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Articles of 2010

Evander Holyfield Q n A-Part I

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Father Time has been known as a merciless killer who diminishes the water supply to a fighters fountain of talent with every tick of hand. Yet, when it comes to the Real Deal, the edge of time has been only blunted.

The aging warrior Evander Holyfield (43-10-2, 28 KOs) proved himself to be the greatest ring legend ever in history at 47, in my opinion, by stopping a bigger and stronger veteran title holder – Francois White Buffalo Botha (47-5-3, 28 KOs) on April 10 in Las Vegas.

The fight was televised live in China by CCTV, the nations largest TV network, and millions watched the bout.

The well-preserved Holyfield finished Botha impressively for a 47-year-old, despite harsh criticism and sarcastic reports being aimed at the event, in the US and everywhere else, for that matter.

I also saw the aging warrior came close to winning his fifth recognized heavyweight world title when he courageously fought against the much-bigger Russian giant and WBA reigning champion Nicolai Valuev in 2008.

I give him credit for soldiering on, for still holding on to the dream, and still competing at a solid level.

I was privileged to sit down quietly with the four-time heavyweight champion of the world and talked for half an hour with no interruption during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Although this interview was conducted over a year ago, it spoke a mouthful for the newly-crowned WBF champion, and the material has never been published elsewhere, only on TheSweetScience.com.

Part I

Theres something special to be a man. I become the man who I am because I learned to work hard and not to quit. —— Evander Holyfield

In the first episode of this interview, Holyfield talked with me about his seemingly endless reservoir of inspiration, his take on the pound for pound king Manny Pacquiao, his warrior mentality when facing tough oppositions like Mike Tyson, how he was influenced by the world-renowned Chinese Kung Fu master Bruce Lee and lots more.

Zhenyu Li: How are you, Evander?

Holyfield: Everything is just fine. Thank you, Bruce.

Zhenyu Li: Alright, lets get started. Actually, Ive been watching and writing about you since 1996. Youve had an outstanding, illustrious career, winning the world heavyweight champion titles four times, becoming the first universally recognized world cruiserweight champion, dethroning the mighty Mike Tyson. Youve already gotten nothing to prove. At an advanced age, why do you still keep punching?

Holyfield: Well, you know, I got to say it based on my own experiences. Ill say it’s because my story is to inspire people.

I came up poor. My mother only had a fourth-grade education. My dad didnt have any education at all. But they were very structured. They worked hard. You know, they didnt complain. They didnt murmur. And they believe in Christ. My mother taught me, you know, in believing in Christ, that you not be prejudice; you treat people the way they wanted to be treated; be honest, do a great work and not to quit.

My mother told me that theres something special to be a man. You got to work your whole life. When you work, youll find yourself always happy. My mother said, if you are busy, youll find yourself happy, youll find yourself accomplished.

In that theory, I see that it separates people. Some people try to work as less as possible, and they find themselves unhappy. People who work a lot find themselves always happier. You know, I became the man who I am because I learned to work and not to complain.

The difference between me and somebody else could be just that I work a lot harder than that guy, not because he comes as if it is a choice he makes. People who make the choice to study, work hard or do whatever they endeavor is to give it the max on themselves to reach to the top level. And you have the people who get envy and jealous, yet are not willing to put that work in, and they want to get the same praise.

Zhenyu Li: Youve put on a string of epic battles that would long be remembered, your trilogy with Riddick Bowe, your two fights against Lewis, your trilogy with John Ruiz. I saw that you were a man of will. Some say that you are loved because of your pure grit. You really experienced difficulties during those fights, but you weathered the storms. How did you make that happen? Whats your mentality at that time?

Holyfield: In a time when somebody does something that you do not expect, he kills you mentally. When a person hit you hard, bang, one or two shots, he wants to get you out of there, and you got to tell that man, nope! You have to get up and make the adjustment.

When you get hit, therell be a reaction of your body, and the first thing on your mind is that I am hurt, so what do we do? Recover, your hands come up, and it becomes a sight game.

A sight game is that I am hurt, but I am to make you believe I am not even hurt, and with this confidence appearing on my face, I dont panic, otherwise your opponent will know that you are hurt. Thats the whole art game in boxing. You gotta have the ability to properly show your emotions. If your opponent knows much about your thinking, hell control you. So the whole big thing is not to put yourself in a position where your opponent can control you.

