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Articles of 2010

Trying To Make Sense Of The Muddled Showtime SUPER SIX Tourney

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Nearly a month has passed since an injury to Mikkel Kessler knocked the Danish super-middleweight out of a fight against Allen Green that would have taken place this Saturday night and into retirement, leaving Showtime’s World Boxing Classic in a state of disarray that was further exacerbated by subsequent events.

Less than five weeks ago Showtime viewers could anticipate watching three Super Six bouts in the space of eight days. In fact, none of the three took place. In the time since Kessler fell out, (a) an injury to Carl Froch torpedoed his fight against Arthur Abraham that would have taken place in Monte Carlo next weekend, and (b) the Andre Ward-Andre Dirrell scheduled for this Saturday did not happen. And, oh, yes, (c) the WBC declared Kessler “champion emeritus.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we’ll accept that Froch’s injury is genuine, but you’d have to say that Showtime didn’t come off looking particularly good in the process. Last week a Showtime channel was still airing a “Fight Camp promo from which a casual channel-surfer could easily have concluded that all three fights were still on for Sept. 25 and Oct 2.

Showtime’s announcement on Friday officially confirmed the delay, but since everybody in boxing has known for at least a month that there was no way the reluctant Andres were going to fight each other this weekend, Showtime, by going right down to the wire still clinging to the pretense that the fight was still on, created the impression that the inmates were running the asylum.

Which, in a sense, they were.

The day after the Kessler-Green fight blew up, we noted in this space that it might have been a blessing in disguise, in that it provided Showtime an opportunity for a mid-course correction. And we also noted that, if the initial goal of the preliminary stages was to identify the top four 168-pounders for the semifinal round, that had already been accomplished. The wheat had successfully been separated from the chaff, and simple logic called for going straight to the semis.

As it turned out, this pretty much mirrored Showtime’s thinking, and to their credit, they tried to do the right thing. Going straight to a four-man knockout round with Ward, Dirrell, Abraham, and Froch would have been the best solution from Showtime’s standpoint, since it would have restored a vitality to the battered tournament. It would have been the right thing to do for the fans and it would have been the right thing to do for boxing, but given a choice between the welfare of the sport and their own economic self-interest, boxing promoters are guaranteed to opt for the latter every time.

Remarkably, the most strident opposition to the four-man format didn’t come from the guy who would have been the odd man out. Cognizant of its sticky contractual situation, Showtime was apparently prepared to throw Green, and his promoter Lou DiBella, a bone. (Green, who has had trouble making 168, might have been offered a Showtime date against a credible but beatable light-heavy, with perhaps the added inducement of a shot at one of the 175-pound titles if he won.)

Rather, the guys who were kicking and screaming about the proposed reconfiguration of the format were the promoters of the very four boxers who would have comprised the field.

The situation was (and is) this: Under the terms of the agreement everyone signed when the tournament was conceived, each participant was guaranteed a certain number of bouts going in. The minimum guarantees in each instance were well over a million dollars per fight, and in some cases more. And while there is a manifold increase in the purse sizes in the semifinal and final rounds, from the standpoint of the respective promoters, the notion of abandoning the group stage, which would have entailed passing up an extra chance to dip into their fighters’ purses for their own end of the proceedings, was like being asked to create a bonfire of more than a thousand hundred-dollar bills.

Ward, for instance, as the present leader in the point totals, is on the books for two more fights no matter what. He could lose to Dirrell and still be assured of making the semis. There’s no way Dan Goossen was going to sit still for a streamlined format that would have taken a payday off the table to put his guy in a situation where it could have been one-and-done, and to one degree or another the other promoters (Gary Shaw, Mick Hennessey, and Herr Sauerland) were equally reluctant to pass on the extra payday.

So even though Showtime’s Ken Hershman earnestly tried to pursue a course that would have been preferable to everyone save Mssrs. Goossen, Shaw, Hennessey, and Sauerland, his hands were tied because he was effectively stuck with the monster he had created in the lab.

“Injuries and delays are inevitable, Hershman seemed to be sighing in announcing the new dates, throwing in the towel on the idea of reducing the tournament to a four-man field.

