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Articles of 2010

THE KIMBALL CHRONICLES: Schadenfreude In St. Louis

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ST. LOUIS ?For public consumption, they wish each other well, although, since they no longer speak to one another they must rely on intermediaries to deliver even that message, and when Cory Spinks defends his WBA junior middleweight title against Cornelius (K-9) Bundrage at the Scottrade Center Saturday night, the odds are that Kevin Cunningham won?t see a minute of it. He?ll be wrapping the hands of Devon Alexander and otherwise preparing the WBC/IBF 140 pound champion for his HBO main event against Ukrainian Andriy Kotelnik.

Although Cunningham grew up in St. Louis, a city not without its Germanic influences, the word Schadenfreude is not part of his everyday vocabulary. Revenge, though, is a dish best served cold, and the onetime St. Louis narcotics squad detective wouldn?t be human if he didn?t find a certain poetic justice in the role reversal implicit in the card Don King is billing as ?Gateway to Greatness.?

From the moment a visitor steps off a plane at Lambert Field he is greeted by billboards, prominently featuring Alexander in fighting mode. Spinks? name is nowhere to be seen on the oversized fight posters. HBO viewers probably won?t even be aware that he is on the card at all: There are three world title fights on the ?Gateway? show, but only two of them ? Alexander-Kotelnik and Tavoris Cloud?s IBF light-heavyweight title defense against the ageless Jamaican, Glencoffe Johnson ? will be carried on the Boxing After Dark telecast, consigning Spinks-Bundrage to some black hole in the boxing universe.

The worst part of this perceived slight for Spinks ? and, one suspects, the best part of it for Cunningham ? is that even in St. Louis, nobody seems to care.

Less than three years ago Cory Spinks was still the veritable face of St. Louis boxing, a present, former, and future world champion and the heir to a familial legacy. Put his name up in lights and half the ?hood in The Lou would come out to watch him fight, and if you harbored any doubts about how good he was, all you had to do was ask him.

But it all unraveled pretty quickly. It wasn?t just the losses ? they all lose, and sometimes they come back stronger. It was that on two separate occasions Spinks lost title fights in St. Louis, in events King had orchestrated as triumphant homecomings. As humiliating as those losses might have been to his fans, Spinks compounded the insult by implicitly throwing the blame on Cunningham when he dumped the guy everybody in St. Louis knew had gotten him there in the first place.

The harsh reality became apparent earlier this year when Spinks signed for his mandatory defense against Bundrage. After two earlier delays, King announced it as the main event of a June 12 card at the 10,000-seat Chaifetz Arena on the St. Louis University campus. On paper it loomed a decent fight, and how much marketing mileage King could have gotten out of the marquee matchup of cornermen (Buddy McGirt vs. Emanuel Steward) we?ll never know. It is true that the boxing show faced some unforeseen competition from Super Jam 3, a hip-hop festival staged by a local radio station the same weekend, but for King it was an even more sobering discovery to learn that in 2010 he couldn?t give away tickets to a Cory Spinks fight in St. Louis. The show was ?postponed. Three weeks ago, mainly to get the IBF mandatory out of the way (but also to keep DK?s grasp on the title), Spinks-Bundrage was quietly added, as an off-TV fight, to the Alexander-Kotelnik bill.

The provenance of Cunningham?s association with Alexander goes back as far to the trainer?s early days with Spinks. Alexander was 7 years old and one of 30 youngsters from the Hyde Park ghetto when Cunningham first took him under his wing. Three years later, 10 year old Devon Alexander was one of three kids from the St. Louis club to win a title in the National Silver Gloves tournament. Cunningham still has a clipping of the photograph of Alexander, Quintin Gray, and Willie Ross that ran in the St. Louis American 13 years ago:

?Of those three kids, only Devon is still boxing; he became a world champion. Willie is dead. Quinton is doing a life sentence for murder.?

Spinks makes it a point to refer to Alexander his ?little brother? and said he was looking forward to getting his own fight out of the way Saturday night so he could watch his onetime prot?g? in his moment of glory, but as one longtime observer of the St. Louis fight scene noted, ?it?s got to be grating to Spinks to be fighting on Alexander?s undercard. It used to be that Devon fought on his.?

Alexander was 17 years old when he first performed at the Scottrade (nee Savvis) Center. Alexander?s third pro fight took place on the undercard of then-stablemate Spinks? welterweight title defense against Zab Judah. Devon, who unanimously outpointed Donovan Castaneda, fared better than did Cory, who was stopped in the ninth. A year later, the night Spinks won a majority decision over Roman Karmazin at the Savvis to lift the IBF 154-pound title from the Russian, Alexander barely broke a sweat, scoring a first-round knockout of Tyler Ziolkowski on the undercard.

