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Articles of 2009

Gatti, Like MJ And McNair, Left Us Too Soon



The time you won your town the race

We chaired you through the market-place;

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder-high.

—A.E. Housman, “To an Athlete Dying Young”

Strange, isn’t it, how words written by a British poet, first read by me in a high school literature class decades ago, have come to resonate in a way they never did when I was wrestling with the intricacies of iambic pentameter.

Only last week, Steve McNair, the dynamic – and married — former quarterback for Alcorn State University, the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans, was shot dead by a 20-year-old mistress who apparently was distraught by the prospect of being replaced by another woman. The about-to-be-scorned lover then turned the gun on herself. McNair, shot twice in the head and twice in the chest while he was asleep, was only 36.

Now the boxing world has received the same sort of cold slap in the face that football fans received when they learned that McNair, who retired from the NFL following the 2007 season because of on-field injuries that had left his once-magnificent body a network of torn flesh, fractured bones, jammed fingers and dislocated shoulders, had died while sitting on a sofa.

Arturo Gatti, the fight game’s human highlight reel, gone at 37. And, police in Brazil have indicated, not from natural causes. Isn’t that the logical conclusion when a man’s wife returns to their hotel suite, where they and their 10-month-old baby had gone for the couple’s romantic “second honeymoon,” and finds her husband’s blood-stained body, clad only in his underwear, with wounds on his neck and to the back of his head?

Longtime boxing promoter J Russell Peltz more or less introduced Gatti to the region that would become his professional home when the Montreal-born brawler appeared at Philadelphia’s Blue Horizon three times from 1991 to ’92. From there Gatti moved his base of operations 65 miles east, to the New Jersey shore, where 23 of his 30 ring appearances in the state were in Atlantic City, the last nine of which were before sellout crowds in Boardwalk Hall.

“He was the franchise in Atlantic City for years,” Peltz said Saturday, after news of Gatti’s death earlier in the day had traveled north, first as rumors that no one wanted to believe. “He was the Rocky Graziano of his era, and one of the most exciting fighters ever.

“It’s a shame, to die that young. What else can you say?”

Well, perhaps that Gatti’s thousands of fans – who knows, maybe there were millions who cherished him as much as those who turned Boardwalk Hall into his personal shrine – always feared that a fighter who constantly stared into the face of danger and spit in its eye would end up more or less this way. But their concerns were that Gatti, whose moderate boxing skills always were overshadowed by his determination to press on through pain and seemingly hopeless odds, would perish in the ring rather than to submit to any gloved opponent. A referee might save him in a particular bout. His manager or his promoter could advise him to walk away while his legs still worked and his speech was unslurred. But once the bell rang, Gatti would rather run through hell in a gasoline suit than to leave any part of himself in reserve.

We so often have heard fighters say that the only way to leave a fight, the sport or life itself is on their shield that the words become almost meaningless. But when spoken by Gatti, you believed that he actually might choose death before the dishonor of quitting before he had given the last full measure of devotion inside the ropes.

“My fans deserve the best and I give them the best,” he once said of the reason why he was so beloved in Jersey and points beyond. “I was told lots of times in the amateurs that I had more heart and determination than other fighters. I think I have talent. But to be a fighter, the intangibles are something you need more than anything to be successful.

“I wish all my fights were easy, but I knew that if it comes to that, I’ve got the heart, guts and determination to win the tough ones. Any time I need to bring that stuff out, it comes.”

A former IBF junior lightweight champion who won his title in, naturally, a rousing, give-and-take slugfest with Tracy Harris Patterson, Gatti was living proof of the old Yogi Berra adage that it ain’t over ’til it’s over. You could slice his face to ribbons, turn his eyes into ugly, purple hematomas and have more squeamish spectators praying that someone merciful and in a position of authority would step in to save him, but that was when “Thunder,” like an injured animal, was most dangerous.

Sometimes he won, sometimes he lost, but his indomitable heart was forever on display in unforgettable matchups with Patterson, Wilson Rodriguez, Gabriel Ruelas, Angel Manfredy, Ivan Robinson (twice) and Micky Ward (three times).

