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Articles of 2010

Referees Strike Out At Yankee Stadium On Cotto-Foreman Card

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Yuri Foreman, who had come to Yankee Stadium with a well deserved reputation as one of the nicer fellows ever to lace on boxing gloves, demonstrated himself to be among its bravest as well. Foreman’s gritty attempt to fight Miguel Cotto on one leg for the better part of two rounds Saturday night may not have been particularly wise, but it certainly earned him newfound respect and a legion of new admirers that will probably translate into further television opportunities for the rabbi-in-training.

And for his part, Cotto conclusively demonstrated that those who were prepared to write his boxing obituary may have been more than somewhat premature. In winning Foreman’s WBA junior middleweight title, the Puerto Rican star added a world championship at a third weight class to his resume, and raised his personal record to a perfect 7-for-7 in New York main events.

He may still be no match for Manny Pacquiao, but then who is? In this age of multiple champions, Cotto proved that he belongs among them, and in the process revived his own prospects as a box office attraction.

On the other hand, in placing his own personal stamp on the proceedings at Yankee Stadium, Arthur Mercante Jr. seemed less to be laying claim to a lineal birthright as the heir to the legacy of his illustrious father than to staking out his own turf as the East Coast version of Mills Lane.

Employing a tough, no-nonsense approach to his enforcement of the rules, not a few of which he seemed to be making up as he went along, Mercante may have ensured that long after boxing fans have forgotten the names of the participants in the first (and, possibly, only) main event ever fought at the New Yankee Stadium, they will almost certainly remember who refereed it.

* * *

Although its termination came as direct the result of a freakish injury, it would be inaccurate to claim that Foreman lost the fight advertised as the “Stadium Slugfest” because of the seventh-round slip on the canvas that deprived him thereafter of the one demonstrable advantage he enjoyed over Cotto – his foot speed.

(Mea Culpa here: The specific injury, viewing a replay of the telecast confirmed, was indeed to Foreman’s right knee. In real time on Saturday night it looked as if Yuri were favoring his right ankle, and hearing the referee use the word “ankle” as he examined it seemed to confirm that in my own mind.)

But on Saturday night at Yankee Stadium, and probably on any other night, Yuri Foreman wasn’t going to beat Miguel Cotto on two good legs. By the time fate intervened the bout had already passed the halfway point, and it had long since assumed a well-defined course that seemed unlikely to change.

By the time he took his unscheduled tumble to the canvas, Foreman had a bloody nose, was cut around both eyes, and had been solidly out boxed. Cotto was not only beating him, but beating him at his own game. All three ringside judges (Steve Weisfeld, Don Ackerman, and Tony Paolillo) had scored the fourth for Foreman, but with the exception of Paolillo, who for some unaccountable reason also scored the fifth for the champion, hadn’t awarded him any of the other eight completed rounds.

Although Cotto was supposedly the competitor with balance issues, Foreman had to scramble to recover his footing after being knocked from his moorings by Cotto jabs in each of the first two rounds – and one of the two occasions a Cotto punch sent Foreman’s mouthpiece flying across the ring occurred before the seventh-round slip.

The evening did, on the other hand, include several controversial points, and footage of Foreman’s unprovoked tumble alone may provide grounds for an eventual rematch. (And since the fight did not in any sense produce a potential opponent for Pacquiao, a return bout may well be the direction post-mortem activity will take.)

Most reasonable pre-fight analyses had cast Cotto in the puncher’s role, and the question going in seemed to be whether he could cut off the ring on the elusive Foreman, and if and when he did, whether his once-potent power would have survived the journey up to 154. All of that wisdom had gone out the window before the first round was over.

The most significant impact of the addition of Emanuel Steward to the Cotto corner in the trainer’s position came not in terms of fight strategy (though Steward had correctly predicted that Cotto’s hand speed might prove to be at least the equal of Foreman’s), but in the temporizing role the Hall of Fame trainer played once Cotto had seized a clear-cut advantage. In some of its more recent incarnation, an excitable Cotto corner might have pushed him to go for the kill once it became clear that he was dealing with a badly wounded quarry. Steward, on the other hand, wisely counseled patience, recognizing that what was by then a certain win could only be undone if an overanxious Cotto exposed himself to unnecessary danger from his by-then desperate foe.

* * *

Thirty-four years earlier the late Arthur Mercante had been the third man in the ring for the last fight at the old Yankee Stadium. His principal impact on the outcome came not in his handling of the bout, but in his scoring of it. The Hall of Fame referee awarded eight of the 15 rounds to Ali, as did judges Harold Lederman and Barney Smith, resulting in a razor-thin unanimous decision that allowed Ali to retain his title.

The decision to assign his son to Saturday night’s main event of the first boxing card at the New Stadium was, then, in a sense a symbolic tribute to the seamless nature of the sport’s history.

