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Articles of 2010

Mitchell Gets Katsidis For Showcase Scrap

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The inhabitants of Larissa, a sparsely populated Greek town recognized as the birthplace of the ancient hero Achilles, know a thing or two about great warriors. So it was no surprise when a crowd of 3,000 flocked to show their appreciation for a modern day fighter renowned for bloody combat.

The arrival of Michael Katsidis to Larissa sparked rare excitement in the area, and it was wholly justified given the boxer’s relentless fighting style.

Katsidis was born in Australia to a Greek father who hails from Larissa, and the 29-year-old fighter has ardently embraced his heritage. Having adorned his back with a tattoo of the ancient Greek symbol of the Vergina Sun, Katsidis also sports a Spartan helmet to the ring for inspiration before his battles.

Likening his fights to war is only mild hyperbole, as he habitually finishes contests with a swollen visage and a shattered opponent. Since making his overseas debut in a multi-knockdown brawl against Graham Earl in London three years ago, Katsidis’ indomitable approach has earned him fame among the global boxing community. His 26-2 (21 KO) record boasts four outings that were consensus candidates for Fight of the Year honors, and his two losses were competitive distance bouts against Juan Diaz and Joel Casamayor in HBO-televised events.

“I’m an instinct fighter, I work on how to react to things when they happen, says Katsidis in his typically unassuming manner. “It just so happens that every fight I’ve had has been a real war.

On Saturday, Katsidis will return to London in an effort to blemish the perfect record of local 135-pound starlet Kevin Mitchell. The bout will be staged at the Upton Park soccer stadium in front of an expectedly partisan crowd that figures to test the site’s 30,000 capacity.

Mitchell, 25, turned professional at just 18 under the guidance of the prudent Frank Warren, and has been matched carefully in amassing a 31-0 (23 KO) slate. He has featured regularly on the British Sky Sports network and was labelled a potential star on his debut. Mitchell’s self-assured, boxer-puncher style and predominantly soft opposition have aided his profile, while his strong London following has made him a marketable commodity.

There is a sense that Saturday’s matchup is merely a high-profile showcase for Mitchell, with many British sports writers already touting a future clash with his compatriot Amir Khan. Mitchell himself has spent plenty of time talking about the fantasy matchup.

“If [Khan] fancied a fight [with me] it would have been on by now, claimed the assertive Mitchell last week. “Hes fighting [Paulie] Malignaggi [on Saturday] – that says it all. Malignaggi is made for him because he doesnt punch. Khans brilliant but is vulnerable in certain areas. Anyone who can catch him has got a half decent chance. Ive been told Khan is getting $1.1 million for the fight – thats crazy money because theres no risk involved. Ive definitely got a much harder fight and that shows what Im about and that Ive got the nerve to pick the tough fights.

Mitchell will earn about $100,000 for fighting Katsidis, while the Australian, who holds a piece of the lightweight world title, will earn just over $400,000. Saturday’s promotion is set up for Mitchell to showcase his skills on a big stage against a notable opponent. Warren, who has formerly steered the careers of Khan, Joe Calzaghe and Rick Hatton, doesn’t take risks with his charges, and likely estimates that Katsidis may have engaged in one brawl too many.

Local oddsmakers William Hill make Mitchell the 8/15 favorite, while Katsidis is listed at 11/8. The broad hypothesis dictates that Mitchell’s home advantage, in addition to his superior speed and technique will overcome Katsidis’ heavier punching and experience.

Mitchell’s high-class skills were evident when he soundly out-pointed Khan-conqueror Bredis Prescott in December. Prescott, who has been exposed as a one-dimensional power-puncher, was unable to trouble Mitchell, as the confident Brit made full use of the ring to avoid any damaging blows while peppering the Colombian with combinations for 12 rounds.

In theory, the same sharply-executed gameplan should serve as a template for victory against Katsidis, whose inferior speed was highlighted in his defeats to Casamayor and Diaz. At times Katsidis gets carried away with offense and leaves himself open to counters; something that Mitchell should exploit over the 12 rounds.

Yet Katsidis can boast more guile and big-fight experience than any of the Briton’s previous opponents. He has rallied from apparent defeat against Earl, and worn down the likes of Jesus Chavez, Czar Amonsot and Vicente Escobedo. Mitchell has never had to withstand an incessant attack like Katsidis figures to inflict, and it is unclear how he will react to the pressure of a large, expectant crowd. Moreover, while Mitchell seems to have thoughts of a showdown with Khan, Katsidis remains entirely focused on his imminent task.

“Ive not considered anything beyond this fight, insists Katsidis. “There are no plans for the future. Every fight Ive had has been a war and I cant see this being any different.

And any notion that a hostile London environment will upset the Katsidis can also be dismissed. Despite residing in Las Vegas, the Australian has spent three months training in Thailand, where local violence has escalated to the verge of a civil war. But Katsidis maintains that the harsh environment has added to his mental fortitude.

“Where we were in Thailand is a very hard place, it’s a war zone, he asserts. “The only two losses I had were when I was training in America. But [in Thailand] there is a line of people at the door waiting to spar you. Fighting is all part of the lifestyle out there.

“People kept asking me if I was afraid of getting shot but it wasnt too bad. It was a little bit rough but its no easier in the ring.

It will be a difficult night for Katsidis on Saturday, but that’s the way a true warrior likes it.
Etcetera:
• Inventive Irish promoter Brian Peters has conjured up an unusual way to get his Cuban heavyweight, Mike Perez, some publicity. The unbeaten prospect, who hasn’t fought since February 2009, will look to shake off the rust by competing in two bouts on the same card in Limerick, Ireland this Saturday. The talented Perez plans to fight against two journeymen shipped in from Eastern Europe, but the bouts will be several hours apart.
• “I think its a great idea, said Perez. “When Brian Peters suggested it I jumped at the opportunity because I have had over a year out of the ring with an injury so I am looking to keep as busy as possible now and it doesnt get any better than having two fights in one night.
• Headlining the event will be Andy Lee, as he faces the faded Mamadou Thiam. It seems a long time ago since the Emanuel Steward-trained Lee was being heralded as a future opponent for then-middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik. Lee, 25, has spent the two years since his upset loss to Brian Vera treading water in Europe and doesn’t seem particularly upbeat about the current state of his formerly promising career.
• “It’s time to get back in the mainstream instead of having these fights in Ireland on the fringes, Lee, 20-1 (14 KO), told The Sunday Times last week. “Hopefully we can get back fighting in the States again and push my career.
• The 38-year-old Thiam was once highly rated by the many sanctioning bodies, but has never scored a notable victory over a world-class opponent. Lee aptly summed up Saturday’s contest: “If I don’t win this fight I can forget the whole thing.
• One man who definitely has retirement on his mind is Danny Williams. The Briton, who defeated Mike Tyson in 2004, has mentioned retirement several times over the last five years, but never before a big fight. Williams, who meets unbeaten heavyweight Derek Chisora on the Katsidis-Mitchell undercard, bizarrely declared, “Im 100% finished. Im going to have this fight and then thats it for me.

Ronan Keenan can be contacted at ronankeenan@yahoo.com

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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