mayorga. The Nicaraguan prizefighter is a massive personality though he doesn’t speak English. When he’s on the main event there is nobody who can light up a press conference like this former two-division world champion. Crowds, journalists and macho Latinos love his persona. Win or lose he’s a gracious fighter once the party is over. I’m going to miss Mayorga when his career is over. Another thing, is this guy can fight. He never takes the easy way out. People forget he beat Fernando Vargas and Vernon Forrest twice. And he gave Shane Mosley all he could handle. Don’t sleep on Mayorga.
Runner up has to be Emanuel Augustus. When he gets in a groove and starts shaking and baking he’s fun to watch and probably perplexing to fight. Too bad he never won a world title. He’s now residing in Las Vegas. It’s a perfect spot for him.
This is a difficult choice. Most prizefighters have guts to spare, but I got to pick Verno Phillips for this category. When nobody wanted to fight Paul Williams it was Phillips who took up the challenge without hesitation. This guy has been fighting for a long time. Heck, I remember seeing him fight at the Inglewood Forum back in 1994. In November, against Williams, the much smaller Phillips took blow after blow and never quit. Man, I was in awe of the kid. I’m glad the fight was stopped because Phillips was not going to surrender. He was intent to go out on his shield. Luckily, he was able to walk out of the ring. And it was his birthday that night.
Ready for world titles
Abner Mares, 23, from Mexico, has a lethal combination of speed, power and boxing skills. The former Mexican Olympian should be fighting for a world title in 2009. In the past 16 months he decisively beat several good fighters in Chino Garcia, Diosdado Gabi and Jonathan Arias. He’s ready for anybody holding a bantamweight belt.
Urbano Antillon from Maywood, California has blown through the competition in the last two years. Most people think he’s the same young teen who was teetered against Ivan Valles at the Olympic Auditorium. Folks, wake up, you’re asleep in class, that was six years ago when he was 19. Now he’s 26 and seems to have rocks in his gloves. A lightweight title should be his as soon as he gets an opportunity.
Andre Dirrell from Flint, Michigan has height, speed, and boxing ability. He seldom gets hit so it’s difficult to surmise if he has a world caliber chin. But otherwise, Dirrell should have a super middleweight belt wrapped around his waist in the next 12 months.
Prospects to watch
John Molina continues his trek toward becoming a contender in the talented lightweight division. The hard-hitting Covina fighter remains undefeated and recently signed a promotion contract with Goossen-Tutor.
Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia a junior welterweight seems to have a lot going on. He’s got all the tools. The only thing left to see is if he can take a big punch.
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