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Articles of 2010

A Tale Of Four Fighters: Mares, Perez, Vazquez, Marquez

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It seems like yesterday when former 2004 Mexican Olympian Abner Mares sat down aside a table at Golden Boy Promotions headquarters with a few media reps present and signed a contract with the L.A.-based company.

Outside of the amateur circles few knew anything about the kid Mares.

There he sat with his father and signed the document that made him one of the first amateurs signed by the company. Golden Boy Promotions had signed several veteran pros including Bernard Hopkins and here was a virtual unknown boxer.

It takes talent to discover talent. An amateur boxer can have gaudy numbers but it doesn’t always translate into success as a professional once the head gear is abandoned and lighter gloves replace the amateur mitts.

Mares is just one of numerous prizefighters on the fight card taking place at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday May 22. The fight card is co-promoted by Frank Espinoza Promotions, Golden Boy, Gary Shaw Productions and Zanfer Promotions. Two fights will be televised on Showtime.

Mares fights IBF champ Yonnhy Perez and Israel Vazquez meets Rafael Marquez a fourth time. Others on the card include Ronny Rios against Lupe De Leon and Carlos Molina against Humberto Tapia.

I’ve been privileged to be able to witness the initial fights of not just Mares, but Perez, Vazquez, Rios, Molina and to an extent Marquez too. Through the years each one of these prizefighters has crafted himself into a better boxer. Here we are to see exactly how much each has learned.

Mares has been trained by some of the best boxing teachers on earth. Floyd Mayweather Sr. added defense and quickness to the muscular fighter and it showed immediately. But when the Hawaiian Gardens boxer tired of Las Vegas he returned to California. From there he then moved to Mexico City to train with Nacho Beristain for a couple of years.

Technical precision is a mainstay of Beristain. Every punch has a reason and accuracy is extremely important for a Beristain fighter. Soon, however, Mares tired of living so far from home and back to California he went. Now he’s trained by Joel Diaz whose stable includes Timothy Bradley, Vicente Escobedo, Julio Diaz and Antonio Diaz among others.

“I feel comfortable here,” said Mares who now trains in the desert near Indio.

Many experts call Mares one of the best boxers without a world title. More than a few called Mares a future world champion when he first began fighting professionally.

The bantamweight contender has impeccable defense, sneaky fast hands and feet, perfect combinations and power to go along with it.

“He’s a beautiful boxer,” said Liz Quevedo a former amateur star who watched him rise to the top of the bantamweight charts as an amateur and pro. “He does everything so well and he sees everything inside the ring.”

Yonnhy Perez

Perez, who is defending his title against Mares, knows his challenger better than anybody. He fought Mares three times as an amateur winning one of those three international competitions. But that was amateurs. When Perez entered the U.S. he lived and trained with Mares for almost two years.

The first time I saw Perez fight was at the Quiet Cannon boxing show in 2006. It was his third pro fight and he forced his opponent to retire on his stool after one round. Nobody knew the Colombian boxer and nobody knew that it was Mares and his father who more or less sponsored Perez.

Soon Thompson Boxing Promotions got interested in Perez. Alex Camponovo, who directs operations for that group, also serves as the match maker. He spotted Perez and liked what he saw. Perez was put on one of the shows in the Inland Empire and soon after was signed.

It gets tricky trying to predict if a particular boxer has the potential to go all the way or even become a challenger. Perez had speed, but not great speed, he had power, but not great power and he had technique. But he seemed kind of old. He was 27 when I first saw him fight but he looks more like 37. Perhaps all those years as a soldier in Colombia take a toll.

Personally I felt that he could work his way to the top 20 but I didn’t see anything extra special. Against tough Mexican fighters he did well and on occasion was wobbled but rallied to knock those guys out. He was a real fighter and had heart. But could he take a punch from an elite fighter?

The answer came a year ago in South Africa when Perez had to rally from behind and beat Silence Mabuza by knockout in the last round. It shocked many including me that Perez could knock out Mabuza who fought Rafael Marquez very hard twice. That win put Perez in line for the world title.

On Halloween Night the Colombian boxer met champion Joseph “King Kong” Agbeko a very talented boxer puncher and engaged in what many called the Fight of the Year for 2009. These two bantamweights clobbered each other non stop with Perez emerging the surprise winner.

“Yonnhy surprises everybody,” Camponovo says. “He has a lot of heart.”

That’s one key ingredient to becoming a world champion.

Heart is what Vazquez and Marquez both have in heaping barrels.

Israel Vazquez

The first time I saw Vazquez fight I was impressed by his technique and accuracy with his power shots. Facially he reminded me of a popular boxer from the 1940s named Enrique Bolanos a lightweight who brought standing room only crowds to Wrigley Field when he fought the great Ike Williams. I had met Bolanos a few times through the late publicist Luis Magana back in the 1990s and saw tape of one of his fights with Williams. Both he and Vazquez look very similar.

