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Articles of 2010

It Is Always, Always, Always Better To Stop A Fight Too Early

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Being a degenerate boxing addict, Ive been known to seek out old issues of Ring, or other similar periodicals, from time to time. Last week, I was at a flea market and a vendor had some old Rings. I snagged a couple, took them home, and popped one, from August 1971, open. My jaw hit my chest when I saw the very first feature in the issue. Mercante Blasts Referee For Stopping Benvenuti Fight on Towel-Tossing, the headline blared. This was just a couple weeks after a towel tossing event stamped the first boxing event to be held at Yankee Stadium since Ali-Norton III in 1976 with a seal of eternal controversy.

The story, by writer Dan Daniel, concerned the May 8, 1971 Carlos Monzon-Nino Benvenuti middleweight clash, which unfolded in Monte Carlo. The fight was halted in the third round when Benvenuti’s manager, one Bruno Amaduzzi, threw in a white towel after his man was sent to the mat for the second time, the first occasion which occurred the round prior. The referee in charge was a man named Victor Avendano, and he accepted the towel, even after Benvenuti indicated he wanted to continue, by kicking the towel out of the ring.

Daniel wasn’t present at the affair, but he attempted to learn more about the controversial ending by talking to one Arthur Mercante, who was present at the bout in Monte Carlo. Mercante, in fact, flew in to referee the scrap, but was surprised to learn that an Argentine, Avendano, was in fact chosen to be the arbiter. So Mercante was tapped to be a judge instead. The New Yorker, who passed away on April 10th at age 90 and best known for being the third man in the ring during “The Fight of the Century,” Ali-Frazier I, weighed in on the ending of the Monzon-Benvenuti beef. That was a rematch from their Nov. 11, 1970 fight, a TKO12 win for Monzon which Ring called their fight of the year.

Senior didn’t pull a single punch: “Had I been the referee I would have thrown the towel back into Benvenuti’s corner and ordered the contest to continue. In my travels around the world as an official, in my assignments as referee in New York, I always have held to the unchallenged fact that only the referee, or the officially assigned doctor, can stop a fight. The New York Commission’s rule book says: ‘All seconds are prohibited from throwing any towel into the ring as a token of defeat,’’ Mercante told Daniel.

To refresh your memory, and to better enable you to compare and contrast the controversial towel goings on, you’ll recall that at Yankee Stadium on June 5, referee Arthur Mercante Jr, the son of the man going public in Ring with his dismay at the towel tossing in Monte Carlo, refused the presence of a white towel, meant to indicate submission, thrown in by Yuri Foremans corner in round seven. He followed the rules of the commission he works for, though he still drew heat from naysayers who picked apart his performance.

Youll recall that chaos reined on the night, as the towel was tossed in, but Mercante threw it back out, and allowed Miguel Cotto and Foreman, gimpy on a bum knee, to keep fighting. People spilled into the ring, thinking the fight was over, but the round re-started, as the stadium buzzed with confusion.

Only the referee may stop the bout, the sports unified rules state, and Mercante exercised his authority to the utmost. He said after the bout that he wasnt sure who threw the towel in, and besides, he believed that Foreman deserved a chance to fight on, and finish on his terms. Debaters weighed in after, citing Mercantes track record, arguing that since hed been involved in situations where it looked like a man took more punishment than he should have, the second generation arbiter should be extra wary of letting a fight go on one punch too long. This being the internet age, far different from when Ring ran a story on a fight which went down in May in their August issue (which likely would have come out in July), Mercante Jr was hit from all angles from people disagreeing with his handling of the situation. YouTube suggestions to view past instances when Junior was too slow on the hook were offered.

Mercante the younger’s attempt to explain what went down at Yankee Stadium wasn’t as successful as his father’s, it must be said. In defending his actions, he talked to the Daily News Tim Smith about a prior instance when hed been accused of being slow on the draw to call for a halt, the June 26, 2001 Beethaeven Scottland-George Khalid Jones bout. Scottland, a 26-year-old Maryland resident, absorbed frightful punishment at the hands of Jones, but was allowed to continue combat, before Scottland was driven to the canvas in the tenth, where he lay unconscious for several minutes before being transported by paramedics to a hospital. Comparing the Foreman deal to the Scottland tragedy, Mercante said, That was different. Its my understanding that he was injured more from being banged around in the elevator as they were trying to get him down to the ambulance.

