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Articles of 2010

THE KIMBALL CHRONICLES: Celebrating Johnson-Jeffries In Reno

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RENO, Nev. — It isn’t every day Joey Gilbert’s name is uttered In the same breath as Jack Johnson’s.

Apart from the fact that they both wore boxing gloves in Reno, the onetime Contenderboy and history’s first African American heavyweight champion have at least one other thing in common: Both ran afoul of the authorities, resulting in prolonged absences from the ring.

After consolidating his grasp on the heavyweight championship by knocking out undefeated former champion Jim Jeffries (who had emerged from retirement “for the sole purpose of proving that the white man is better than the negro) exactly 100 years ago, Johnson was indicted under the Mann Act, hounded out of the country. He spent the better part of a decade in exile in France before returning to surrender to United States officials. His next several fights took place behind the walls of the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth.

In the case of Gilbert, who as an amateur boxed for the University of Nevada, a positive drug test following his first-round TKO of Charlie Howe in 2007 led to his own involuntary 13-month hiatus from the ring. Since resuming his boxing career late in 2008, the popular Reno attorney has picked up pretty much where he’d left off, beating all his non-Contender opposition while losing to Jesse Brinkley. (His only previous career loss had been a technical decision to Peter Manfredo Jr. back in 2004, or Season I.)

Fighting for the first time as a full-fledged light heavyweight, Gilbert pounded out a unanimous decision over rugged Californian Billy Bailey, much to the delight of his hometown crowd at the Grand Sierra Theatre. The win was Gilbert’s third straight since he was thoroughly outpointed by Brinkley, and while it was a facile and workmanlike performance, the win didn’t come without its price, as the 34 year-old Gilbert finished the bout with blood gushing from a cut above his right eye, the result of an apparent head-butt.

* * *

That the six-bout card — televised by Fox SportsNet and Fox Espanol and co-promoted by Top Rank and Terry and Tommy Lane’s Let’s Get It On Boxing — was held in conjunction with Reno’s weekend-long Johnson-Jeffries Centennial celebration was apparently a matter of confusion to some locals: The listing in widely-distributed entertainment rag suggested that Johnson and Jeffries themselves would be fighting at the Grand Sierra Saturday night. Whether any disappointed patrons demanded refunds when L’il Artha failed to materialize remains to be learned.

The Johnson-Jeffries festivities had officially gotten underway on Friday evening with a catered reception co-hosted by broadcasters Al Bernstein and Rich Marotta. Four of Johnson’s descendants, along with Jeffries’ grand-nephew and Joe Halprin, Tex Rickard’s grandson, had all flown to Reno for the celebration, and were introduced to the celebrity-studded audience. Wayne Rozen, the author of the just-published “America on the Ropes, delivered an illustrated lecture on the Fight of the Century.

* * *

Bailey, Gilbert’s 32 year-old opponent from Bakersfield, is one of those rugged Opponents who can be counted upon to fight in a single gear all night long. Gilbert seemed content to do what he does best, staying on his toes and out of harm’s way, landing combinations from long range.

Although the tactic served him well, it was not without its inherent dangers, for the more Bailey wearied, the lower his head got, and from the midpoint on he seemed to be fairly flinging himself headlong at Gilbert.

Not for nothing is Bailey nicknamed “The Billy Goat. The inevitable collision of heads came late in the seventh, when, recalled Gilbert, “he butted me – hard. The rush of blood did not come immediately, nor did referee Kenny Bayless rule the wound the result of a butt. (“I didn’t see any obvious collision of heads, said Bayless, which is quite different from maintaining that the damage was done by a punch.)

“Trust me, it’s hard to fight a guy when he doesn’t know what he’s going to next, sighed Gilbert.

By the final round the blood was freely pulsating from the cut, and ran down Gilbert’s cheek. Not that Bailey could do much about it, but had the cut come a few rounds earlier and not been acknowledged as the result of a butt, it could have been quite troublesome.

Paul Smith awarded Gilbert a shutout with an 80-72 scorecard, while Duane Ford and Dave Moretti had it 79-73, as did TSS. Gilbert improved his record to 20-2 with his light-heavyweight debut, while Bailey (10-9), outpointed by Mark Tucker on the Andre Ward-Allan Green card in Oakland two weeks earlier, lost his fourth straight and for the sixth time in seven outings. (Significantly, the Billy Goat lasted the distance in every one of those half-dozen losses.)

* * *

Among the boxing fans flocking to Reno for the Johnson-Jeffries weekend was Glenn Wilson, a 40 year-old Englishman from Maidstone in Kent who has spent much of 2010 traversing the country visiting everything from Johnson’s and Jeffries’ gravesites and training camps to the site of Jack Johnson’s famed Chicago nightclub, the Café de Champion, which was razed by the authorities not long after the boxer had been indicted.

You wouldn’t exactly describe Wilson as obsessed on the subject of the 1910 fight, but the depth of his commitment is indicated by the large rendering of Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries, locked in combat a hundred years ago, conspicuously tattooed on his left shoulder. Even Li’l Artha’s descendants were impressed.

“Imagine, said Connie Hines, “he could have had Muhammad Ali or Joe Louis or Sugar Ray Leonard on there, but he doesn’t. He’s gonna have Jack Johnson tattooed on him for the rest of his life.

Kinda makes you want to go out and get your own Johnson-Jeffries tat, doesn’t it?

* * *

The call to arms for the featured bout on the Fox telecast was sounded on the actual bell used for the Johnson-Jeffries fight, although the historical significance may have been lost on the competitors, former IBF light-flyweight champion Ulises (Archie) Solis, of the Guadalajara Solises, and his well-traveled 33 year-old Mexico City opponent, Eric Ortiz.

