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Articles of 2010

The Sweet Science Is Joined Onto The Past Like A Mans Arm To His Shoulder

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A few months ago I came across a pre-publication excerpt of Bernice McFadden’s new novel Glorious in “Renaissance Black Noire, a literary magazine published by New York University and edited by the poet (and Miles Davis biographer) Quincy Troupe. The passage opened by posing a series of hypotheticals:

If Jack Johnson had given up and allowed James Jeffries to clip him on the chin…

If Jack Johnson had let the shouts of ‘Kill the Nigger’ unravel him…

If Jack Johnson hadn’t gotten the notion some years earlier to cap his teeth in gold…

All of which leads to the father of Glorious’ heroine collecting on the substantial wager he had made the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries fight, which in turn directly presages an unspeakable and horrific assault on his daughter.

I’m not going to give up the whole plot here, but trust me, it’s powerful stuff. And while Glorious is a work of fiction, the episode central to its opening pages accurately reflects similar acts of violence perpetrated on “Negroes all over the country in reaction to Johnson’s victory.

Not until Muhammad Ali emerged from exile and fought Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden would a prize fight have such a polarizing effect on all of America. And, the sociological ramifications of Frazier-Ali I notwithstanding, at least people didn’t get killed over it.

The July 4, 1910 fight between Johnson and Jeffries has come to occupy a place in American history that transcends boxing. Jack London’s report, flawed by its unmistakable undercurrent of racism, remains the best-known of the first-hand accounts, but the literature inspired by that historic occasion is considerable.

America on the Ropes, Wayne Rozen’s new coffee-table volume on the “Fight of the Century, is the latest addition to that body. There have been dozens of magazine stories dissecting a fight whose Centennial will be celebrated in Reno over the Fourth of July weekend. Jack Johnson himself has been the subject of half a dozen biographies (not to mention two autobiographies; one of them, Mes Combats, was originally written in French and has only lately been translated into English), of Ken Burns’ well-received PBS portrait, “Unforgivable Blackness, and, in a slightly altered fictive guise, of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. (Howard Sackler’s “The Great White Hope; the 1971 film version resulted in Academy Award nominations for James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander.) Elements of the Johnson-Jeffries encounter have also found their way over the years into several history-based novels, the most recent of them Ms. McFadden’s.

* * *

The July 4 fight was originally scheduled to take place in San Francisco, but bowing to opposition from business and church groups, California Gov. James C. Gillett evicted it just three weeks ahead of its scheduled date. Nevada Gov. Denver S. Dickerson had no such problem. The last bastion of the anything-goes Old West, Reno epitomized all things raffish, and its leading civic lights were the operators of gambling dens, saloons, and houses of ill repute.

Reno and promoter Tex Rickard hastily prepared for the historic occasion, throwing up a temporary stadium capable of seating 20,000 – more than the city’s entire population at the time — on short notice. By the end of June over 300 journalists had gathered there to file daily dispatches, and their number would double by the time of the fight. Almost to a man, their coverage reflected the racial theme, often in race-baiting language that made Jack London’s seem restrained.

Boston Globe readers, for instance, might find it enlightening to learn that that liberal icon mockingly described Johnson as “Mr. Sambo Remo Rastus Brown. A New York Times editorial fretted that “if the Black Man wins, [African Americans] might misinterpret a Johnson win as “justifying claims to much more than mere physical equality with their white neighbors.

Rickard himself served as the referee. (Pres. William H. Taft and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had each been offered the position, but both turned it down.) Johnson’s entry into the ring was preceded by a brass band’s rendition of a popular ditty called “All Coons Look Alike To Me.

The contest was almost brutally one-sided. By the time his corner rescued him in the fifteenth round, one of Jeffries’s eye was closed, he was bleeding from the nose and mouth, and had sustained numerous lumps, bruises, and at least a dozen cuts to his face.

Johnson took his leave of Reno within hours of the fight, but as word of the outcome spread across the country over the telegraph wires, there were serious outbreaks of racial violence in Washington, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Norfolk, Va, Three black men were beaten to death in rural Georgia, while in New York, newspapers reported that a mob was about to lynch two Negroes by hanging them from lamp posts in Hell’s Kitchen when police arrived to rescue them.

* * *

The watershed fight not only profoundly affected the future course of American boxing, but of American sports writing. Prior to Johnson-Jeffries, most major fights had taken place West of the Mississippi River, and boxing was frequently outlawed in more “civilized jurisdictions. Now, in an age when the rest of the country seemed to be moving from east to west, boxing effected the reverse migration.