Mercante was likely referring to this element of the tragedy, as recounted by Smith in a July 30, 2001 story in the News.

“Then, when Scottland was knocked unconscious in the 10th round, emergency medical technicians had trouble fitting his stretcher into the elevator of the World War II-era Intrepid.

It all goes to the issue of planning, said Cliff Stern, an attorney for the firm of Johnnie Cochran, who has been retained by Scottlands widow. When you have a boxing match, it should be assumed that someone might be seriously injured and might need a hospital. And we know now that he had a brain bleed, where every second counted.

Scottland died six days after the bout. To our knowledge, the folly in the elevator was never fingered as being the cause, or a clear contribution, to the brain damage which killed Scottland. That EMTs had difficulty fitting Scottland, on a stretcher, into the elevator was discussed as the possibility of a lawsuit on behalf of the Scottland family was discussed, but to my knowledge that tidbit never rose above a footnote in the sad saga. If Mercante Jr. assuages any guilt he feels for not halting the Scottland bout by choosing to focus on a delay in getting the injured man to a hospital, we can understand his method of coping. Or maybe it’s better to say, we understand as best we can without walking a mile in his shoes, that a man in his position could use assuagement. But I’d offer that to traffic in such willful self delusion, while perhaps helpful to his psyche, does the men who rely on him to gauge their fitness for combat no favors. I concede that it’s more than possible Arthur Jr was only in CYA mode because he perceived he was on the ropes as a reporter hammered away, that he in his heart of hearts has a clear understanding of what if anything he did wrong on the night Scottland died.

Three weeks after that Yankee Stadium fight, I am left with hopefullness, that the son fully comprehends the choices he has made in the past, and accepts his role in what went down, on the night Scottland died, and on June 5th. The son can perhaps take solace in the knowledge that his dad had to wrestle with many of the same questions he does; but his task is made infinitely more difficult by the memory, which will never fade, of what happened back on the Intrepid on June 26, 2001.

I can only speculate on what Arthur Sr might have said to Arthur Jr if they talked about the Foreman-Cotto fight, and the handling of the towel tossing. We both followed the rules as written, the father could well have said to the son in a preamble.

Senior, that Ring story makes clear, was quite intent on being the boss in that squared circle. Junior, too, has showed that quality since he began reffing in 1987, which could be seen as resolve, or stubbornness, depending on how you view his handling of murky situations. Please forgive me if you consider my speculating maudlin; but I’d hope the father would say something like this: “Son, it is always, always, always better to stop it too early, rather than too late. No one will talk about a fight you stopped “too early” in five, ten, twenty five years. Not so for a fight you stopped “too late.’”

Articles of 2010

Judah To Fight Mbuza March 5 In NJ

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Totowa, NJ – Kathy Duva, Main Events CEO, announced their promotional firm won the purse bid held at IBF headquarters in East Orange, NJ, Thursday. The bid was for the right to hold the IBF's junior welterweight title fight between Zab Judah of Brooklyn, NY and Las Vegas, and South Africa's Kaizer Mabuza.

IBF Championships Chairman, Lindsay Tucker explained, “It is a 50-50 split of the earnings between the two fighters. Kaizer is ranked No. 1 by the IBF, and Judah is No. 2. Where the fight will be held is up to the winning bidder.”

Judah (39-6, 26 KOs) is promoted by Main Events and his own firm Super Judah Promotions, and Branco Milenkovic, of South Africa, promotes Mabuza (23-6-3, 14 KOs).

Kathy Duva confirmed the fight will take place at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, late February or early March this year as part of Main Events' Brick City Boxing Series.  (Saturday Update: the fight is March 5th, in NJ at the Pru Center. The bout will be part of a PPV card.)

“We are very happy that Zab has the opportunity to fight for the IBF Junior Welterweight title right here in New Jersey.  Winning this fight will put Zab right in the mix with the winner of Bradley-Alexander and Amir Khan.” Duva elaborated, ” Zab will work very hard to win this fight so that he will be one step closer to his ultimate goal of unifying all of the Junior Welterweight titles by the end of 2011!”