Lou DiBella used to book Gatti fights when he was senior vice-president of HBO Sports. Later, after he had left the premium-cable giant, DiBella advised Gatti opponents Ward and Leonard Dorin. But, really, it didn’t matter which side of the fence DiBella was on at a particular moment in time. He is a fight fan first and foremost, and Gatti gave him the same thrills he delivered to everyone else.

“I make no bones about my love for Arturo Gatti,” DiBella said some years ago. “I think he’s an icon in our sport. I think he’s the best of the best. In my 20 years of televised boxing, he’s the best TV fighter I’ve ever seen.”

Gatti also frequently was my muse, the inspiration for me to author some of the more noteworthy phrases to have made it into print and onto the Internet during my many years of watching fights and fighters. A.E. Housman could tell you, if he were still around; there has to be something that touches the soul of any writer, something to open a journalistic vein and allow the words to seep out like the crimson flow of blood from a gash in busted scar tissue on a fighter’s face.

“Boxing is an improbable union of naked power and subtle artistry, of stark fear and unbridled courage, those contradictions splashing the entire tableau of human emotions upon a canvas of a different sort than the ones used by Monet and Picasso. And the color most prevalent is blood-red,” I once wrote in an article about Gatti.

Of the increasing cragginess of Gatti’s visage, I noted that he “once was a handsome man, and he still has what might be described as rugged good looks, once the swelling goes down and the cuts have healed.”

Perhaps most prescient, I thusly compared Gatti’s improved boxing skills during his time with trainer Buddy McGirt to his willingness to revert to his old, brawling ways as the need arose: “Just beneath the surface of Gatti’s frequently lumped, contused and sutured skin is an irresistible itch to rumble.”

Now that Gatti – whom I often compared to a hold-nothing-back warrior of an earlier time, Matthew Saad Muhammad, which is as high a level of praise as I can bestow on any action fighter – who among active boxers can reach deep inside of me to pull out the best that I and other like-minded writers have to give? Israel Vazquez? Probably. Manny Pacquiao? No doubt. But Gatti, like Saad Muhammad, is an original, beyond replication. A piece of me has died along with him, dust tossed to the wind.

For this past couple of weeks, during which such assorted celebrities as Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Karl Malden, Alexis Arguello and McNair died of causes ranging from disease, prescription drug abuse, old age, suicide and homicide, we all have had occasion to take stock in the precious and often fleeting nature of life itself.

I was never that huge a Michael Jackson fan, and his daffier personal proclivities often left me baffled, but I understand how his passing at 50 could elicit international mourning. Few individuals are blessed with the sort of talent to impact the world, and when they cross over to the other side we are left to wonder if someone can or will fill the void.

McNair’s undeniable courage was put on display any number of times on football fields across this nation, and his community service is such that he won additional admirers for reasons that transcended his ability to throw a tight spiral. Fawcett, 30-plus years removed from her Charlie’s Angels heyday, inspired us with her brave refusal to yield without a fight to the ravaging effects of anal cancer.

There are those who will tell you that Jackson’s emotional arrested development and the charges of pedophilia overshadow the hit records and the innovative dance moves. The same tsk-tskers now say that McNair’s legacy is irrevocably damaged because he was less praiseworthy as a husband than he was in leading his team to a winning touchdown in the two-minute drill.

However one chooses to remember a fallen icon is, of course, up to each individual. And I say this knowing that some are waiting for dirt to surface that might smear the boxing legacy of Arturo Gatti, who likely was as flawed as any human being. It is perhaps part of our makeup to think that the failings of the rich and famous somehow elevate those of us who are neither rich nor famous.

Was Arturo Gatti simply the victim of a botched robbery attempt in which there were multiple assailants and blunt instruments? Is there something nefarious that has yet to come to light that would make us think less highly of him than we did when he was laying bare his soul in the ring? Only time will tell.