Cunningham had been with Spinks since Cory was a 16 year-old amateur, but a few months after his unsuccessful 2007 challenge to Jermain Taylor in Memphis, Spinks sent the trainer packing. It was a move so craven that it even pissed off his old friends from the ?hood ? and these are guys who normally hate cops.

A veteran local named Buddy Shaw was in charge of the Spinks corner the night Cory lost to 39 year-old Verno Phillips. Alexander ? and Cunningham ? fared better. Devon fought Panamanian Miguel Callist, winning all 12 rounds on all three scorecards at the Scottrade.

And when Spinks claimed his current title in April of 2009, eking out a split decision over Deandre Lattimore to win the once-again vacant IBF belt, Alexander and Cunningham once again played a supporting role. Alexander knocked out Jesus Rodriguez in the ninth round.

Which is not to suggest that Alexander?s apprenticeship consisted of serving as Cory Spinks? caddie. Almost as if he were grooming him for greatness, Don King had been widening his exposure by putting him on highly visible shows almost from the outset of his career. Well before he fought for a title of his own, we?d already seen Alexander in several far-flung venues: Three years ago we were there to see him knock out Maximino Cuevas on the Samuel Peter-James Toney undercard in Florida and Marcus Luck on the Joachim Alcine-Travis Simms bill in Connecticut. He began 2008 by beating Chop Chop Corley on the Roy Jones-Felix Trinidad card at the Garden and ended it by TKO?ing Christopher Fernandez on the Tomas Adamek-Steve Cunningham show in Newark.Only in America:

The original idea was that Devon Alexander and Don King were going to visit the Rams on Monday, but that was before Dick Vermeil decided to stop by. Given his choice of motivational speakers between the last St. Louis coach to win a Super Bowl and 23 year-old boxer, Ram?s coach Steve Spagnuolo opted for the former, so the trip to Earth City was rescheduled for Tuesday.

That was probably OK with Devon, who had to be a bit worn out from all the glad-handing at the civic reception they arranged in his honor Sunday night. Besides the politicians (Sen. Claire McCaskill; St. Louis Board of Aldermen chairman Lewis Reed), the musicians (Chuck Berry; rapper Yung Ro), the Entertainer (as in Cedric The), there were a couple thousand St. Louis citizens, and King was sort of hoping that a few of them might even be so inspired by the experience that they might even buy tickets to Saturday night?s card at the Scottrade Center.

Spagnuolo had scheduled a knock-down, drag-out, full-contact intramural scrimmage for 6:30 Saturday evening. Given the fever pitch these things reach before concluding, the last thing the first-year coach wanted to risk was having a large posse of his offensive players running into a platoon from the defense, bent on vengeance, in some Missouri watering hole later on that night, so as soon as the final whistle blows on the scrimmage, Spagnuolo will hustle his charges straight out of the shower and onto buses waiting to transport them to the Scottrade Center. King will provide the buses and tickets. Spagnuolo will provide a hundred or so large bodies to fill out the HBO camera angles.

And who knows? If the Rams play their cards right, Cory vs. K-9 might even be over by the time they get there.

That bit of business having been concluded, Alexander made his address to the troops short and sweet.

?I just broke camp,? he reminded the hulking football players, while just behind him King cackled and waved a fistful of miniature flags. ?You guys have just started.?

DK and Devon presented Spagnuolo with a signed boxing glove. Alexander promised the assembled players he would retain his unified titles Saturday night ? ?and the Rams will soon be headed back to he Super Bowl!?

When pigs fly.***

The entire buildup to the ?Gateway to Greatness ? card has made it clear that this is Devon Alexander?s night. Two nights before the fight, the Midwestern affiliate of FoxSportsNet aired a half-hour documentary entitled Gateway to Greatness: The Devon Alexander Story. Whether Kotelnik was watching and what he thought of all this remains unlearned, but if nothing else Andriy is accustomed to fighting in the face of hometown hype. Remember, just 13 months ago Kotelnik was fighting Amir Khan in Manchester.

In addition to the aforementioned events at City Hall and Rams Park, the 140-pound champion threw out the first pitch before the Cardinals? game against the Astros at Busch Stadium Wednesday night.

To fully appreciate the significance of this, two things should be remembered. One is that at the height of his own popularity, Spinks and his posse used to walk around dressed up like a Cardinals? fan club. Now the ?little brother? even appears to have co-opted Cory?s baseball allegiance.

It should also be noted that when Cunningham shouted across the ring and ordered Devon ?Throw the uppercut!? in the eighth round of the unification fight against Juan Urango at the Mohegan Sun back in March, he did so from beneath a red Cardinals? cap.Devon donned his own Cardinals cap about three seconds after Benjy Estevez rescued Urango, and was wearing it when he was interviewed by Max Kellerman. In the television booth at Busch Stadium Wednesday night, Alexander was interviewed by Al Hrabosky.His body language suggested that Devon considered the Mad Hungarian an upgrade from Max, but hey, that?s the way things are in The Lou.

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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