What we’re left with instead is the lineup announced on Friday. Ward-Dirrell (at a U.S. venue) and Abraham-Froch (probably in the boxing hotbed of Helsinki, Finland) will now comprise two halves of a split-feed doubleheader telecast on the evening of November 27.

Friday’s announcement also included a cryptic but telling notation that “a decision on Green’s Stage 3 bout is expected in the coming days.

From this two things can be inferred. One is that the network is committed to solidering on with a six-man field. The other is that since Green-TBA isn’t exactly must-see TV, it will probably be slotted in as the co-feature of an extant Showtime telecast, possibly the Nov. 6 Juan Manuel Lopez-Rafael Marquez card at the MGM grand.

Since it’s Showtime’s money, could the network have flexed more muscle instead of being held hostage by the promoters and letting the tail wag the dog?

Possibly, but the one persuasive weapon Showtime had at its disposal was one it seems to have been extremely reluctant to use. A couple of weeks ago the network’s attorneys filed papers putting Ward, Dirrell, and their promoters on notice that they would be in breach of contract if Saturday night’s fight failed to take place. Once it didn’t, Showtime could have sued the balls off Goossen and Shaw, and probably won, but that course of action would pretty much have meant the end of the tournament in any guise.

What happens now is the Super Six reverts to its original format, with yet another replacement super-middle disinterred to take Kessler’s place. Since the lucky substitute will inherit Kessler’s bout schedule but not his point total, he will start off in a deep hole – though not as deep as you might suspect.

So as of this morning the standings look like this:

Ward (2-0) 4 points
Abraham (1-1) 3 points
Froch (1-1) 2 points
Dirrell (1-1) 2 points
Green (0-1) 0 points
Mystery Man (0-0) 0 points

Logically, the sixth man will almost certainly have to be a European to maintain the 3-3 balance of power. The fact that both would bring a world title to the mix would argue for Robert Stieglitz and Dimitri Sartison. Steiglitz (38-2) of Germany is the WBO champion. (Before assuming his current name, Steiglitz was previously Sergey Shtikhlits of Yeysk, Russia. The anticipation of hearing Antonio Tarver pronounce that name is in itself reason to hope he gets the nod.)

Another German-based super-middle, the Kazakhstani-born Sartison, is the WBA “world champion. (And you thought that was Ward? Hah! He’s the WBA super super-middleweight champion.)

Two other possibilities are a pair of Irish southpaws from different sides of the border, Andy Lee (Limerick) and Brian Magee (Belfast).

In theory Lee ( 23-1) is a middleweight, but in fact he has technically been a super-middle for each of the eight fights he has had since his 2008 loss to Brian Vera, and three years ago he won the Irish super-middleweight title with a stoppage of Jason McKay. That he is probably the best known of the bunch to American audiences argues in his favor, but he’s still only 26 and progressing, and jumping into this company would represent a big step up. It’s unclear that manager Emanuel Steward would willingly throw him into the deep end at this stage, but for a million dollars, who knows? (Another potential complication could be how HBO might view watching one of its announcers working a corner in a Showtime tournament.)

Ranked No. 1 by the WBA, Magee defended his European super-middle title on a Brian Peters card in Dublin two weeks ago when Germany-based Armenian Roman Aramian failed to answer the bell for the ninth. Magee is 34-3-1, and hasn’t lost in more than four years. (On that occasion, he was life-and-death with Froch before he was stopped in the 11th round of their British title fight.)

While the addition of a sixth man will obviously add no wheat and more chaff to the mix, in playing the hand it was dealt Showtime can probably find a silver lining – particularly if the newest entry assumes Kessler’s schedule of fights. Under normal circumstances Green against any of the above might barely qualify as a good ShoBox bout, but in the bigger picture of the World Boxing Classic, it offers some interesting marketing possibilities: Somebody is going to win the fight and pick up two, and possibly three points – and the Nov. 27 losers won’t get any. So despite having started with an almost insurmountable position in the standings, right now the also-rans are one lucky punch away from a spot in the semis.

Or, as Hershman said, somewhat bravely, “I couldn’t have scripted it any better.

Articles of 2010

Judah To Fight Mbuza March 5 In NJ

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles of 2010

UFC 125 Preview: Frankie Edgar Vs. Gray Maynard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edgar versus Maynard should be a good one.

Other bouts:

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles of 2010

Borges Looks Back, And Forward With Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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