In retrospect Mercante Jr. may also have viewed his first high-profile assignment since his father’s death (two weeks before Cotto-Foreman, Junior did work an off-TV card at the Mohegan Sun) as his opportunity to reinvent himself as his own man, with a distinct style incorporating the cult of personality into his strange concept of a referee’s duties.

It was also evident that at least one aspect of Mercante Sr.’s guiding credo (to wit: “stay out of the picture”) did not occupy a high priority in his son’s vision of the referee’s role, in which he seemed to envision himself less as an honest broker there to enforce the rules than as a co-equal participant whose high-profile function was at least as important to the proceedings as that of the boxers themselves.

Cotto, of course, had lost his own father in the year since he and Mercante last shared space in the ring, but while the referee’s nod to the recently departed (“Miguel Senior and Dad, Rest in Peace!”) just before the fight commenced might have seemed a compassionate touch in some quarters, it could easily have been interpreted as inappropriate in others.

Referees aren’t supposed to be influenced by ghosts – their own, or those harbored by the men whose conduct they are administering.

Mercante’s interaction with the boxers (particularly with Foreman, both before and after the pivotal injury) was over chummy throughout the evening. On at least four different occasions he addressed Foreman as “champ,” and his encouragement of the latter may well have crossed the line of propriety as well, particularly when it strayed into an area in which he seemed to be evaluating the boxer’s performance in a fight that was still in progress.

How much difference is there, really, between Arthur Mercante Jr. telling asking Yuri Foreman, “Want more time?,” and telling him, “You’re a game guy!“ or “Suck it up, kid!” and Laurence Cole advising Juan Marquez that it would be propitious to quit because “you’re winning the fight”?

Not much, it says here. And, it might be noted, the latter was both fined and suspended for his actions.

The immediate cause of the injury remains open to question. When it initially occurred, a startled Jim Lampley suggested on live television that Foreman might have tripped over a ringside photographer. Once that was demonstrated to have been inaccurate, the broadcast team proceeded on the assumption that, since Foreman wears a knee brace as the result of an old injury, he had aggravated a pre-existing condition and that his knee “just gave way.” (Our view at the time was that Foreman’s legs seemed to shoot right out from underneath him exactly as if he’d hit a wet patch on the canvas. Having watched it repeatedly, it still looks as if he slipped, perhaps on a logo painted on the mat. In other words, until presented with testimony to the contrary the assumption here is that when Yuri slipped and fell he aggravated the prior injury, not that the old injury caused the slip in the first place.)

Mercante properly informed Foreman that he had five minutes to recover, but even though he was at this point hopping about on one foot, the boxer elected to resume action almost immediately. When the leg collapsed yet again before the round was over, Mercante once again intervened to chase Cotto away and allow Foreman time to collect himself and survive the round.

All of the confusion attending Saturday’s eighth round could have been avoided, of course, had Foreman’s corner done the right thing and stopped the bout after the seventh. At that point their man had been reduced to a one-legged boxer, was bleeding from at least three places, and was pretty hopelessly behind on the scorecards to boot.

The chance that a hobbled Foreman be abruptly transformed into a 2010 version of Willis Reed or Kirk Gibson was approximately zero.

We’re talking, after all, about a guy who had been able to stop only eight of his 28 victims when he had two legs underneath him. Sending him back out for the eighth was so wrong-headed that it bordered on the sadistic, and a minute or two later Joe Grier apparently realized this when he tried to stop the fight by throwing in the towel.

A bit of explanation is in order here. A referee is under no obligation to recognize a towel thrown into the ring as a legitimate indication of surrender. In fact, commission guidelines, including New York’s, commonly suggest that the referee ignore that time-honored gesture unless he’s absolutely certain where it came from, and that, moreover, the towel-tosser is someone with the authority to actually stop the fight.

For the same reason, a boxer’s seconds are advised not to try to end a fight by throwing in the towel, but rather, to communicate their decision to the corner inspector assigned by the commission, who is in turn supposed inform the referee of the desire to surrender.

The problem is, Foreman’s corner men had followed these guidelines to the letter of the law. When Grier told Ernie Morales, the NYSAC-appointed inspector, he wanted to stop the right, Morales started up the corner stairs to so inform Mercante. The referee pointed to the inspector, and rather heatedly directed him to climb back down the stairs and stay away from the ring. (Whether Mercante, in the heat of the battle, didn’t recognize Morales, or was refusing to submit to his authority, remains unlearned.) It was only then that Grier went into a full windup and heaved the towel as far as he could throw it.

The interaction between the inspector and the referee occurred off camera; of the HBO broadcast team, only Roy Jones Jr. appears to have even noticed it. RJ did speculate for the benefit of HBO viewers that when “the commissioner” started up the steps, Mercante “didn’t recognize him” and hence shooed him away. None of Jones’ broadcast team partners so much as alluded to the episode.