But there is little likelihood on my part to regard Arturo Gatti as anything less than he was when he bled and suffered for our entertainment. He was never the most talented guy around – Floyd Mayweather Jr. once dismissed him as a “C-plus” fighter – but he gave all that he had, and when that was expended, he rummaged around inside himself to find a bit more.

Rest in peace, Arturo. Here’s hoping that your body is returned to Boardwalk Hall in the next few days for the sort of public tribute and farewell that the sequined-gloved moonwalker got at the Staples Center.

Thrillers such as you deserve no less.

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva



Former champion Rashad Evans meets Brazil’s venerable Thiago Silva in a non-title belt that can lead to a return match with the current champ, but first things first.

Evans (15-1-1) and Silva (14-1) meet in Ultimate Fighting Championship 108 in a light heavyweight bout on Saturday Jan. 2, at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A win by either fighter could result in a world title bid. The fight card is being shown on pay-per-view television.

Events can change quickly in the Octagon and anybody can beat anybody in the 205-pound weight division. Just ask Silva or Evans.

Silva and Evans are both experienced and can vouch firsthand about the capriciousness of fighting in MMA and especially as a light heavyweight. On one day this man can beat that man and on another day, that man can beat this man. It can make you absolutely daffy.

Evans, 30, is the former UFC light heavyweight world champion who only defended his title on one occasion and lost by vicious knockout to current champion Lyoto Machida of Brazil. It’s the only defeat on his record.

Silva, 27, is a well-rounded MMA fighter from Sao Paolo, Brazil who is versed in jujitsu, Muy Thai and boxing. He can end a fight quickly in a choke hold just as easily as with a kick or a punch. His only loss came to who else: Machida.

Evans and Silva know a win can push open the door to a rematch with current UFC light heavyweight champion Machida.

“A win against Rashad would put me in the track against Lyoto,” said Silva, in a telephone conference call. “That's what – what I want to do.”

When Silva fought Machida the two Brazilians were both undefeated and feared in the MMA world. The fight took place in Las Vegas and with one second remaining in the first round a perfectly timed punch knocked Silva unconscious.

“I was humbled big time, man,” says Silva who fought Machida in January 2009. “I learned a lot from that fight.  I think I can correct the mistakes from that fight, not overlooking anything else right now, but just I want to get the chance to fight him again.”

For Evans it was a different circumstance. The upstate New Yorker held the UFC title and was defending it after stopping then champion Forrest Griffin by knockout. Still, many felt Machida was far too technically versed. Evans was stopped brutally in the second round.

“I've made it a point to not – to not get distracted on what I want to do, because you know Thiago (Silva) is a very hungry fighter,” said Evans who has not fought since losing the title to Machida last May. “My focus is just on Thiago so much.  You know I don't want to overlook him, you know, not even a little bit.”

Dana White, president of UFC, says the winner of this fight could conceivably fight Machida in the near future. Evans and especially Silva are motivated by the open window.

“I learned a lot from that fight. I think I can correct the mistakes from that fight,” says Silva. “Not overlooking anything else right now, but I just want to get the chance to fight him again.”

What a prize. The winner gets to face the man who beat him: Machida.

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Articles of 2009

Paul Malignaggi Explains Why He Thinks Manny Has Used PEDs



In theory and in practice I am vehemently opposed to people tossing out unfounded allegations against someone. Supply evidence, then we can talk. But saying someone is using steroids, or EPO, or HGH, based on a theory, or your gut instinct….I have to consider, what if the allegation were thrown at me, and I was 100% innocent. I'd be mightily irked. And so too would you be.

Manny Pacquaio has been hammered from all sides with folks insinuating and coming right out with the contention that they think he's been cheating, that he's been using illegal performance enhancers to give him an edge in competition. Floyd Mayweather Sr, Paulie Malignaggi, Miguel Cotto and Kermit Cintron have either accused Manny, or insinuated that he's been using PEDs. One has to wonder, where's all this smoke coming from? Is it possible that there's fire lurking? That these folks aren't just lobbing unfounded barbs at Manny, that their allegations and hints aren't just sour grapes, or posturing, or a ploy to lure Manny into a fight?

