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Articles of 2009

Borges: Chris Arreola Not Ready For Prime Time

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You want to believe. If you have any love for boxing or of an underdog’s story than you desperately want to believe. But, if you have eyes to see, you do not believe.

That is what heavyweight boxing in America has come to in this lowest of all nadirs. You no longer search for the Next Big Thing. You search only for a clone of Buster Douglas.

For Cristobal Arreola to defeat World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko Saturday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles would not require an effort like the one Douglas mustered the night he beat up 42-1 favorite Mike Tyson in Tokyo’s Egg Dome. But the shock of seeing his hand raised would be similar. The only difference is a lot less people will be watching.

To say no one cares any more in the United States about the heavyweight division is to state the obvious. Partially this is because of jingoistic feelings of nationalism that find American fight fans turning away once the division began being overrun by a string of Eastern European belt holders like the Klitschko brothers, Nikolai Valuev, Ruslan Chagaev, Oleg Maskaev or young contenders Alexander Povetkin or Dennis Boytsov.

For ethnocentric U.S. fight fans it was bad enough when the giant Brit-Canadian-Jamaican citizen of the world Lennox Lewis, held the heavyweight title. But the recent parade of large but not largely talented East Europeans has left American fight fans both cold and disinterested. The latter, by the way, is far worse than the former and it is a result of the desultory nature of the majority of the victories by this string of Russian giants.

As a group they are easy to lose interest in, each making the other appear better only by the boring nature of their own performances. This recently led HBO analyst Larry Merchant to question his own enthusiasm for Arreola’s talent and chances, conceding it may be based more on wishful thinking than on his undefeated 27-0 record with 24 knockouts. Worse, boxing philosopher and future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins explained the heavyweight division thusly last week while in Las Vegas: “We live in a microwave society,’’ Hopkins said. “It ain’t about the family sitting at home with grandma doing the cooking and you say you’re hungry and your Mom says ‘In an hour.’ Now its hit some buttons and you got a four course meal.

“That’s why fighters get knocked out so early. They don’t have a chance to become that sweet peach on the tree. They get picked too soon.  You taste that peach and it’s bitter. It wasn’t ripe.

“They’re pushed by thieving, conniving promoters because they need to produce something that’s not there yet. You got to have something to sell so what they sell is, ‘Maybe he’s a dark horse like Buster Douglas.’ You got to make soup but you ain’t got nothing. You know you got nothing but you still need soup so you boil some hot water and salt. You know you got nothing but now it’s soup.’’

In other words, the undefeated but untested Arreola, in Hopkins’ opinion, lacks the experience and mastery of his craft to match Klitschko (37-2) and ultimately will pay a painful price for it. In short form, Hopkins was predicting the WBC title will stay in the Ukraine and Germany, where Klitschko was first born and now works even though he became a U.S. citizen and splits his time between Los Angeles and Hamburg, Germany.

Most athletes would have never gotten to the soup analogy because they wouldn’t know an analogy from an analgesic but Bernard Hopkins didn’t even break stride when someone said, “You mean he doesn’t have a chance?’’

“You’re a doctor!’’ Hopkins said before adding that the heavyweight division, always so vital to the survival of boxing, was utterly moribund in the U.S., not that it matters any longer.

“People say in boxing if the heavyweight division is dead boxing is dead,’’ Hopkins said. “It’s not true. The biggest fights the last five years have been between 130-160 pounds. The focus now is not where it was.

“The body is off the head. The body is 130 to 168 pounds for the last five years. Boxing will always have its down points, like the stock market, but boxing will survive the heavyweight division, it will survive whether corruption lives or don’t live, it will survive whether the Mafia running it or not.

“American sports fans don’t give a crap about the Klitschkos. When it comes to getting that name brand you got to get sanctioned in the United States first and right now they’re not embraced. It’s not their fault they came along at a time when the heavyweight division is null and void but that’s how it is today.

“This ain’t nothing I’m proud of but at the end of the day their lack of popularity isn’t about the recession. It’s that nobody cares about the heavyweights.’’

Arreola, of course, hopes they’ll care about him by around midnight Saturday. He believes they will because of a short but concussive business meeting with Klitschko on HBO. If he’s right it will mean he found a way to do that which his talent has not hinted he’s capable of, which is defeat one of the world’s top heavyweights. If he’s wrong, well, according to Hopkins no one will care any way.

This kind of disinterest has not been lost on Arreola, who seems like a pleasant enough sort. Neither has the realization that when he’s not being ignored he’s being disrespected by the larger sporting public in America.

“One thing that kind of bugs me,’’ Arreola said this wee. “I feel like I’ve been taken lightly. I feel like they already think that it’s a cakewalk.  Now they already have a date for December.  They can still fight in December, but it isn’t going be for the world title, man.

“I’m gonna win it. I respect Mr. Klitschko.  I respect him as a man and as a fighter, but inside the ring everything is outside the door and it’s time to fight.’’

This is, of course, what Arreola is not only supposed to say, it’s what he is supposed to believe. Considering that he’s not only undefeated but has only been forced to go the distance once (two victories by DQ in addition to his 24 knockouts), it is right and proper that Arreola think a lot of himself. The larger question is should he?

That is where the rubber meets the road and, frankly, where most people believe he’ll meet his Waterloo.

“It’s not gonna go far, plain and simple,’’ he insists. “It’s gonna be a knockout fight and it’s gonna be an exciting fight. It’s something in the heavyweight division that fans have been waiting a long time for.

“Vitali Klitschko has never fought anyone like me; someone that’s willing to take a punch to give a punch, or someone that has a lot of heart and fights with emotions.

“There’s always strategy going into a fight. You have to get inside the jab.  You can’t let him stretch his hands out and you go balls to the wall.  You take the fight to him and make it a fight he’s not used to.

“I’m gonna bring emotion as far as determination to win the title for Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and to keep the title out here in the United States.’’

If Chris Arreola can do that, he will have altered Bernard Hopkins’ perception and probably heavyweight reality in the U.S. He will have become a Mexican-American version of Buster Douglas, an underdog with teeth from a country that seems to have ceded boxing’s most important weight class to foreign invaders.

In all likelihood this will not come to pass. Arreola has never been in with a heavyweight as big or as experienced as Klitschko an say what you might about the champion he can punch when he lets that right hand go and his long jab is far more difficult to avoid than Arreola may know.

In addition, there has always seemed to be something missing with Arreola, something not quite serious about his fitness or his form.

“It bugs me to a point to hear that because they’re just talking (about his conditioning problems),’’ he said. “He said-she said type of stuff. That bugs me. But, they need to come to the gym and check me out and watch me for themselves.  They’ll see what I’m doing and how hard I’m actually working. I just checked this morning and I’m already (2)59 so I’m already good right there. But it does bug me.”

“The main thing for me has been the two-a-days (with strength and conditioning coach Daryl Hudson) and I cut out beer. I’ve just been eating right, a lot of vegetables and greens, chicken and fish and meats. Just the right amount for me. I have a ton of energy and feel great.’’

Saturday night he’ll have to expend a lot of that energy to prove Bernard Hopkins is no prophet. If he does, Chris Arreola will soon profit. If he doesn’t he won’t feel great for  quite a while.

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva

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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

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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

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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 TheSweetScience.com 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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