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Articles of 2010

Yes, It Is Apples And Oranges…But Boxing Can Learn From Dana White

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Reason number one that I put up coverage of mixed martial arts, 99% from the UFC, is because I am a fan of fights. And I figure you guys are too, so even if it isnt your cup of tea, if the science involved is lost on you, or you have latent issues that pop up when you see two guys grappling, you give me a pass that MMA isnt boxing.

The second reason I cover MMA is because I like to compare and contrast the sport with boxing, particularly from a business-side perspective.

MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world, maybe the fastest-growing sport weve ever seen. The UFC is worth two billion dollars, is reaching its tentacles into China and India and twenty other nations, and when kids ponder signing up to learn a fighting art, boxing comes in a distant second, after MMA. The pipeline of fighters, in other words, is quite likely going to be strong for the next century. If you are a fightwriter, it does make sense to keep up with the Kardashians, rather than concentrating solely on Paris Hilton, whose star is dimming….

When comparing the two sports, it seems like they, and to a large extent I mean UFC boss Dana White when I say they, do so much right, and sometimes it seems like the major players in the boxing industry do so much wrong.

One of the things he does right is one of Whites traits I most enjoy—his candor.

Maybe its because his is basically the only game in town, because the UFC is the MLB, and everything else is the minors, so Whites power is so immense that he can act the way he wants to act, and doesnt have to fear repercussions. If one of the fights on a card stinks, White will say so. Even if the stinker is turned in by one of his top three attractions, as when Anderson Silva preened and postured and made something of a mockery of the sport at UFC 112, against Demian Maia in April. White ripped Silva a new orifice after that display, and threatened to cut the man. He didnt do so, and it seemed like the message got through to the Brazilian 185 pounder, the UFCs middleweight champ.

I spoke to White on Monday morning (see ESPN piece here: sports.espn.go.com/extra/mma/news/story) and he again mentioned the possibility of cutting a well known veteran, the former heavyweight champion Frank Mir, who, save for a last minute knee-from-hell which dropped foe Mirko Cro Cop, looked like he was getting in some work at the gym during the main event of UFC 119 in Indianapolis on saturday night.

Would he consider cutting Mir, I asked him?

Sure, he said, without a second of hesitation.

Not so in boxing. Imagine Bob Arum, Richard Schaefer or Don King being so disgusted after a poor PPV showing that they publicly threatened to dump the headliner. Now, before you jump in with a comment telling me that I am comparing apples and oranges, let me state that we are somewhat comparing apples and oranges. White and UFC are MMA, while boxing is comprised of a load of free agents, jockeying and shoving each other to gain better position. So if Schaefer told the media after Shane Mosleys last fight that he though SSM had seen better days, and a few days later Schaefer cut him loose, the day after, another promoter would take Shane on, because hes still bankable. Whites sole interest is the sport, because UFC is the sport. Because 95% of the top athletes in MMA are working for him, he can toss one overboard if hes not living up to expectations, and his bottom line wont tank.

Now, does anyone really believe that White would cut Silva, one of the five best mixed martial artists on the planet? Not really…But hes just enough of a loose cannon to do it, so Id bet Silva and his people took the threat seriously enough for it to sink in.

Some of you out there might be saying to yourself, Thats cold. These dudes put their lives on the line, and when they have an off night, their boss kicks them to the curb.

I put forth that line of thinking to White, and he blasted me.

If you stunk out the joint at your work, Woods, your boss wouldnt hesitate to toss you to the sharks, White pointed out.

True enough. But mine isnt a life or death position.

Neither is being a fighter in the UFC, White told me.

I was blown away by that stance, I admit. And then I thought about it, how many fatalities have we seen in UFC? Zero.

How many fatalities has the oil services industries suffered this year? OK, so the UFC is a smaller sample. But the athletes are living, for the most part, their dream and being compensated quite well.

Most of these guys have a better education than I do, Woodsy, White told me. These arent dummies. These arent guys from Mean Street, USA. Theyve chosen to be athletes. And theyre very well paid to do it. (White has drawn heat before for having a top heavy pay scale, but has righted that perception in recent years, for the most part, by pointing out that his lower card guys can hit a lotto ticket if they win Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night, or Submission of the Night honors. That will net a guy whos making $15,000 a cool $70,000. ) If you get canned, Woods, see how many guys on the Internet stick up for you.

Er, good point sir. I think Deepwater would toss a party, and put up a Woods pinata!

