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Articles of 2010

HOPKINS, PASCAL IN NYC: Age Doesn't Matter…Until It Does

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Age does not matter. Until one day it does.

For everyone.

That relentless takedown artist gets all of us. Not matter how much fish oil we take, how many wheatgrass shots we do, how much yoga we perform.

Whether by decision, or sudden calamitous KO. Age gets us all.

Even Bernard Hopkins, someday, will look his age. The future Hall of Famer, looking like he could step on a scale and make 175 for his December 18 date with WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal, sure as heck didnt look like an old guy, or even a slightly grizzled athlete, during a Wednesday press conference in New York City. At Planet Hollywood, BHop showed no grays, or slight paunch, as he told us that hed once again prove himself to be a new age old school master.

But someday, we all thought as we heard Hopkins, who turns 46 on January 10 promise to be unlike anything the 26 year old Pascal has seen, age will matter.

The mileage will finally burn out the engine, or at least, gum up the rotors enough that Pascal will have his hand raised in his home base, Quebec.

Of course, Hopkins poked some fun at himself as he told the media how he reacted when Team Pascal, coming off his minor shocker win against Chad Dawson, informed him that he was in their sights.

Boxing has been my life for 23 years as a pro, said the 51-5-1 hitter, who last saw action in a snoozer of a rematch with Roy Jones in April. When I saw Pascal fight Chad Dawson, I thought to myself Pascal is not the best guy in the Light Heavyweight division. I am. Then he called my name out as who he wants to fight. I grabbed my cane before I grabbed my teeth and got out of my chair and called Richard and Oscar to say Lets make this happen. Not only did Pascal say it, but he made it come to fruition. We made it come to fruition. That is why I have respect for him as a man.

Not so much respect that he didnt look to try and rent some space in the kids head. He told Pascal that he knock him out, because he didnt expect to get a fair nod from the Canuck judges, or, that maybe hed just keep him around and punish him.

Team Pascal didnt seem overwhelmed by the task. Promoter Yvon Michel told us that this event is an immense deal over there, on par with Moore-Durelle I, Ali-Chuvalo I and Leonard-Duran I. The event for us is at that level, he said. The promoter said his guy hadnt reached his potential, and hadnt yet gained proper recognition, as so many believe that Chad Dawson had an off night in their clash, and might have come on and downed Pascal if a head clash hadnt cut Dawson, whod been coming on in the 11th, and resulted in an early halt.

Showtimes Ken Hershman, and said he was proud to be able to present the fight on Showtime. The event had been slated for PPV, but Hershman came up with enough loot to lure it back to regular cable, and as fight fans, we should be happy for that move. Thanks, Ken.

He admitted that hell be happy when November is done, what with all the Super Six drama. Its been a rough ride, he admitted.

Oscar De La Hoya, in keeping with his more active role in his company, emceed the affair. he shared a funny anecdote. He said his uncle was at a gathering at his house, and informed him tat he was sorry, he knew Hopkins had kayoed Oscar, but that hed be rooting for him. Cause hes closer to my age, Oscars uncle said.

Hopkins trainer Naazim Richardson told us he thinks well see the best Pascal ever, but seemed to be baiting the kid into fighting an overly-aggressive fight. If he comes to fight Hopkins, it will be a great night, he said. He has to get his greatness from this man. If he just coasts and uses the home court advantage, Naazim said, the fans wont be happy.

Hopkins, of course, owned the room. This is one of the greatest motivations for me, he said. To be in this position all of these years. Many people here have been to a lot of my press conferences. This one is a little different. Why? Because of the situation I am in right now. This is a chance to make another chapter of my career come to fruition. I respect him, but I am going to beat him up. I have been a part of a lot of shenanigans so if I am talking a little nice, dont get it twisted.

Hopkins has a bone to pick with HBO, as he seems to be miffed they didnt pick up his rematch with Jones. (And in retrospect, that was the right call, wasnt it?) But one never really knows how much of his animus is legit, and how much is used to leverage negotiations, or to psych himself up…So he has much to prove against Pascal, and he told us that wed be unwise to pick against him because of his age.

I am old in age, but not old in wear and tear. If you think age defines whether I win or lose…youre a fool, he said. Because if you are younger, it doesnt mean you are smarter. It doesnt mean you are craftier. It means you are more accident prone than me if you are talking to the insurance company.

He said he will win the title, and that theyd fight a rematch, within 100-120 days, per the contract, with the next fight likely to take place in the US. If he makes one mistake, one, not two, its over.

You might not be the same after this, the wise master of headgames told Pascal, just as Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik havent been. There will be no guarantees that he will be the same guy he was prior to going into the ring.