The whole thing is about, can you concentrate, can you focus, can you handle the atmosphere, and not cut it out; its all this concentration thing that takes to be successful.

I am hurt, who knows it, but me, unless Ill let you know. If I let you know that I am hurt, youll hurt me a lot harder; if not, you gotta think I am not going to waste a lot of those energy. Like my fight with Mike Tyson, he hit really hard. He wanted to get me knocked out. You know, its a mind game, about concentration; its about your mind, of what it takes to win. I have to use what I have to the best of my ability.

Zhenyu Li: Talking about concentration and mind game, you know, Sugar Ray Leonard once commented about Bruce Lee, that he respected Bruce Lee, firstly because of his mental stability. Have you heard of Bruce Lee, the Chinese Kung Fu master?

Holyfield: Oh, of course, he was… he was pretty much the star, ALL poor people, at least, LOVE Bruce Lee.

Zhenyu Li: Have you seen any of his movies?

Holyfield: Oh, Enter the Dragon and all that, you know, thats our favorite, it was just so fascinating.

The main thing about Bruce Lee is that, he was a little guy. And you know, his quickness, his aggressiveness, his explosive power, you have to be a great athlete to have all these, his body, his look, you know, all these things have to do with discipline and structure. He was able to go against the biggest guy, regardless of who he was. He can do so because of his confidence; his confidence is bigger than the stature, the size of the person; he makes you believe that size doesnt make a difference; what really matters are the confidence and your ability to make adjustment.

It works not only for Kung Fu; that what is life is all about. Life is not about size, or the skin color, it is about how good and how well-prepared you are to pass the test. Bruce Lee showed this to us.

There were a lot of karate people, but Bruce Lee stood high above everybody.

Zhenyu Li: Speaking of Asian fighters, what is your impression about them?

Holyfield: You know what, Thailand has some good fighters. Theres a kid who is a champion now, Pacquiao (actually Pacquiao is from the Philippines). Oh, boy, he is big in America now. It thrills me that boxing has become what it is as a world sport. Once, you got world champions all from America, now you got them from all around the globe. You got some Russians, you got some Germans, you got one guy from Africa, and this Pacquiao. You got all these personalities coming in, and possibly, future champions from China. The sport is going global.

Zhenyu Li: From your fighters perspective, what do you think are the reasons that Pacquiao stand far taller than the rest of the Asian pro boxers?

Holyfield: Well, you know, he has what is called determination.

Zhenyu Li: You just mentioned world champions from Russia, take Wladimir Klitschko for example, he is recognized as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, a position that you once took. But unlike you who always come forward, has an iron will and are difficult to be stopped, Klitschko won his matches all with a defensive, cautious style. He has never weathered a storm, like you. Some say that he has a glass chin. Why is such a big difference?

Holyfield: You know, what you believe is what you fight for. And what you believe is what you die for too. I die for what I believe. Some would say that this person is genetically better than another one. I dont think much of it. I think its all about what you believe and what youve been trained to do.

Check back for Part II.

Articles of 2010

Judah To Fight Mbuza March 5 In NJ

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Totowa, NJ – Kathy Duva, Main Events CEO, announced their promotional firm won the purse bid held at IBF headquarters in East Orange, NJ, Thursday. The bid was for the right to hold the IBF's junior welterweight title fight between Zab Judah of Brooklyn, NY and Las Vegas, and South Africa's Kaizer Mabuza.

IBF Championships Chairman, Lindsay Tucker explained, “It is a 50-50 split of the earnings between the two fighters. Kaizer is ranked No. 1 by the IBF, and Judah is No. 2. Where the fight will be held is up to the winning bidder.”

Judah (39-6, 26 KOs) is promoted by Main Events and his own firm Super Judah Promotions, and Branco Milenkovic, of South Africa, promotes Mabuza (23-6-3, 14 KOs).

Kathy Duva confirmed the fight will take place at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, late February or early March this year as part of Main Events' Brick City Boxing Series.  (Saturday Update: the fight is March 5th, in NJ at the Pru Center. The bout will be part of a PPV card.)