So, will White cut Frank Mir? I highly doubt it. But just the message alone should be enough. Im guessing the 31-year-old heavyweight, who owns more than solid jiu-jitsu and boxing skills, comes out like a first-timer wanting to impress the badass baldy from Boston in his next Octagon outing.

The way White has built the UFC empire has impressed the hell out of me, Im not afraid to admit. A while back, irked with another crap pay per view, featuring two faded veterans in a dreary waltz, I messaged White.

Would you ever come into boxing, and do your thing here? I asked him.

No way, he answered. Ive loved the sport, and I respect a lot of the guys, but its dead.

I didnt agree, and told him so. If Pacquiao and Mayweather were to ever fight, the gross will be immense, bigger than Latvias GDP. That aint dead. But that also aint a certainty. After Pacquiao and Mayweather, who is the third best pound for pounder on the planet? It may well be Paul Williams or Sergio Martinez, who glove up Nov. 20 in Atlantic City. Both those guys could get inserted in a police lineup, and make it through without being outed as a celeb.

Bottom line, Id like to see boxings bigs study the White playbook, and steal from his pages a bit more. The big boxing shows still sadly lack in oomph, in zest, in mood, compared to Whites shows. The boxing PPVs are still a hit and more often miss affairs, and fans and media are told that they are to be dining on Kobe beef, with stellar undercards, and then are fed sliders, with prospects put in against faded vets who peaked five or ten years before. What about some of those cash bonuses to charge up the boys? It takes money to make money, boxing brigade…

White isnt immune to falling into promoter-speak; he was a canny carny selling the James Toney debacle. But hell toss political correctness through a plate glass window, and speak up if he thinks a fighter got screwed by the judges, even if the fighter is one of his A gamers. Many dont care for his X-rated delivery, but all have to concede he just about always delivers the money shot for the fans, and hell spew one-tenth the color-by-numbers hype along the way.

Ok, so the way the sports are set up means boxing will have trouble employing many of Whites ways. But while just about everything he does builds his brand, builds up MMA, even if he risks a short term loss (remember when he tossed the potential next big thing Brock Lesnar in against the vaaastyly more experienced Mir in 2008, and Mir knee-barred the ex WWE stud?), too often it is every man for himself in boxing. Too many power players are looking to grow revenue, with the zeal and conscience of a Goldman Sachs trader, and they are letting the brand rust.

The message to the boxing powers that be: handle your business more like White, respect the brand as a whole more, cut down on the BS hype and speak from the heart and gut more, and offer us more pick em scraps. This sport aint dead, and it aint dying. But it is graying, and we can halt the process by borrowing from the guy who has built an immense empire in no time flat.

SPEEDBAG I wrote about my chat with White for ESPN, but only had limited space, so I wanted to delve into other stuff he touched on here, if you dont mind.

—While White had not much good to say about Frank Mir, he didnt grace his foe Mirko Cro Cop with another hole. Cro Cop took the fight late, after Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira pulled out with an injury, and then the Croatian was himself injured. His eye was poked in a sparring session and it was feared hed be scratched. But a doc cleared him, and he went on with the bout. I have a lot of respect for him, White said of the 36-year-old MMAer who once was known for his lethal kicking game. He showed up to fight, with a poked eye. Im sure it wasnt feeling great. But will we see him again in the UFC? I need to talk to Cro Cop.

—White told TSS that indeed Mir didnt quite realize how badly his fight came off, but was quickly clued in by ace matchmaker Joe Silva, who he is tight with.

—White was more than a bit miffed at the fan reaction to the show. The main event and the cruddy decision in the Sean Sherk-Evan Dunham bout may have kept people from soaking in the good stuff, like the superior batch of prelims, and the top drawer Sherk-Dunham tussle, he said. It pissed me off, the overall event was solid. There were great fights on that card.

—White thinks fans who Tweeted him that they thought Sherk won the bout should have their license to Tweet taken away.

–White was impressed, as where we all, except for maybe some members of Team Serra who say him getting lumped up by Chris Lytle right hands from the first round on, that Matt Serra chose to bang against banger Lytle, instead of deadening the pace with methodical jiu jitsu. Of course, he virtually ceded his chances of winning, but wanted to give the fans their moneys worth. I love and respect Matt Serra, White said.

—White said Dunhams stock rose in the loss. I told everyone, if he wins, everyone will know who he is Monday. I think he gained more fans with the BS loss. Fighting through a cut, check, a sickening slice, on his eye had everyone in Indiana bowing down to Dunham.

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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