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Articles of 2010

Teddy Atlas Teaches, “Sasha” Povetkin Learns

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Alexander Povetkin is standing across from Teddy Atlas, mirroring his trainer’s moves.

Atlas stretches his arms.  Povetkin stretches his arms.  Atlas bends from the waist.  Povetkin bends from the waist.  It’s a crowded day at the Middletown Boxing Club in New Jersey, about forty miles south of Manhattan on Route 35, and while the featured fighter and his trainer do their pre-sparring warm-ups in the raised ring, there is movement three steps below at ground level.  The day’s sparring partners are wrapping their hands, the fitness trainer is setting up a camera to tape the day’s work, the assistant trainer is doing his prep, laying out the gloves, kindly passing around bottled water, and the spectators, friends and fans, are milling about, catching up, talking boxing.  Soon the sparring will begin and then the sounds will become more focused.  The heavy breaths of the fighters, the thudding and thumping of gloved fists against skin and bone, the voices of trainers yelling instructions.  Then everyone else in the gym will gather ringside to watch closely and carefully and quietly in order to gauge the progress of this camp’s star attraction, an Olympic gold-medalist nicknamed Sasha, who has compiled a professional record of 20-0 (15 KOs) and who, when he’s ready, and he’ll be ready soon, will fight for boxing’s biggest prize, the heavyweight belt.

Teddy Atlas was groomed from a young age to be a professional trainer by his mentor Cus D’Amato.  Even before a back injury curtailed his fight dreams, the veteran D’Amato saw in Teddy an innate understanding of the sweet science.  The master trainer was getting old and he wanted a young pupil to carry on his course of study; in this case the discipline was boxing.  Cutting his teeth with a young Mike Tyson, driving young kids to smokers in the south Bronx, gaining fame between rounds as he sat on Michael Moorer’s stool, admonishing his weary and demoralized charge to fight and ultimately beat then heavyweight king Evander Holyfield, Teddy Atlas proved himself an exceptional trainer.

Atlas is also an exceptional man with a strict code of conduct and in his world, loyalty is the paramount value.  Atlas gives completely to the people that matter in his life and all he expects is the same in return.  To his fighters, Atlas’ loyalty is displayed day after day, hour after hour, three-minute round after three-minute round.  To his TV audience as color commentator on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, Atlas’ loyalty rings consistently honest notes.  In a sport whose commentators are too often yes men for the corruption that taints boxing, Atlas never excuses or smoothes over the rough knuckles of greed and incompetence that beat fighters down.  And his loyalty to do the right thing beyond the ring grew into the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, named for his father, which has raised millions of dollars for those in need.

These days, Teddy Atlas’ loyalty is with his charge Alexander Povetkin.  The workout has only started but Teddy is there, right there.  The stretching ends and Atlas starts to move Povetkin around the ring, working on the moves they have been working on since their relationship started a little over a year ago.  Atlas gets inside, taps at Povetkin’s forearms, gives the heavyweight angles and Povetkin responds, creating angles of his own, throwing short punches he pulls just before impact.  Povetkin only speaks Russian and so a translator joins every camp.  Atlas stops the action, delivers a line of instruction.  “Don’t do that,” Atlas says and points to his eyes.  “You’ve got to be in position.”  The translator, Alex Ledvin, delivers the instruction in Russian and Sasha nods his head.

The move is repeated, advice is given, then translated, English echoing into Russian.  “Don’t let the elbow come out.  Don’t let the legs come out either.  There’s a right time for everything.”  Sasha listens, moves into Teddy, commits to the angle he’s created, a plan in his eyes.  Perfect.  Teddy points to his head, no translation needed.  “Now you’re thinking,” he says.

I have watched Teddy Atlas train Alexander Povetkin before and when I watch him I always think he is a teacher first.  Working with Sasha in the ring, shouting out instructions as Sasha spars, stopping and starting the video session after each sparring session to go over the strengths and weaknesses of his fighter, pointing out openings, reinforcing lessons, revising the work, polishing it, Teddy Atlas does what the best teachers do.  He teaches by repetition.  He builds upon fundamentals.  He molds and perfects, slowly, patiently, carefully.  Atlas is literally hands-on…his hands are constantly on his fighter, demonstrating, guiding, maneuvering, relaxing.  And Atlas is there from the beginning of the workout, from the first stretches, to the last second of recorded video time.  He never takes a minute off, never stops thinking of his fighter and the fight.  He is obsessed the way men of integrity need to be obsessed, the mark of the most loyal teachers.  And in this sport that is not a sport, where men test their fears and face mortality, a real trainer, a trusted teacher, is invaluable.  It is true that once the bell rings, a fighter is alone in the ring, but Teddy Atlas’ fighters, when they walk back to their corners between rounds, must feel reassured that they are coming home to a place of safety and trust and knowledge.