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Articles of 2010

UFC 125 Preview: Frankie Edgar Vs. Gray Maynard

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Few predicted Frankie Edgar would grab the UFC lightweight championship last year but he did. Most felt he would eventually win it but Edgar not only took the title, he beat one of the best mixed martial artists in history to do it.

Edgar (13-1) has emerged from the milieu of nondescript MMA fighters to become one of the more brilliant performers for Ultimate Fighting Championship. Next comes a rematch with Gray “The Bully” Maynard (11-0) tomorrow at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. UFC 125 will be televised on pay-per-view.

All it took was not one, but two victories over BJ Penn.

If you’re not familiar with Penn, he’s one of the most versatile fighters in MMA history and had been nearly unbeatable in the 155-pound lightweight division. That is until he clashed with Edgar. Until he met New Jersey’s Edgar, the Hawaiian fighter chopped down lightweight opponents with ease. It was only the heavier welterweights he had problems against. Namely: Canada’s Georges St. Pierre.

Edgar showed poise, speed and grit in defeating Penn in back-to-back fights. The world took notice.

“You know, if I keep winning fights, the respect will come eventually,” said Edgar during a conference call.

Now Edgar will find out if he can avenge the only loss on his record.

“I just think I grew as a fighter. You know, mentally, you know, physically I, you know, possess differently skills, increased – you know, I think I boxed and got better, my Jiu-Jitsu got better and, you know, just have much more experience now,” Edgar says.

Maynard seeks to find out if Edgar has added any more fighting tools to his repertoire. Back in April 2008, the artillery shelled out was not enough to beat the Las Vegas fighter.

“It’s a perfect time. He had the chance and, you know, he took it and the time is now for me and I’m prepared,” said Maynard (11-0). “Any time you’re going up against the top in the world, you evolve and change and so I’m prepared for a new fight, so it will be good. I’m pumped for it.”

Though Maynard’s record indicates he is unbeaten that’s not entirely true. He did suffer a defeat to Nate Diaz during The Ultimate Fighter series and subsequently avenged that loss last January.

The UFC lightweight title is in Maynard’s bull’s eye.

“Looking to take the belt for sure,” said Maynard. “We’ll see on January 1.”

Edgar versus Maynard should be a good one.

Other bouts:

Nate Diaz (13-5) faces Dong Hyun Kim (13-0-1) in another welterweight tussle. Diaz is the only fighter with a win over Maynard. Anyone watching TUF remembers Maynard tapping out from a Diaz guillotine choke. The Modesto fighter has a tough fight against South Korea’s Kim.

Chris Leben (21-6) fights Brian Stann (9-3) in a middleweight fight. Leben is a veteran of MMA and if an opponent is not ready for a rough and tumble fight, well, that fighter is not going to win. Stann dropped down from light heavyweight and we’ll see if the cut in weight benefits the Marine.

Brandon Vera (11-5) meets Thiago Silva (14-2) in a light heavyweight match up. Vera is trying to rally back to the promising fighter he was tabbed several years back. Silva is a very tough customer and eager to crash the elite. A victory by either fighter could mean a ticket to the big time.

Clay Guida (27-8) versus Takanori Gomi (32-6) in a lightweight bout. Guida has become one of the most feared fighters without a title. No one has an easy time with the long-haired fighter. Gomi lost to Kenny Florian but knocked out Tyson Griffin. Can he survive Guida?

Marcus “The Irish Hand Grenade” Davis (22-8) clashes with Jeremy Stephens (18-6) in another lightweight fight. Davis is a go-for-broke kind of fighter and is looking to get back in the win column after a tumultuous battle with Nate Diaz last August. Stephens needs a win too. In his last bout he lost to Melvin Guillard.

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Articles of 2010

Borges Looks Back, And Forward With Hope

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As the end of another year approaches, there’s no need to invoke Charles Dickens to describe what went on in boxing. It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times. It was just too much time spent on The Fight That Never Took Place.