The bout was a rematch of a 2006 south-of-the-border meeting, fought at 108 pounds, in which Solis stopped Ortiz in nine. Four years and five pounds later, the ninth did not pass without incident.

Early in the stanza Solis, already well in control of the bout but having been twice earlier warned for the same infraction, pushed Ortiz to the canvas, drawing a one-point penalty from referee Jay Nady. Solis evened the ledger for the deduction before the round was out, catching Ortiz with a good left-right combination that buckled his legs. Although Ortiz’ knee barely grazed the canvas after the flash knockdown, Nady properly administered a count, and when another perfect one-two combo dropped Ortiz again in the tenth, the rout was on.

Eric Cheeks scored the fight 99-88, Burt Clements and Herb Santos 99-98, for Solis (31-2), who won his third straight since last year’s loss to Brian Viloria in Manila. Ortiz’ record is now 32-11-3.

* * *

The boxing card capped off a full day of Saturday activities, which began with a pair of Johnson-Jeffries-themed lectures (including my own) at the Bethel African American Center in downtown Reno, segued from there to Bernstein’s “Live Boxing Party back at the Grand Sierra’s sports bar, shifted from there to an “Authors’ Hour and book-signing before the company moved along, more or less en masse, to the Grand Sierra Theatre for the six-bout card.

Hovering over the entire proceeding was the pink elephant in the room – the ongoing issue of a posthumous pardon for Jack Johnson. There was a brisk business in T-shirts depicting Johnson in fighting mode with the legend “Pardon Me underneath, and Bernstein revealed that in an optimistic communiqué to the Brothers Lane, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Rep. Peter King (who co-authored last year’s joint resolution, passed by both houses of Congress) confirmed that following talks with the Justice Department, a newly-tweaked version of the Jack Johnson pardon resolution now sat on President Obama’s desk, awaiting only his signature.

Even the dramatis personae of Saturday night’s fight card weighed in on the pardon issue: “Jack Johnson should be pardoned, said Joey Gilbert. “Not because he was the first black heavyweight champion and Obama is the first black president, but because it’s the right thing to do!

* * *

In an international bout carried on the Fox telecast, Filipino welterweight Mark Melligan dominated Anges Adjaho to advance his record to 19-2. Adjaho (17-3) might be the best fighter ever to come out of the tiny African nation of Benin, but he hadn’t fought in nearly a year (since being stopped by Antonio DeMarco in Florida last July), and once again seemed to have his problems with southpaw opposition. Pat Schellin scored the fight 99-91, Moretti 98-92, and Clements 97-93.

In an earlier bout, Francisco Vargas (2-0), a 130-pounder from Sonora who represented Mexico in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, had opened the show by posting a unanimous decision over Juan Sandoval (1-4) of San Bernardino, Calif. Santos scored it 40-35, while colleagues Cheeks and Shellin scored the knockdown-less bout a more conventional 40-36.

Reno super-middleweight Carlos Gaytan scored his second KO in as many pro bouts, sending Las Vegas substitute Alex Rivera down for the count with a barrage of second-round punches. Bayless counted Rivera (2-2) out at 1:33 of the round.

John Figueroa had initially been slated to fight Lonnie Smith on the undercard, and when Smith withdrew, the Puerto Rican junior welter was rewarded when his place on the card was preserved, with Smith’s most recent victim, Californian Kadaphi Proctor, assuming the opponent’s role in what proved to be the evening’s walk-out bout. Proctor, now 5-5-1, wound up winning a split decision, handily prevailing on the cards of Clemens (60-54) and Shellin (50-55), while Ford (58-56) favored Figueroa, who is now 7-6-3.

* * *

The Centennial Celebration was set to conclude on Sunday with a ceremonial bell-ringing at the actual site of the 1910 Johnson-Jeffries fight. (The stadium, erected in ten days, was so quickly assembled and torn down again that it never had a name, and when preparations for centenary began, no one, including Nevada state archivists, had the vaguest idea where the actual ring might have stood.)

It seems doubtful that anyone will announce “This is the bell they used to start the Solis-Ortiz fight last night.

* * *
XTREME FIGHTS V
Grand Sierra Resort
Reno, Nevada
July 3, 2010

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS: Joey Gilbert, 172, Reno, Nev. dec. Billy Bailey, 173, Bakersfield, Cal. (8)

SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHTS: Carlos Gaytan, 169, Reno KO’d Alex Rivera, 168, Redondo Beach, Calif. (2)

WELTERWEIGHTS: Mark Melligan, 147, Cebu City, Philippines dec. Anges Adjaho, 146 ½, Cotonou, Benin (10)

JUNIOR WELTERS: John Figueroa, 137, Salinas, Puerto Rico xxx Khadaphi Proctor, 138, Hesperia, Calif. ()

LIGHTWEIGHTS: Francisco Vargas, 130, Sonora, Mexico dec. Juan Sandoval, 132, San Bernardino, Calif. (4)

JUNIOR BANTAMWEIGHTS: Ulises Solis, 113, Guadalajara, Mexico dec. Eric Ortiz, 113 ½, Mexico City ()

Articles of 2010

Judah To Fight Mbuza March 5 In NJ

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles of 2010

UFC 125 Preview: Frankie Edgar Vs. Gray Maynard

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UFC_Edgar_and_Maynard_Dec._2010
Few predicted Frankie Edgar would grab the UFC lightweight championship last year but he did. Most felt he would eventually win it but Edgar not only took the title, he beat one of the best mixed martial artists in history to do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edgar versus Maynard should be a good one.

Other bouts:

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles of 2010

Borges Looks Back, And Forward With Hope

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PacquiaoClottey_Booth_6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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