The irony here is that when the evening’s assignments were initially handed out, Morales had oversight of the Cotto corner and Felix Figueroa had Foreman’s. For reasons that remain unexplained the roles were switched before the main event. Our guess is that the commission may simply have wanted the senior inspector in the opposite corner as a safeguard against Steward throwing his weight around had things gone badly for the challenger.

The entourages of both boxers, in any case, swarmed into the ring, assuming the fight to be over, but Mercante, who assumed the towel had come from the guy he had just chased out of the ring and not from Grier, immediately ordered the ring cleared. Morales pitched in to help herd Grier & Co. out of the ring, though he didn’t look especially happy about it. (Our interpretation of the withering glare the inspector cast in Mercante’s direction was, “anything that happens now, it’s on you.”) After giving Foreman another pep talk, Mercante directed that action resume, and while Foreman somehow remained erect for the balance of the round, he absorbed even further punishment.

During that five-minute eighth round, by the way, Mercante’s dialogue with Foreman included such cheerleading gems as “You’re fighting hard! I don’t want to see you lose like that!” and “You all right, champ! Come on, walk it off!”

Think about this for a minute: Just suppose by some miracle Foreman had come back from all of this and somehow won the fight. The tape of Mercante’s ongoing chatter with Foreman would have been Exhibit A in any review of the proceedings. Doesn’t it seem possible that the referee’s litany of encouraging mots to the guy he kept addressing as “champ” might have been considered evidence of misconduct?

HBO’s assessment of the referee’s bizarre actions?

“What a take-charge job by Arthur Mercante!” exclaimed Lampley.

Before the ninth, Michael Buffer was instructed to announce that the towel was not recognized because it had come from an “outside source,” which was particularly laughable since at that very moment HBO viewers in their living rooms and those watching the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium alike were treated to a replay clearly showing that the “outside source” had in fact been Foreman’s chief second.

The end, in any case, came just 42 seconds later. Cotto landed a left to the body that drove Foreman backward into the ropes, at which point his right leg once again splayed and he went down again. This time Mercante stopped it on his own.

If Mercante’s handling of the bout invited criticism, it should probably also be noted that for all his against-the-book transgressions, his was only the third-most egregious refereeing performance of the night. The usually competent Sparkle Lee swept both first and second place honors with her botched handling of the only two bouts she worked — the Christian Martinez-Jonathan Cuba prelim and Jorge Diaz’ sixth-round TKO of Korean Jae Sung-Lee. (See Saturday night’s ringside report for full details.)

* * *

There were constant reminders that Saturday night’s card was destined to be Bob Arum’s second-most successful ballpark promotion of 2010. At Cowboys Stadium back in March the atmosphere had been positively electric from the moment the gates were opened to the public, and the Dallas card managed to sustain that high-energy air of expectation throughout the night despite what turned out to be a relatively tedious Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey main event.

There seemed to be little juice among the crowd during the early bouts at the Bronx. The same Top Rank representatives who had claimed an advance sale of 30,000 voiced their expectation that, like Foreman himself, significant portions of the audience would be late in arriving, but that never happened. Cotto-Foreman was preceded by three anthems. (It could have been worse; somebody with an eye for strict historical detail could have insisted on the Soviet and Belarus anthems being played as well.) By the time the final note of the last of these faded away, it was clear that what you saw was what you were going to get.

The final tally of 20,272 was a number that could have been accommodated with a lot less trouble at Madison Square Garden, and it suggests that the fight’s exotic locale, the sometimes heavy-handed attempts to bolster its appeal with sometimes tenuous historical connections, and the hard-sell push to tap into metropolitan New York’s two million-strong Jewish population by appealing to Foreman’s tribal affiliation had all in the end been non-factors.

As the crowd response to Buffer’s introductions of the main event principals made clear, by fight time Cotto fans may have outnumbered Foreman fans by as much as five or six to one. (If the latter were no match for the former vocally, their presence was somewhat more conspicuous in that most of the Israeli flag-wavers seemed to be concentrated in the more expensive sections nearest the ring. The Puerto Rican fans, on the other hand, were everywhere, from ringside to the $50 nosebleed seats in the upper deck.)

But then Cotto’s hard-core New York audience was a known factor. In six prior headline appearances at Madison Square Garden and its Theatre adjunct he had attracted an average of nearly 15,000. Throw in the small but enthusiastic bands of supporters the likes of Foreman, Joe Greene, Pawel Wolak, and James Moore might bring to, say, the Hammerstein Ballroom on a routine night, and you’d come up with a number pretty close to 20,000.

In other words, almost nobody came because the fight was at Yankee Stadium, and it could be reasonably argued that many boxing fans stayed away precisely because of the venue. So much for the House that Steinbrenner built.

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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PacquiaoClottey_Booth_6

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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