By and large, there hasn't been much in the way of coverage from the standpoint of: what if Manny is using PEDs, or was using PEDs? I think that is rightly so; I'd be more comfortable if none of us trafficked in the innuendo and speculation, and worked within the realm of evidence, and facts. But it's out there, and a topic of conversation and speculation. Perhaps it's a symptom and sign of the times we live in…

TSS reached out to Malignaggi, just off a solid win in his Dec. 12 rematch with Juan Diaz. The Brooklyn-based pugilist has never been shy about speaking his peace (I picture him exiting his mom's womb and barking at the labor and delivery crew to get the room cleaned up, stat!), and he shared with TSS what he bases his allegations, which he's careful to label opinion, upon.

First off, Malignaggi is of the belief that if the Pacquiao-Mayweather negotiations are at a fatal impasse, Yuri Foreman, and not he, will get the coveted date with Pacquiao. Malignaggi has been mentioned as stand-in for Mayweather.

He started off by insisting that ” I have nothing against Pacquiao” but then went from mellow to madman in a 30 second span.

First off, the boxer wonders why Team Pacquiao isn't going after big-time newspapers, with deep pocketed owners, for libel, for insinuating that Pacquiao is drug cheat.

“If Pacquiao's so sue happy, why not sue the New York Daily News?” he asked. “Maybe they know the steroid allegations are true.”

By and large, Malignaggi thinks it is impossible, utterly impossible, for a boxer to put on 15 or more pounds between March 15, 2008, when he fought Juan Manuel Marquez and weighed 129 pounds at the weigh in, and Nov. 14, 2009 when he fought Miguel Cotto and was 144 pounds at the weigh in, and more on fight night.

“It's not natural looking,” Malignaggi said. But, I countered, what if Manny's supremely blessed, that unlike some other fighters who go up in weight, and look a bit bloated, and lack definition, he's just a special creature?

“He's not supremely blessed,” Maliganngi said. “I know body builders. They can't put on 17 or whatever pounds of muscle in a year. It's not doable, in my opinion. These are my speculations, my opinions based on certain factual evidence. Does his weight gain look normal to you? And his head looks like it has blown up in size, too.”

I offered to Malignaggi that perhaps we should be attacking the system, if we believe it to be lacking, rather than the individual.

“We can blame the system a little bit, but if you were Manny, wouldn't you want to leave no doubt? Or speculation?” said Maliganngi, who believes that by not agreeing to the terms set forth by Team Mayweather, and opposing a blood test within 30 days of the bout, Pacquaio appears guilty.

Pacquiao has agreed to take 3 blood tests: the first during the week of the kickoff news conference in early January, the second random test to be conducted no later than 30 days before the fight, and a final test after the bout. A video making the rounds from the HBO 24/7 series shows Pacquiao submitting to a blood test two or three weeks before he was due to fight Ricky Hatton, and that has cast doubt on Team Pacquiao's stance that Manny is disinclined to get a blood test too close to a bout, for fear he may be weakened. Originally, it was reported in error that that test was taken 14 days before the Hatton bout, but subsequent reports pegged the test as being taken 24 days before the scrap. Malignaggi feels Pacquiao has been caught lying, that the report from Team Pacquiao that he “has difficulty taking blood” is a cover story. “Why is he effing lying?” Malignaggi said, heatedly.

The New Yorker doesn't believe too many fighters in the lighter weight classes are using PEDs, but thinks usage isn't uncommon in the heavyweight division. “That's hard to do and make weight,” he said.

The question is asked of Malignaggi: why does the issue make him so steamed?

“I don't like cheaters,” he said. “This is not baseball. You're not just hitting home runs. You have to worry about peoples' lives. Miguel Cotto in my opinion has been beaten by two cheaters. Manny if he's cheating is taking away from guys who are doing things the right way. His team is reneging on their words.”

And what if you're wrong, Malignaggi? What if Manny is clean, and you are hurting his rep with these allegations?