“We are very happy that Zab has the opportunity to fight for the IBF Junior Welterweight title right here in New Jersey.  Winning this fight will put Zab right in the mix with the winner of Bradley-Alexander and Amir Khan.” Duva elaborated, ” Zab will work very hard to win this fight so that he will be one step closer to his ultimate goal of unifying all of the Junior Welterweight titles by the end of 2011!”

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Articles of 2010

UFC 125 Preview: Frankie Edgar Vs. Gray Maynard

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Few predicted Frankie Edgar would grab the UFC lightweight championship last year but he did. Most felt he would eventually win it but Edgar not only took the title, he beat one of the best mixed martial artists in history to do it.

Edgar (13-1) has emerged from the milieu of nondescript MMA fighters to become one of the more brilliant performers for Ultimate Fighting Championship. Next comes a rematch with Gray “The Bully” Maynard (11-0) tomorrow at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. UFC 125 will be televised on pay-per-view.

All it took was not one, but two victories over BJ Penn.

If you’re not familiar with Penn, he’s one of the most versatile fighters in MMA history and had been nearly unbeatable in the 155-pound lightweight division. That is until he clashed with Edgar. Until he met New Jersey’s Edgar, the Hawaiian fighter chopped down lightweight opponents with ease. It was only the heavier welterweights he had problems against. Namely: Canada’s Georges St. Pierre.

Edgar showed poise, speed and grit in defeating Penn in back-to-back fights. The world took notice.

“You know, if I keep winning fights, the respect will come eventually,” said Edgar during a conference call.

Now Edgar will find out if he can avenge the only loss on his record.

“I just think I grew as a fighter. You know, mentally, you know, physically I, you know, possess differently skills, increased – you know, I think I boxed and got better, my Jiu-Jitsu got better and, you know, just have much more experience now,” Edgar says.

Maynard seeks to find out if Edgar has added any more fighting tools to his repertoire. Back in April 2008, the artillery shelled out was not enough to beat the Las Vegas fighter.

“It’s a perfect time. He had the chance and, you know, he took it and the time is now for me and I’m prepared,” said Maynard (11-0). “Any time you’re going up against the top in the world, you evolve and change and so I’m prepared for a new fight, so it will be good. I’m pumped for it.”

Though Maynard’s record indicates he is unbeaten that’s not entirely true. He did suffer a defeat to Nate Diaz during The Ultimate Fighter series and subsequently avenged that loss last January.

The UFC lightweight title is in Maynard’s bull’s eye.

“Looking to take the belt for sure,” said Maynard. “We’ll see on January 1.”

Edgar versus Maynard should be a good one.

Other bouts:

Nate Diaz (13-5) faces Dong Hyun Kim (13-0-1) in another welterweight tussle. Diaz is the only fighter with a win over Maynard. Anyone watching TUF remembers Maynard tapping out from a Diaz guillotine choke. The Modesto fighter has a tough fight against South Korea’s Kim.

Chris Leben (21-6) fights Brian Stann (9-3) in a middleweight fight. Leben is a veteran of MMA and if an opponent is not ready for a rough and tumble fight, well, that fighter is not going to win. Stann dropped down from light heavyweight and we’ll see if the cut in weight benefits the Marine.

Brandon Vera (11-5) meets Thiago Silva (14-2) in a light heavyweight match up. Vera is trying to rally back to the promising fighter he was tabbed several years back. Silva is a very tough customer and eager to crash the elite. A victory by either fighter could mean a ticket to the big time.

Clay Guida (27-8) versus Takanori Gomi (32-6) in a lightweight bout. Guida has become one of the most feared fighters without a title. No one has an easy time with the long-haired fighter. Gomi lost to Kenny Florian but knocked out Tyson Griffin. Can he survive Guida?

Marcus “The Irish Hand Grenade” Davis (22-8) clashes with Jeremy Stephens (18-6) in another lightweight fight. Davis is a go-for-broke kind of fighter and is looking to get back in the win column after a tumultuous battle with Nate Diaz last August. Stephens needs a win too. In his last bout he lost to Melvin Guillard.

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Articles of 2010

Borges Looks Back, And Forward With Hope

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As the end of another year approaches, there’s no need to invoke Charles Dickens to describe what went on in boxing. It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times. It was just too much time spent on The Fight That Never Took Place.