Hopkins seems beyond pleased that hes seen as the underdog in this one. I know Im at my best, like I was against in Ecuador against Segundo Mercado December 1994-Draw), when I go up against the odds, that luxury of being the favorite. I dont want to be the favorite…I dont want to be the up. I function better, being in someone elses house knowing I have to be perfect that night.

Trainer Richardson told me as much when I asked him he had seen any physical slippage in Hopkins. That question will be answered this fight, he said. He explained that Hopkins just wanted to be busy when he fought Enrique Ornelas, and that Roy Jones just came in to not get knocked out. Hopkins will be as motivated as hes ever been on December 18th, the trainer said.

Promoter De La Hoya touched on the matter of deterioration. Id be worried if it was a different fighter than Hopkins, he told me. He doesnt drink, smoke, stay out late. You have to exclude the Roy Jones fight. Roy will make anyone look bad. You watch, he will shine. Because of styles makes fights.

Pascal showed a pleasant demeanor, and he doesnt seem like hes in over his head, psychologically. Bernard came into my country the last two days and he disrespected me in front of my people. I wont disrespect him in front of people in his country because my mom taught me to always respect my elders, he said, drawing chuckles in the room. He did his best to remind Hopkins of the age disparity. Bernard wants to be like me. This man says he has a 20-year-old body. I am going to show the world that he really has a 40-year-old body.

TSS Universe, I am fairly pumped about this one. Hopkins always lures me in with his pre-fight talk. No, my pulse doesnt spike when I watch his fights. Hes on the doddering side inside the ropes; but I will tune it to see if the young un can get er done, can finally convincingly impose his will on the wizened vet. Who do you see winning on December 18th? Will age finally matter? Will the calendar matter? Will Pascals work rate stay high and steady, or will he get lured into a medium paced scrap? On December 18th, will Bernard Hopkins finally join the rest of us older farts, and show his age?

SPEEDBAG Brooklyns Paulie Malignaggi chomped on a wrap before the PC started. You allowed to be eating Paulie? I asked him. Im a welterweight, I can eat now, he said, with a grin. Hey, if you become a sportswriter, you can eat all you want, bro. Course, youll make chicken feed. Yup, and you cant beat the buzz you get from the crowd, either, he answered.

–Hopkins has a bone to pick with HBO, as he seems to be miffed they didnt pick up his rematch with Jones. (But in retrospect, that was the right call, wasnt it?) But one never really knows how much of his animus is legit, and how much is used to leverage negotiations, or to psych himself up.. Showtime..is on (HBOs) the tail, very, very fast, he told us in a roundtable. He busted on HBO semi-obliquely, saying, They say some fighters should retire, cause they dont have it no more. What about some so called businessmen who should retire because they aint pulling the trigger like they used to. If Im old and slipping, you got to look at others who wear suits or dont wear suits who are slipping cause their judgement is off. Like who? I asked. None of your business, Hopkins said with a tiny gleam in his eye. Use your imagination, like you always do. At the end of the day they blew another one, they blew history. You can never repeat it, thats why its called history. Good stuff, even if he seemingly called me a fantasist. We will miss him when hes gone.

—Oscar made a plea for all the promoters to bury their differences, instead of knives in each others backs, so the best matches can be made. He told me that hed rather see fights on regular cable than on pay per view, and tipped his hat to Hershman for making this one happen. He made sure to mention that he likes long term relationships, with the fans, and with Showtime, because that grows the sport. Boxing is still an untapped market, he said. Its better to have the fight on a Showtime than on pay per view. If were leaving money on the table, so be it. Lets make the fights happen, lets forget about the pie, who gets what. Lets make sure the fighters get most of the money, then we get our own pieces. We have to make these big fights happen.

–Oscar said hed love to see Pacquiao fight Shane Mosley next year. Top Rank can pick up the phone and make the call, he said. Manny Pacquiao is his own boss, he has to give the order to his promoter.

—Oscar said hell be surprised if Margarito is competitive against Pacquaio on November 13. Footwork and speed will be the difference, he said.

–He touched on his takeover Q n A from last month as well, saying theres room enough for other promoters, but that Golden Boy has the edge, because they are transparent, and honest, and work to pay the fighters the lions share. We want to put fights on Showtime and HBO and forget pay per view, he said. We have a lot of things to offer a free agent fighter. Pick up the phone, he said, and jokingly offered his Twitter feed for interested parties.

–Chatted before with some major league minds who wont be named. We talked Tarver, and what he should do next. Most seemed to agree hed be wise to go for the title shot ASAP, as his body is likely to break down. But these power players dont give him a shot against the Ks, Haye, or even Adamek. We all agreed that it is surprising how people love to talk heavyweights, even when the division is stuck in a swamp.

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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