Alexander Povetkin steps into his protective gear.  He has neither the face nor the demeanor of a stereotypical prize fighter.  There are no central-casting flat features under his blond hair and when he speaks, his voice is quiet, his eyes seemingly kind.  But from the back, his wide shoulders, and his strong neck and arms speak of heavyweight power and foreshadow his heavy hands.

The first sparring partner of the day is Monte Barrett, a seasoned heavyweight with 34 wins who lost his two bids at the title, but has beaten a number of name heavyweights and, most recently, knocked down the tree trunk from New Zealand known as David Tua for the first time in Tua’s long career.  One great advantage to watching sparring is that you can lean on the ring apron, the vantage point of judges and professional photographers, and watch the action.  And in many ways that’s what we’re doing ringside, judging without points, zooming in on the legwork and handwork, creating pictures of our own, perhaps imagining Barrett as Klitschko, perhaps imagining what Povetkin could do.

Round 1 starts slow.  It’s not so much that Barrett wins the round, though he throws more punches, jabs to keep the solid Povetkin at bay, but that Povetkin doesn’t let his hands go.  I can see him seeing the angles.  I can see him measuring distance.  I can see him thinking.  Atlas yells at Sasha to throw a double jab to close the space.  “The jab is the beginning, not the end.  No hesitation.  Make a definite move.  Close the gap.”  The words are echoed in Russian.  The round ends.  Povetkin walks back to his corner and remains standing while Atlas, laying his hands on his fighter, instructs.

Round 2 starts slow, again. Teddy continues to instruct.  His surprising metaphors that raise the level of commentary on ESPN, are part of his lesson plan during this round.  “We’re not surprised.  We’re not surprised by the jab.  Go to a definite place.  We’re the ocean.  He’s the log.  Make him react to your movement.”  Sasha listens.  He goes to a definite place.  At the end of the round he is in full command, maneuvering Barrett where he wants him.  In Round 3, Sasha lands two big right hands that stun Barrett.  These are solid punches that come from a balanced, committed place.  A third right hand knocks Barrett backwards.  In Round 4 another big right, crisp jabs, body shots that leave Barrett jabbing for protection instead of offense.  The bell rings and Barrett’s shift is done.  

Enter Derric Rossy, nine years younger than Barrett, about ten pounds heavier, who has won his last seven fights.  Rossy’s plan against Povetkin is to keep his distance, to throw jabs at the body, to circle the ring.  Sasha goes into hunter mode, stalking Rossy with sliding footwork instead of bouncing with wasted effort as he did in his pre-Atlas days.  It’s an uneventful round.  A few ineffectual punches land off Povetkin’s body, fewer land on his headgear, and, listening to Atlas’ instructions, Povetkin double jabs at round’s end, controlling the ring’s geography with his arms instead of his legs.  The buzzer sounds and the day’s sparring is complete.  Five rounds of work in the books.

Atlas puts his hand on Sasha’s shoulder and talks about the rounds, the translator earning his keep.  “If you go by physical things that was your worst round.  But it wasn’t.  You were seeing, planning.  Let’s not open the door and just look.  Get to where you want to get to.  Then do it.  Do it with your feet.  Do it with your upper body.  Anticipate the next move.  Anticipate the next position.  Anticipate the next opportunity.”  This advice is tailor-made for Povetkin, a tutorial based on the student’s strengths and weaknesses.  Atlas’ analogies to make things vivid for his fighter, to create pictures that will clarify his boxing lessons, metaphors that will define the un-definable, open the door for more metaphors.  Atlas as teacher, revising his student’s work.  Atlas as sculptor, molding the clay, chiseling the rock.  And then, fast as a pivot from orthodox to southpaw, Atlas switches focus from his charge to his charge’s future opponent.  “Why does he box like that?  Why?  He doesn’t want to be in there.  Stay in your place.  That’s your place.  That’s the right place.”  The he has to be Wladimir Klitschko, the master jabber who makes his home on the outside, who stays comfortably at home until his opponent is soft enough for more than just a jab.  Inside is where a victory against Klitschko will happen.  Inside—how to get inside, how to stay inside, how to look for openings inside, how to commit inside and, most important, how to think inside—is the lesson Teddy Atlas has been teaching, over and over, since his work with Sasha began.

Povetkin’s people wanted to put their fighter in with the heavyweight champion months ago, hoping to cash in quickly on a big payday and pretending, at least publicly, that Povetkin was ready to win.  Atlas knew better.  Povetkin was a star amateur, but he needed seasoning as a professional, which meant he needed more fights as a professional.