For the second straight year the sport could not deliver The Fight, the only one fans universally wanted and even casual fans craved – the mix between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao.  No one has to be singled out for blame for that failure because this time there’s plenty to go around on both sides. The larger issue is what does it say about a sport when it cannot deliver its top event?

What would the NFL be without the Super Bowl? Where would major league baseball be without the World Series? Golf without the Masters? College basketball without March Madness?

They would all be less than they could be and so it was with boxing this year. Having said that, the sport was not without its signature moments. It was not bereft of nights that left those of us with an abiding (and often unrequited) love for prize fighting with good reason to hope for the future.

Three times promoter Bob Arum took the sport into massive stadium venues just like the good (very) old days and each time boxing drew a far larger crowd than its many critics expected. Twice those fights involved the sport’s leading ambassador, Pacquiao, who brought in crowds of 40,000 to 50,000 fans into Cowboys Stadium against inferior opponents Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito. Imagine what he might have done had Mayweather been in the opposite corner?

While both fights were, as expected, lopsided affairs, they showcased the one boxer who has transcended his sport’s confining walls to become a cultural icon and world celebrity. Pacquiao alone put boxing (or at least one boxer) on the cover of TIME and into the pages of such varied publications as Esquire, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, the American Airlines in-flight magazine and even Atlantic Monthly.

As history has proven time and again, that is what happens when boxing has a compelling personality to sell it and Pacquiao is that. Mayweather is such a person as well,  but for different reasons.

The one night he appeared in a boxing ring, he set the year’s pay-per-view standard against Shane Mosley while also leaving a first hint of dark mystery when he was staggered by two stinging right hands in the second round.

Mayweather was momentarily in trouble for the first time in his career but the moment passed quickly and Mosley never had another. By the end he had been made to look old and futile, a faded athlete who’d had his chance and was unable to do anything with it. So it goes in this harsh sport when the sands are running out of the hour glass.

As always there were some surprising upsets, most notably Jason Litzau’s domination of an uninterested and out of shape Celestino Caballero and Sergio Martinez’s one-punch demolishment of Paul Williams. The latter was not so much an upset as it was a stunning reminder that when someone makes a mistake against a highly skilled opponent in this sport they don’t end up embarrassed. They end up unconscious.

SHOWTIME did all it could to further the future of the sport, offering up a continuation of its interminably long but still bold Super Six super middleweight tournament as well as the launching of a short form bantamweight tournament which already gave fans to two stirring and surprising finishes with Joseph Agbeko decisioning Jhonny Perez and Abner Mares upsetting Victor Darchinyan in a battle of contusions.

While the Super Six has had its problems – including several of the original six pulling out – it also lifted the profile of former Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward from nearly unknown to the cusp of universal recognized as the best super middleweight in the world this side of Lucian Bute. If Ward continues winning he’ll get to Bute soon enough because that’s why SHOWTIME signed a TV deal with the Canadian and America may get its next boxing star if Ward proves to be what I think he is – which is still underrated and underappreciated.

HBO and HBO pay-per-view put on 23 shows, few of them compelling and many of them paying big money to the wrong people while doing little or nothing to grow the sport that has helped make their network rich. But they did have the knockout of the year – Martinez’s second round destruction of Williams – and some fights in the lower weight classes that were left you wanting more.

Two new names popped up who are causing the kind of fan reaction that also gives us hope for 2011 – American Brandon Rios and Mexican Saul Alvarez. They are two of the sport’s brightest young prospects because each comes to the arena the old-fashioned way – carrying nothing but bad intentions.
Aggression and knockouts still sell boxing faster than anything else and each exhibited plenty of both this year and left fans wanting to see more. Alvarez is already a star in Mexico without having yet won a world title and Rios is the definition of “promise.’’ Whether the star will continue to shine and promise will be fulfilled may be answered next year and so we wait anxiously to find out.

Backed by Golden Boy Promotions, there is no reason 2011 shouldn’t be Alvarez’s year and if it is people will notice and remember him because he has a crowd-pleasing style that is all about what sells most.

That is what boxing needs more of – fresh faces and new stars… so as fans we should root for guys like Alvarez, Ward, Rios and young Brit Amir Khan, who is a star in England but still a question mark with a questionable chin but a fighter’s heart here in the U.S.