In 1911, more or less as a direct result of the events in Reno, New York state passed the Frawley Act, which legalized boxing on a limited basis in the Empire State. Although it would be repealed at the outset of World War I (boxing was permanently restored with the 1920 Walker Act), the return of boxing to the Big Apple was almost immediately reflected in the composition of New York newspaper sports departments.

Kansas-born Damon Runyon, who had cut his journalistic teeth covering boxing for newspapers in Colorado, saw his first New York byline, in the American, in 1911. He would be joined in New York (at the Mirror) by his friend and Denver Post colleague Gene Fowler. San Francisco Chronicle boxing writer W.O. (Bill) McGeehan was a contemporaneous hire at the Herald. Bat Masterson, the onetime Dodge City lawman, was lured to New York (as an “expert on boxing and horse racing), and became the sports editor/columnist of the Morning Telegraph.

Runyon and Fowler would eventually graduate to bigger and better things. McGeehan, a sagacious presence at ringsides for several decades, would mentor entire generations of New York boxing writers, from Grantland Rice and Paul Gallico to Red Smith and Jimmy Cannon.

Masterson, on the other hand, soon moved on to that great Boot Hill in the sky, figuratively dying with his spurs on when he collapsed at the Telegraph sports desk in 1921. According to Jack Dempsey, the folksy lead Masterson had just composed remained in his typewriter:

There are many in this old world of ours who hold that we all get the same amount of ice. The rich get it in the summertime and the poor get it in the winter.

That Jack London was an unapologetic and unreconstructed racist is beyond dispute — an equal-opportunity bigot, London also popularized the term “Yellow Peril in an essay of the same name — but those whose image of Bat Masterson remains the jaunty lawman portrayed by Gene Barry in the popular television series of the late 1950s might find it surprising that the real-life Bat Masterson, in his sportswriter incarnation, freely used the N-word– and that, moreover, the Telegraph printed it.

Over the decade that followed Johnson-Jeffries, in any case, New York evolved into the epicenter of boxing. The New York State Athletic Commission, established with the passage of the Walker Act, would for nearly half a century remain the most powerful and influential regulatory agency in the world.

* * *

Belying his trade, Jack Johnson was a cultured man who recited poetry from memory, an accomplished musician who traveled with his own bass viol, was fluent in several languages, and often read novels in French. In his newfound celebrity he affected foppish attire, opened a chic Chicago nightclub called the Café de Champion, and more ominously, thumbed his nose at societal mores by flaunting his predilection for the companionship of white women. Unable to beat him in the ring, the authorities closed Café de Champion, and persuaded a federal grand jury to indict him for violating the Mann Act, the so-called White Slavery statute prohibiting “transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes.

Johnson’s 1912 TKO of Jim Flynn was his only post-Jeffries title defense on American soil. Following his indictment he fled, via Canada, to exile in Europe. He had two fights in Paris and one in Buenos Aires, and in 1915 was persuaded to defend his championship in Cuba against “the Pottawatomie Giant, Jess Willard. By then 37 and out of condition, he succumbed in the 26th round.

In a 1920 plea-bargain arrangement with the government, Johnson returned to the United States and served eight months of a one-year at the federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth – whose warden was none other than Denver S. Dickinson, the former Nevada governor who had welcomed the Johnson-Jeffries fight a decade earlier.

The role the United States government itself played in the persecution – and there is no better word to describe Johnson’s treatment — of the first African-American heavyweight champion was so shameful an episode that the movement to restore his reputation has been spearheaded not by some bleeding-heard liberal, but by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who on at least three separate occasions has introduced Congressional resolutions calling for a posthumous presidential pardon.

(Few of us realistically expected George W. Bush to pardon Jack Johnson, but President Obama’s failure to act on the resolution has, for me, been beyond disappointing.)

* * *

Still haunted by McFadden’s chilling rendition, I found myself wondering: If John Arthur Johnson had had but an inkling of what the rest of his life would be like, let alone how many innocent Americans of color would perish as the result of his triumph, might he have been tempted to fall to the floor at an opportune moment? Once there, might he have raised his glove just high enough to shield his eyes from the hot noonday sun the way they said he did in Havana five years later, as he took the referee’s count? And what might Jack London have written about that?

That led to another reflection: that the entire history of boxing, and in many cases the history of boxing writing, has been a delicately constructed, centuries-old process replete with similar watershed moments that could easily have turned out otherwise.

What if Tom Cribb’s legion of supporters hadn’t unfairly interfered in that 35-round bout in Sussex back in 1810? The redoubtable Pierce Egan (the English language’s first boxing writer) believed the freed American slave Tom Molyneaux to be well on his way to a win at Copthall Common until his finger was broken when more than a hundred Englishmen interrupted the fight by rushing the ring in the 19th round.