For the second straight year the sport could not deliver The Fight, the only one fans universally wanted and even casual fans craved – the mix between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao.  No one has to be singled out for blame for that failure because this time there’s plenty to go around on both sides. The larger issue is what does it say about a sport when it cannot deliver its top event?

What would the NFL be without the Super Bowl? Where would major league baseball be without the World Series? Golf without the Masters? College basketball without March Madness?

They would all be less than they could be and so it was with boxing this year. Having said that, the sport was not without its signature moments. It was not bereft of nights that left those of us with an abiding (and often unrequited) love for prize fighting with good reason to hope for the future.

Three times promoter Bob Arum took the sport into massive stadium venues just like the good (very) old days and each time boxing drew a far larger crowd than its many critics expected. Twice those fights involved the sport’s leading ambassador, Pacquiao, who brought in crowds of 40,000 to 50,000 fans into Cowboys Stadium against inferior opponents Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito. Imagine what he might have done had Mayweather been in the opposite corner?

While both fights were, as expected, lopsided affairs, they showcased the one boxer who has transcended his sport’s confining walls to become a cultural icon and world celebrity. Pacquiao alone put boxing (or at least one boxer) on the cover of TIME and into the pages of such varied publications as Esquire, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, the American Airlines in-flight magazine and even Atlantic Monthly.

As history has proven time and again, that is what happens when boxing has a compelling personality to sell it and Pacquiao is that. Mayweather is such a person as well,  but for different reasons.

The one night he appeared in a boxing ring, he set the year’s pay-per-view standard against Shane Mosley while also leaving a first hint of dark mystery when he was staggered by two stinging right hands in the second round.

Mayweather was momentarily in trouble for the first time in his career but the moment passed quickly and Mosley never had another. By the end he had been made to look old and futile, a faded athlete who’d had his chance and was unable to do anything with it. So it goes in this harsh sport when the sands are running out of the hour glass.

As always there were some surprising upsets, most notably Jason Litzau’s domination of an uninterested and out of shape Celestino Caballero and Sergio Martinez’s one-punch demolishment of Paul Williams. The latter was not so much an upset as it was a stunning reminder that when someone makes a mistake against a highly skilled opponent in this sport they don’t end up embarrassed. They end up unconscious.

SHOWTIME did all it could to further the future of the sport, offering up a continuation of its interminably long but still bold Super Six super middleweight tournament as well as the launching of a short form bantamweight tournament which already gave fans to two stirring and surprising finishes with Joseph Agbeko decisioning Jhonny Perez and Abner Mares upsetting Victor Darchinyan in a battle of contusions.

While the Super Six has had its problems – including several of the original six pulling out – it also lifted the profile of former Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward from nearly unknown to the cusp of universal recognized as the best super middleweight in the world this side of Lucian Bute. If Ward continues winning he’ll get to Bute soon enough because that’s why SHOWTIME signed a TV deal with the Canadian and America may get its next boxing star if Ward proves to be what I think he is – which is still underrated and underappreciated.

HBO and HBO pay-per-view put on 23 shows, few of them compelling and many of them paying big money to the wrong people while doing little or nothing to grow the sport that has helped make their network rich. But they did have the knockout of the year – Martinez’s second round destruction of Williams – and some fights in the lower weight classes that were left you wanting more.

Two new names popped up who are causing the kind of fan reaction that also gives us hope for 2011 – American Brandon Rios and Mexican Saul Alvarez. They are two of the sport’s brightest young prospects because each comes to the arena the old-fashioned way – carrying nothing but bad intentions.
Aggression and knockouts still sell boxing faster than anything else and each exhibited plenty of both this year and left fans wanting to see more. Alvarez is already a star in Mexico without having yet won a world title and Rios is the definition of “promise.’’ Whether the star will continue to shine and promise will be fulfilled may be answered next year and so we wait anxiously to find out.

Backed by Golden Boy Promotions, there is no reason 2011 shouldn’t be Alvarez’s year and if it is people will notice and remember him because he has a crowd-pleasing style that is all about what sells most.

That is what boxing needs more of – fresh faces and new stars… so as fans we should root for guys like Alvarez, Ward, Rios and young Brit Amir Khan, who is a star in England but still a question mark with a questionable chin but a fighter’s heart here in the U.S.

