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Articles of 2010

At 78, Arum Finds Reasons To Keep Going



With the exception of the occasional draw, every boxing match has a winner and a loser. Oh, sure, there always will be dubious decisions, quick stoppages, sanctioning-body chicanery and the sort of head-scratching turn taken by referee Arthur Mercante Jr. during Saturday night’s Miguel Cotto-Yuri Foreman fight at Yankee Stadium, but in most instances somebody’s hand is going to be raised. You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool fight fan to differentiate victory from defeat. In life, one person’s success almost always is mirrored by another’s failure. It’s what keeps the scales of the universe somehow balanced.

And so it goes at all levels of boxing. For every hot trainer (right now, Freddie Roach is on fire; a few years ago, it was Buddy McGirt) skimming the cream, there is someone, maybe a lot of someones, who, for whatever reason, are no longer held in the same high regard. There is constant competition in the fight game, for television rights, managerial contracts or whatever. At the moment Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao are engaged in a form of out-of-the-ring gamesmanship over drug-testing procedures that has little or nothing to do with who truly deserves to recognized as the best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet.

For the 20,727 paying spectators who showed up in the Bronx, and an HBO audience, Cotto’s lifting of Foreman’s WBA super welterweight championship was plain enough to figure out. Cotto dominated most of the way, no doubt at least in part because Foreman was hobbled from the seventh round on with a badly twisted right knee, but even the controversial ending – Mercante clearing the ring and allowing the bout to continue after Foreman’s trainer, Joe Grier, had thrown in a white towel of surrender – only delayed the inevitable conclusion.

What might not have been so obvious to the untrained eye was the night’s other undisputed winner: Top Rank founder Bob Arum, who, at 78, seemingly has discovered a new lease on his promotional life. Arum might not be as spry as he once was, but he has emerged, if you’ll pardon the expression, as the king of the sport, a veteran, mentally facile dealmaker who has the deepest talent pool (topped by Pacquiao) and a shiny, new toy to play with, namely his fascination with putting on fight cards in some of the glitzy, billion-dollar stadiums that have sprung up around the country. Those sports playpens need to fill otherwise open dates to help pay off those huge debt-service obligations, and Arum believes high-visibility fights are just the ticket for teams interested in advancing that goal and, of course, his own.

Arum staged Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey in the lavish new Cowboys Stadium on March 13, and his partnership with the New York Yankees to bring Cotto-Foreman to the House That Jeter Built only represented the next step in his master plan to regularly return boxing “outdoors in a ballpark, which is what Marlon Brandon’s Terry Malloy character sadly said in noting his own missed opportunity for such in On the Waterfront, the Best Picture of 1954.

If all goes according to plan, Arum will bring the much-anticipated pairing of undefeated featherweight champions Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriokis Gamboa to the new Giants Stadium next spring, and officials of the Los Angeles Dodgers have sounded him out about possibly bringing a big show to Dodger Stadium.

“If (Cotto-Foreman) works, I think the Yankees are good for two shows a year, Arum predicted as the hype for that fight rose to a level that would not have been matched if it had been housed in that smaller, indoor New York shrine to the sweet science, Madison Square Garden.

Like Roach, Arum clearly is the flavor of the moment, but then he’s been here before, hasn’t he? If the Vegas oddsmakers were setting a line on such a proposition, Arum and his company, which have been in existence since 1966, probably would go off as the favorite to outlast all of his rivals. He seems to have turned back a stiff challenge from Golden Boy, whose nominal head is Oscar De La Hoya, who once occupied the lead position now held by Pacquiao in Arum’s stable of superstars. De La Hoya, though, has been less visible of late at Golden Boy events, leaving most of the heavy lifting to CEO Richard Schaeffer.

Arum and Schaeffer continue to wrangle over the terms of the proposed Pacquiao-Mayweather megafight, but for the moment it appears that the Mayweather camp is not dealing from a position of strength. That much was evident at the 85th annual Boxing Writers Association of America Awards Dinner held Friday night at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York, where Pacquiao collected not only the Fighter of the Year prize for 2009, but also a statuette for being voted Fighter of the Decade for the period from 2000 through ’09. Pac-Man’s trainer, Roach, picked up an unprecedented fourth Trainer of the Year award, and even two Top Rank photographers, Rafael Soto and Chris Farina, came away with some of the swag, having placed first and third in the Feature Photo category.

All in all, a pretty good week for Top Rank and Arum, who got the Friars Club treatment at a roast on Thursday night where members of the boxing industry took some good-natured verbal pokes at the Harvard-trained attorney who long ago determined that fights in the ring held more profit potential than those waged in a court of law.