Had Molyneaux emerged victorious, he would have become the first African-American heavyweight champion a hundred years before Johnson fought Jeffries in Reno.

What if John Graham Chambers hadn’t come up with the concept of codified boxing rules that he published under the aegis of his sponsor, the Marquess of Queensberry, in 1876? In the absence of the cloak of respectability provided by the Queensberry Rules, would the New Orleans City Council have legalized boxing in 1890, paving the way for the fight between Gentleman Jim Corbett and John L. Sullivan two years later? Or would American boxing have remained an outlaw sport, conducted in rings erected on Mississippi River sandbars, in Colorado saloons and San Francisco opium dens, removed from the scrutiny of the authorities?

For that matter, what if Tom Allen hadn’t decided to cash in on his bare-knuckle championship by making his exhibition tour the centerpiece of an American traveling circus? He might still have eventually fought and lost to fellow Englishman Joe Goss, but it wouldn’t have been in Cincinnati, and Goss probably wouldn’t have been available to fight Irish-born Paddy Ryan in West Virginia four years later, nor, in all likelihood, would Ryan have defended his title against John L. Sullivan in New Orleans.

As both the last bareknuckle champion and the first to defend under the Queensberry Rules, Sullivan was a seminal presence, but what if his fight against Corbett had been conducted under the London Prize Ring Rules instead of the more sanitized Queensberry regulations? Would Corbett still have knocked out Sullivan in the absence of boxing gloves, or might he have succumbed to injury had, say, the great John L. stepped on him with those inch-long spikes he would have been permitted to wear on his boots under the earlier code? And how might the composition of that early pantheon of Sullivan, Corbett, Fitzsimmons and Jeffries — today regarded as the Founding Fathers of modern-day heavyweights, a quartet boxing devotees are inclined to view with a reverence other Americans customarily accord Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison – have been affected?

What if Jack London hadn’t encountered interminable delays in the construction of his hand-built ketch, the Snark? Had he and his second wife Charmian departed San Francisco Bay on schedule for what was supposed to be a seven-year, round-the-world adventure, London might still eventually have been afflicted by the illness that interrupted the journey, but it probably wouldn’t have been at Guadalcanal in November of 1908, and the nearest modern medical facility might well have been somewhere other than Australia.

And if London hadn’t gone to Sydney in search of treatment for what he feared was leprosy (it turned out to be psoriasis), he might never have learned of the upcoming fight in which Tommy Burns would defend his heavyweight title against Jack Johnson, nor would he have been visited in his hospital quarters by the editor of the Australian Star with an offer to write a series of articles culminating with a ringside account of the Boxing Day title bout.

In the absence of his deal with the Australian paper, would London still have contacted the New York Herald and arranged for simultaneous publication of his dispatches?

Had Jack London not been writing from ringside at Rushcutter’s Bay that day, the journalistic legacy of that fight would not be “naturally I wanted to see the white man win, but, left to rely on the coverage of the Australian press, Americans might instead have found themselves reading the account of the Sydney Sportsman, which denounced the new champion as “a gloating coon… with the instincts of a nigger.

And had London not been there to conclude his fight-day story with his impassioned “Jeff, it’s up to you plea, would the public demand for a Great White Hope have assumed the same sense of urgency? Or might the reluctant Jeffries, in the absence of the London-generated frenzy of pressure, more wisely have elected to contentedly remain right where he was, on the old alfalfa farm?

What if Johnson hadn’t insisted on flaunting that succession of white wives and white mistresses and white prostitutes (and sometimes they were one and the same) and instead exercised discretion, as Joe Gans and George Dixon, two prominent black boxers of the era who were also married to white women, did? It might have required a diplomatic restraint for which Jack was temperamentally unsuited, but they probably wouldn’t have prosecuted him under the Mann Act.

And what, you might ask, has that to do with Jack Johnson or Jim Jeffries one hundred years ago in Reno?

Nothing. And everything. We leave it to the great A.J. Liebling to explain:

It is through Jack O’Brien, the Arbiter Elegantiarum Philadelphiae, that I trace my rapport with the historic past through the laying-on of hands. He hit me, for pedagogical example, and he had been hit by the great Bob Fitzsimmons, from whom he won the light-heavyweight title in 1906. Jack had a scar to show for it. Fitzsimmons had been hit by Corbett, Corbett by John L. Sullivan, he by Paddy Ryan, with the bare knuckles, and Ryan by Joe Goss, his predecessor, who as a young man had felt the fist of the great Jem Mace. It is a great thrill to feel that all that separates you from the early Victorians is a series of punches on the nose. I wonder if Professor Toynbee is as intimately attuned to his sources. The Sweet Science is joined onto the past like a man’s arm to his shoulder.

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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