Those guys and others not yet as well known are the future of boxing, a sport that for too long has been recycling the likes of Mosley (as it will again in May for one last beating against Pacquiao in a fight that's a joke), Bernard Hopkins (who can still fight although it is unclear why he bothers or where it’s all headed), Roy Jones and, sadly, even 48-year-old Evander Holyfield, who continues to delude himself but not many other people into believing he will soon unify the heavyweight title again.
If fighters like Ward, Alvarez, Rios, Khan, WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto and middleweight king Sergio Martinez continue their rise they could be the antidote for the art of the retread that Arum and Golden Boy have been forcing fans to buy the past few years at the expense of what boxing needs most – fresh faces.

The heavyweight division, which many believe determines the relevancy of boxing to the larger world, remains a vast desert of disinterest here in the US. The Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, hold 75 per cent of the title belts but few peoples’ imaginations in the US, although to be fair they are European superstars and don’t really need U.S. cable TV money to thrive economically.

Each defended their titles twice this year, Vitali against lame competition (Albert Sosnowski and Shannon Briggs) and Wladimir against better fighters (Sam Peter and Eddie Chambers) but not competitive ones. Sadly, there is no American on the horizon to challenge them, a comment on the division and on our country, where the athletes who used to be Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali now opt for the easier and frankly safer road of the NFL or the NBA. Who can blame them considering all the nonsense a fighter has to go through to just make a living these days?

The one heavyweight match that would be compelling and might lift the sport up for at least a night would be either of the Klitschkos facing lippy WBA champion David Haye. The fast-talking Brit claims to not be ducking them but he’s had more maladies befall him after shouting from the rooftops how much he wants to challenge them that you have to wonder if Haye is simply a case of big hat no cattle syndrome.

For the sake of the sport, we should all be lighting candles each night in hopes our prayers will be answered and Haye will finally agree to meet one of them. It may not prove to be much of a fight but at least it will give us something to talk about for a few months.

Whatever Haye and the Klitschkos decide the fighter with the most upside at the moment however seems to be Sergio Martinez.  He has matinee idol looks, a big enough punch to put Paul Williams to sleep with one shot and a work ethic second to none. The Argentine fighter had a year for himself, starting with a drubbing of Kelly Pavlik followed by his demolishment of Williams. Those kinds of victories, coupled with his Oscar De La Hoya-like looks, are the type of things that if HBO or SHOWTIME would get behind him could allow Martinez to capture the attention of both fight fans and more casual ones.

In general, Hispanics fighters continued to dominate much of the sport’s front pages with Juan Manuel Marquez’s two victories in lightweight title fights leading that storyline. His war with Michael Katsidis is a strong candidate for Fight of the Year and his technical skill and calm demeanor make him the uncrowned challenger to Pacquiao. The two have unfinished business that should be settled this year if Arum stops standing in the way.

Two other fighters who gave us moments to remember in 2010 were Juan Manuel Lopez, who knocked out three solid opponents including highly respected Mexican warrior Rafael Marquez, and Giovani Segura, who won four times (that’s three years work for Mayweather) in 2010, all by knockout. Along the way, Segura defeated one of the great minimum weight fighters in history, slick Ivan Calderon, to win the belt on Aug. 28.

Lastly, boxing gave us another magical cinematic moment as well with the release of “The Fighter,’’ a film based on the life and hard times of junior welterweight scrapper Micky Ward. The film has won rave reviews and many awards and seems likely to have several of its actors nominated for Academy Awards, most notable Christian Bale for his sadly humorous portrayal of Ward’s troubled half brother, former fighter Dickie Ecklund.

Boxing has a long history of providing the framework for memorable movies and it did it again with “The Fighter,’’ a film that did more for boxing than any promoter did all year.

All in all, it wasn’t the best of years for boxing but it was a good year that picked up speed in the final months and, like that great golf shot you finally hit out of the rough on the 18th, left us with reasons to hope for a better year in 2011. If somehow it gives us Mayweather-Pacquiao, the emergence of Alvarez and Rios, the ascension of Martinez and Haye vs. the best available Klitschko in addition to the kind of solid performances that always come along, it could be a year to remember.

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