Vazquez always impressed me with the precision of his blows and the finality of his fights. Strength and resolve were his main attributes then and now.

Once, a fellow boxing writer asked me in 2000 who I thought were great prospects and I mentioned Vazquez as one of several. This guy told me that Vazquez was just a club fighter.

I was a little shocked. Was I that wrong or was he?

I didn’t say anything to him because I felt maybe he just hadn’t seen Vazquez fight enough. It was in 2002 when most of America got to see Vazquez’s talent and he and Oscar Larios engaged in a rematch that ended up being one of the best fights of 2002. Vazquez lost when he turned his head to complain to the referee and was cold-cocked by Larios for a 12th round knockout. Vazquez had beaten Larios five years earlier by first round knockout. Both would fight a third time in 2005.

By the way, that writer who called Vazquez a club fighter retracted that statement after watching that fight in person in Sacramento. Despite Vazquez loss by knockout, he finally saw the championship caliber of the Mexico City prizefighter.

The third match between Larios and Vazquez took place in Las Vegas. I remember driving into Nevada and hearing that Vazquez was a 5 to 1 underdog.

What?

I called Vazquez’s manager Frank Espinoza and asked if there was anything wrong with his fighter’s health or if he were injured? He replied: “absolutely not.” It didn’t make sense that Vazquez was that much of an underdog. In fact, I felt he should be favored.

Well, the night they fought the third time Vazquez dominated from the bell. The fight only lasted three rounds and Vazquez won by TKO to win the interim WBC junior featherweight world title.

And Larios?

Well, Larios ended up fighting Manny Pacquiao seven months later and going 12 rounds to lose by decision in a fight held at junior lightweight in the Philippines. Boxing is strange some times isn’t it? Vazquez knocked out Larios, but Pacquiao could only win by decision seven months later.

Rafael Marquez

The first time I saw Rafael Marquez step in the ring was 1997 in the Inglewood Forum. He was Ok and had some pop for his skinny frame but nothing shouted out “great” the three times I saw him. After that year it wasn’t for another four years that I saw him again and only because he was matched against the great Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson.

Too Sharp was a magnificent boxer who was one of the best I had ever seen. You could not hit the guy even if he closed his eyes. He battered everyone he faced at the Inglewood Forum during the 1990s. He was a regular on those shows. So when he was matched against Marquez I told myself this is going to be interesting.

Johnson (40-1) had been in jail and when he got out he was not quite as unhittable as before and especially moving up from flyweight to bantamweight. But he still had skills and speed. That night Marquez fought him the Mexico City fighter used timing to get off on Johnson. It seemed Too Sharp took him lightly and suffered a split-decision defeat. They were matched again.

Marquez proved that even when Johnson prepared well it was not enough. The Mexico City fighter’s precise combinations and perfect timing proved the antidote to Johnson’s speed and skill. The fight ended in eight rounds with Marquez capturing the right to fight for the IBF bantamweight world title against undefeated slugger Tim “Cincinnati Kid” Austin.

The fight between Marquez and Austin took place in a tent at Caesars Palace in 2003. What I remember most is all of the people dressed in red from Cincinnati who were there to back their undefeated fighters Austin and Ricardo Williams. It would be a bad day for the red caps and a good day for Mexican fighters.

Both fighters could really crack and most felt Austin would win because Marquez had been knocked out once before. That chink in the armor seemed to signal another win for Austin who had never lost and was desperate to find an opponent to send him to another level.

Austin, a southpaw, usually had a speed advantage but this time he was matched evenly. What he wasn’t expecting from a Mexican fighter was tactical and technical precision. When Marquez dropped him for the first time with a right hand it immediately changed the tempo of the fight. The fight revved up a couple of notches and Austin tried his best to catch Marquez but instead was caught. It ended in the eighth round and once Marquez grabbed that belt he would never lose the bantamweight title.

Now, after three jaw dropping fights with Vazquez, the younger brother of Juan Manuel Marquez is here to prove himself the better boxer. It’s been 13 years since I first saw him step in the ring and he’s proven to me to be one of the best of the little giants. On Saturday, he gets a chance to prove it against another of the best in Vazquez who has two victories over Marquez

“He’s a very strong fighter,” said Marquez who felt he won the last fight. “I’ve learned a lot from our first three fights.”

I’ve personally learned that the great one’s never believe they lost. They’re not built that way. They always think they are going to win.

On Saturday it could mean the end for one, two or three fighters in the ring and just the beginning for one. For me, just watching all four gather experience and skill to reach this level of expertise has been something special.

Tickets

Tickets start at $25. That’s incredibly reasonable. If you can make this fight card definitely shoot on down to the Staples Center. It’s going to be a memorable fight card.

Also on the fight card is undefeated lightweight Carlos Molina and featherweight Ronny Rios. Welterweight Freddy Hernandez from Mexico City has also been added to the card among others.

 

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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UFC_Edgar_and_Maynard_Dec._2010
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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