Too many of Klitschko’s opponents, both Klitschkos, have been too raw to handle the Ukrainian brothers’ experience.  Wladimir has 58 fights under his belt, which is Povetkin’s professional record times three.  Instead of accepting team Klitschko’s terms and becoming part of the pattern that has kept this unexceptional fighter at the top of the division, Atlas wants to make sure his fighter is fight ready, not hype ready.  Despite much criticism, foolish criticism, Atlas has stood firm.  Povetkin is the world on Teddy Atlas’ shoulders and Atlas certainly struggled with his decision to keep Povetkin from a quick payday—more than anyone, he understands the risks of the boxing game—but this Atlas never shrugged.  He did the right thing for his fighter, staying loyal to Sasha.  He stayed loyal to himself.  And Atlas stayed loyal to those who love boxing.  Fans should and will wait patiently until the time is ripe for a real fight, a competitive fight, and not an uninspired massacre at the end of Klitschko’s long left arm.

The workout continues.  Povetkin hits the speedbag, at first conservatively, playing the rat-tat-tat beat with expertise.  Then Teddy has him pivot, deliver the right hand upward, single heavy blows about both power and speed.  Then it’s back to the ring where Povetkin does sit-ups and where, again, Atlas is hands-on, holding Sasha’s ankles for crunches, holding Sasha’s legs for side crunches.  Monte Barrett leaves the gym, Rossy is packing up his gear, and the gym is quiet and I can feel the canvas shake each time Povetkin lifts himself toward his trainer.  

The workout is almost over.  Impressed with what he’s seen today, Atlas tells Sasha that tomorrow may be the last day of sparring.  Sasha seems to want more rounds, but Atlas knows when a fighter is ready.  “There has to be a time to stop.  I like what I see.  We had good boxing.  We improved every day.  Physically.  Mentally.  In one week we go to do what we’re supposed to do.  We do it well.  We do it smart.  We do it round by round.  And we do it like the best heavyweight in the world.”

On Tuesday Atlas and Povetkin will fly to Berlin, Germany and on Saturday he’ll take on Nicolai Firtha.  Firtha is not a world-beater, but his 6’6”, 250 pound frame is reminiscent of the heavyweight division’s current world beaters.  It’s all about the molding, the sculpting, the preparation for this fight, but also for bigger fights to come.  Teddy Atlas is not teaching toward a single final exam.  He is teaching toward a career.

Each day’s training ends with a video session, as teacher and pupil sit in the gym’s back room, a small space with a desk that resembles an academic’s office.  They watch and Teddy teaches, stopping the tape every few seconds to point out an opening, to suggest a move, to compliment a smart decision.  I’m back in college, in acting class, listening to my professor stop me short in the middle of a scene from Golden Boy, an old play about a violinist turned boxer.  It was a short scene, but instead of letting each actor get through the whole scene before critiquing it, this professor stopped the scene after each false line, then asked us to go back to the beginning.  As a student, I was frustrated, I wanted to move to the scene’s end where the emotional fireworks happened, but eventually, stopped short dozens and dozens of times over the semester, I became a better actor.  Each line became real.  Each line had a concrete memory attached to it.  By semester’s end I was in acting shape.  Here in the gym, it takes forty minutes to watch fifteen minutes of sparring work, but the teacher is doing his job and the student is taking notes.  “It’s a good feeling when you know something,” Atlas says.

It has been a long afternoon of work.  Teddy’s last lesson is not a physical one but a mental one.  Throughout this day’s training and throughout all the training Teddy Atlas does, focusing the mind is paramount to focusing on the body; knowledge is more important than physical skill.  Teddy doesn’t just tell his pugilists to do something—he explains the why, the reason behind the move, the logic behind the plan.  It’s a technique passed down from Cus D’Amato, a technique Atlas has perfected with a touch of the poet.  Atlas ends the day with a story, a story to counter Sasha’s annoyance at himself that he felt lazy during certain moments in the ring.

“Your mind is not lazy,” Atlas says and Ledvin translates.  “In the old days fighters were miners.  They were coal miners and they shoveled coal all day.  They were tired.  Not lazy.  They didn’t know what they were feeling they were so exhausted.  But they fought at night.  And their minds couldn’t be lazy.”

As in every fighter’s life, there will be moments in Alexander Povetkin’s future when he will be exhausted, when he will have to steel himself against fatigue and doubt and pain.  But his mind will be strong.  Teddy Atlas will make sure of that.  The day started with outstretched arms.  The day ends with outstretched arms, Alexander Povetkin embracing his trainer Teddy Atlas.  When it’s done right, boxing’s special bond, part father/son, part teacher/pupil, all loyalty, is indeed special.  And it’s a bond that more often than not leads to success.  Think of students who mention their teaching mentors before they mention themselves, citing the knowledge and inspiration they received in the classroom as the catalyst that helped them fulfill their life’s dreams and goals.  Think of Alexander Povetkin listening to instructions, nodding his head, clearly aware of the progress he’s made over the year.  Think of Teddy Atlas.

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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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