Those guys and others not yet as well known are the future of boxing, a sport that for too long has been recycling the likes of Mosley (as it will again in May for one last beating against Pacquiao in a fight that's a joke), Bernard Hopkins (who can still fight although it is unclear why he bothers or where it’s all headed), Roy Jones and, sadly, even 48-year-old Evander Holyfield, who continues to delude himself but not many other people into believing he will soon unify the heavyweight title again.
If fighters like Ward, Alvarez, Rios, Khan, WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto and middleweight king Sergio Martinez continue their rise they could be the antidote for the art of the retread that Arum and Golden Boy have been forcing fans to buy the past few years at the expense of what boxing needs most – fresh faces.

The heavyweight division, which many believe determines the relevancy of boxing to the larger world, remains a vast desert of disinterest here in the US. The Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, hold 75 per cent of the title belts but few peoples’ imaginations in the US, although to be fair they are European superstars and don’t really need U.S. cable TV money to thrive economically.

Each defended their titles twice this year, Vitali against lame competition (Albert Sosnowski and Shannon Briggs) and Wladimir against better fighters (Sam Peter and Eddie Chambers) but not competitive ones. Sadly, there is no American on the horizon to challenge them, a comment on the division and on our country, where the athletes who used to be Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali now opt for the easier and frankly safer road of the NFL or the NBA. Who can blame them considering all the nonsense a fighter has to go through to just make a living these days?

The one heavyweight match that would be compelling and might lift the sport up for at least a night would be either of the Klitschkos facing lippy WBA champion David Haye. The fast-talking Brit claims to not be ducking them but he’s had more maladies befall him after shouting from the rooftops how much he wants to challenge them that you have to wonder if Haye is simply a case of big hat no cattle syndrome.

For the sake of the sport, we should all be lighting candles each night in hopes our prayers will be answered and Haye will finally agree to meet one of them. It may not prove to be much of a fight but at least it will give us something to talk about for a few months.

Whatever Haye and the Klitschkos decide the fighter with the most upside at the moment however seems to be Sergio Martinez.  He has matinee idol looks, a big enough punch to put Paul Williams to sleep with one shot and a work ethic second to none. The Argentine fighter had a year for himself, starting with a drubbing of Kelly Pavlik followed by his demolishment of Williams. Those kinds of victories, coupled with his Oscar De La Hoya-like looks, are the type of things that if HBO or SHOWTIME would get behind him could allow Martinez to capture the attention of both fight fans and more casual ones.

In general, Hispanics fighters continued to dominate much of the sport’s front pages with Juan Manuel Marquez’s two victories in lightweight title fights leading that storyline. His war with Michael Katsidis is a strong candidate for Fight of the Year and his technical skill and calm demeanor make him the uncrowned challenger to Pacquiao. The two have unfinished business that should be settled this year if Arum stops standing in the way.

Two other fighters who gave us moments to remember in 2010 were Juan Manuel Lopez, who knocked out three solid opponents including highly respected Mexican warrior Rafael Marquez, and Giovani Segura, who won four times (that’s three years work for Mayweather) in 2010, all by knockout. Along the way, Segura defeated one of the great minimum weight fighters in history, slick Ivan Calderon, to win the belt on Aug. 28.

Lastly, boxing gave us another magical cinematic moment as well with the release of “The Fighter,’’ a film based on the life and hard times of junior welterweight scrapper Micky Ward. The film has won rave reviews and many awards and seems likely to have several of its actors nominated for Academy Awards, most notable Christian Bale for his sadly humorous portrayal of Ward’s troubled half brother, former fighter Dickie Ecklund.

Boxing has a long history of providing the framework for memorable movies and it did it again with “The Fighter,’’ a film that did more for boxing than any promoter did all year.

All in all, it wasn’t the best of years for boxing but it was a good year that picked up speed in the final months and, like that great golf shot you finally hit out of the rough on the 18th, left us with reasons to hope for a better year in 2011. If somehow it gives us Mayweather-Pacquiao, the emergence of Alvarez and Rios, the ascension of Martinez and Haye vs. the best available Klitschko in addition to the kind of solid performances that always come along, it could be a year to remember.

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