Not enjoying the same upward arc is Arum’s longtime archrival, Don King, also 78, whose zest for wheeling and dealing seems to have ebbed at more or less the same time that his preferred sparring partner has boldly moved forward.

Fighters come and go, their careers defined by the relatively brief physical limits placed upon every athlete. King had Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez and Felix Trinidad, among others, but he outlasted them all because a boxer’s gifts are more finite than a promoter’s wits. As King once told a rival, “Your mistake is falling in love with these fighters. They ain’t boxing. We’re boxing. We’re still here after they’re finished.

Arum hasn’t always lived by that credo; like a smitten teenager, he did in fact fall for those fighters who did the most to fatten his bank account. When Arum had De La Hoya, he frequently spoke of him as if he were almost a blood relative. When Oscar broke away, the promoter’s ardor for his onetime cash cow turned frostier than a Siberian winter. It was more or less the same with Mayweather, whom Arum hailed as the greatest fighter alive until he, too, left the reservation, whereupon “Money was derided as a talented coward who ducked the toughest opponents while making his fortune in bouts in which the other guy was the draw.

But always the jockeying for position between Arum, the Jewish son of privilege, and King, the street-wise former numbers racketeer who did time for manslaughter, was as much fun to track as the ups and downs of their fighters inside the ropes. It was like Yankees-Red Sox, Celtics-Lakers or, more recently, Colts-Patriots, the difference being the combatants were older dudes with conflicting quests for empire. For all the babble that has come out of King’s mouth, maybe his most enduring quote was when he blasted Arum as a “master of trickeration.

Every now and then, it behooved Arum and King to form momentary and uneasy truces because there were piles of money to be made by each. Was it just three years ago that they appeared together in Atlantic City, hugging and smiling for the cameras while pushing a matchup between Arum’s guy, Cotto, and King stalwart Zab Judah? It was a moment not unlike that Rose Garden photo-op when then-President Jimmy Carter posed with Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, at which time the erstwhile peanut farmer declared that all that nasty Middle East business had been resolved. As if.

One of the most enduring memories of Arum vs. King was when they made peace long enough to stage De La Hoya-Trinidad. Their smiles were forced and fake even under the best of circumstances during the lead-up to that showdown, but when Trinidad won a controversial decision over De La Hoya, and King took the podium at the postfight press conference to launch his rambling version of what had just taken place, lead promoter Arum ordered one of his employees to cut off the power to King’s microphone.

And now?

Don King Productions, headquartered in Florida, is a shell of its former glory, in part because King seemingly has lost some of the killer instinct that caused his fighters, television executives and even other promoters into doing his bidding. Who can ever forget the Halloween night when Dan and Kathy Duva, of Main Events, dressed up one of their children in a King-like fright wig because, hey, what could be scarier? King’s roster of fighters has thinned considerably, he has let some employees go and there is no clear replacement for him should he die or retire, with stepson Carl King mostly limited to perfunctory and figurehead-type duties. Even King insiders are of the belief that when His Hairness is gone, DKP goes down with him.

Arum, on the other hand, keeps expanding his operation. Young fighters with potential are being scouted and signed, a sure sign that Top Rank is as much about the future as the past and the present. Arum’s stepson, Todd duBoef, now Top Rank’s president, has major responsibilities. If one were to venture a guess as to which promotional company will rule the boxing roost in, say, 2015 or 2010, Arum’s organization might be the betting favorite, even though it figures that De La Hoya/Schaefer, Lou Dibella, Gary Shaw and Dan Goossen will still be there to contest any claims to supremacy.

Maybe some hard-charging newcomer will make his presence known by then, but even those with good intentions and deep pockets have found it difficult to hang indefinitely with the old lions. Main Events was as formidable a threat to the reigns of Arum and King as any when it had Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker and Meldrick Taylor, but Dan Duva died, Arturo Gatti did too and what’s left for his widow pretty much consists of Polish cruiser-turned-heavyweight Tomasz Adamek.

The emergence of Pacquiao as a box-office and aesthetic sensation seemingly has reinvigorated Arum, and the stadiums throwing open their doors to him and to boxing is like another jolt of adrenaline. Kelly Pavlik’s recent loss to Sergio Martinez was a downer, sure, but Top Rank has multiple attractions even if “The Ghost is on the verge of a big fade.

Articles of 2010

Judah To Fight Mbuza March 5 In NJ




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



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




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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