“I bet everything I own that I'm not,” he said. “But we'll never find out. Hey, I would take the test in a heartbeat. I would want people to know I'm clean. He wants to leave doubts!?? His entire legacy is being questioned, he's willing to hurt his legacy and leave $40 million on the table?”

Maliganngi, after reminding TSS that he was correct in predicting he'd be gamed by judges in the first fight with Diaz, insisted that he isn't singling out Pacquiao for a personal vendetta. “”I've never had anything against him. But that's enough now. I call it like I see it.”

What about those who'd say he's just trying to anger Pacquiao, to lure him into a fight?

“No. I expected he'd take the random tests to get this fight. No way I thought he'd throw away everything. That blew me away. It was cool to have my name mentioned.”

Malignaggi thinks the boxing media has dropped the ball, and not exercised due diligence in examining the possibility that Manny has used PEDs.

“I understand most people like Manny, and not Floyd. Just cause that's the case doesn't mean Manny might not be cheating. It's nothing to do with him personally. But I call a spade a spade. Too many people avoid the possibilities because Manny's a likable person. He's got that front, his country loves him. That front works like crazy. Floyd plays the bad guy, but he's natural. Just don't downplay the fact that Manny might be cheating. You have to open your eyes and at least be willing to look at it. This is bigger than me. The fact that the fight is not being made, you have to question the integrity of Pacquiao.”

Malignaggi then offered an analogy to the Manny-refusing-to-be-subjected-to multiple-random-drug-tests prior-to-a-fight-with-Mayweather deal. “It reminds me of the drunk guy who's pulled over at 3 AM. He has a field sobriety test, the cop knows he's drunk, he looks and acts drunk. But he refuses a breathalyzer test. That don't mean the cop don't haul him to the police station.”

I reiterate…I don't think anyone should be casting aspersions based on circumstantial evidence. But with so many people ganging up on Manny, I think fight fans are owed some details on why people are accusing Pacman of using PEDs.

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Articles of 2009

Ten Boxing Wishes For 2010



As 2009 comes to a close, one reflects on what went well and what went wrong during the year in boxing. There were many highlights. Pacquiao vs. Cotto and Showtime’s Super Six tournament were part of the best that boxing had to offer. But there were some low points too therefore the industry has some work to do in order to keep generating fans. Here are some suggestions for 2010:

10. Better pay per view cards

Paying 40 to 50 bucks to watch the main event gets old real quick. Why do we have to sit through a horrible under-card to get to the main course? It’s like being fed spam appetizers before the Thanksgiving turkey. It seems that the pay per view promoters just don’t get it. Are they watching what they put on or do they only watch the “big fight” as everyone else is slowly being conditioned to do so?

9. Time to make Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight

Okay, I understand he’s the son of one of the greatest fighters that ever lived. But he’s had 42 fights against low to mid level competition and has never managed to look spectacular. It’s time to throw the 23 year old out of the nest to see if he can fly. My suggestion is a fight against Sergio Mora or maybe even Yuri Foreman. Neither of these guys can punch. They may outbox Junior but they won’t totally humiliate him.

8. No more ridiculous Pay Per View mismatches

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Juan Manuel Marquez should’ve never been made. It was a ridiculous fight when it was announced and it was more ridiculous when it took place. Unable to bring Manny Pacquiao to the bargaining table for a third match against Juan Manuel Marquez, someone figured that pairing up the 135 pound champion against a natural 147 pounder like Mayweather would be a great idea. The pay per view generated over a million buys but the fact that millions of people were treated to an incredibly boring mismatch is what’s truly worrisome. I can guarantee you one thing about this card. The sport of boxing lost fans once the show was over and done with. Talk about short term thinking.

7. Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola shows up for a fight in amazing shape

It was painful to see Chris Arreola take a beating from the Ukrainian giant, Vitali Klitscho. The champion certainly earned his “Dr. Ironfist” moniker as he plowed his powerful shots into the former #1 WBC heavyweight contender’s face. He reddened and bloodied the young Mexican American with an assortment of weapons and foot movement seldom seen on a six foot seven inch heavyweight. Arreola was brave and unrelenting in battle. He never stopped coming forward and took chances when he could. His work in the ring at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles wasn’t the problem. Where Arreola let himself down was outside the ring. His unwillingness to condition himself into a finely tuned athlete cost him certain immortality as the first ever heavyweight champion of Mexican descent. Arreola has the heart and skills but it was his mental fortitude that broke down. Anyone who’s followed the Riverside fighter knows that his best weight is somewhere in the 230 pound range. It certainly isn’t at the 252 pounds he registered on the scale at the Staples Center.  Those fifteen to twenty extra pounds might have made all the difference in the world. Maybe he would’ve been a little quicker, maybe he could’ve sustained a faster pace in order to tire out the champion. In his most recent fight against Brian Minto, Arreola weighed in at a career high 263. It looks like “The Nightmare” isn’t willing to change for anyone. At this pace, the only nightmares he’ll be providing will be to the management of Hometown Buffets all across Riverside.  Just kidding “Nightmare”!

6. More respect for the lighter weights

Real boxing fans know that the most exciting fighters in the sport are usually found toiling in weight divisions south of 154 pounds. Pacquiao, Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Edwin Valero, Israel Vazquez, Juan Ma Lopez, Vic Darchinyan, Rafael Marquez and countless others have been the real driving force behind this sport. It’s those great fighters that have made boxing fanatics out of casual fans. The heavyweights may get all the money and glory but it’s the little guys who make the sport shine and it’s time they received greater compensation. It’s dismaying to think that a mediocre heavyweight can make three or four times as much as the great Rafael Marquez.

5. An American Heavyweight champion

Speaking of heavyweights, two Americans tried and failed at dethroning Vitali Klitschko this year. Both Kevin Johnson and Chris Arreola did their best to wrestle the belt away from “Dr. Klitschko” but came up short since they were easily outclassed. What happened to the great American Heavyweight? Where’s our new Joe Frazier or Ali? Even a new Gerry Cooney or a Ken Norton would do at this point. I’ve got a feeling that the only way we’re going to see an American champion is if Klitschko retires. My money is on Arreola. Although undisciplined and rough outside the ring, he’s got tons (no pun intended) of natural talent. He’s without a doubt the most talented American heavyweight on the scene.

4. More ShoBox

The Showtime Cable network gave us the best boxing on TV for the price of a cable television subscription. Their ShoBox series has been a proven hit for Senior VP of Sports Programming Ken Hershman. The concept is simple yet brilliant. Match up two up and comers with great records and let’s see what happens. Sometimes the results are surprising. Many have passed the ShoBox test and went on to bigger and better things. Others have been exposed as having padded records and eventually their careers stall and take a dive.

3. More safety in Mexico so I can attend a show without a gun battle breaking out

Having lived near the Tijuana border all my life I’m dismayed at the war zone that the city has evolved into. Every day there are reports of shootings fueled by the drug war trade. Believe it or not, there was a time when Tijuana was safe and most wouldn’t have thought twice about crossing the border for some seafood and nightlife. No more. Having covered several boxing cards on Revolucion Avenue many years ago, I got a taste of just how important the sport is to Mexican fans. It’s also important to me but not that important. For now I’ll stick to covering shows at the Pechanga Casino and in the less dangerous city of L.A. I never thought I’d say that.

2. Pac Man vs. Mayweather

This is the fight everyone wants to see. Seeing how Mayweather dominated Pac Man’s arch enemy, Juan Manuel Marquez, you have to wonder if the Filipino can handle Lil’ Floyd’s speed and size. One thing is for sure, betting against Pacquiao doesn’t usually work out for me. It never has. There’s no future in it. So if the fight gets done it’s Pacquiao by TKO in ten.

1. And finally

One final wish is reserved for all the readers of I wish you all a healthy and happy 2010. Thank you for your continued loyalty to the site. It’s very much appreciated.

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