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Articles of 2010

The Boxing Marvel Speaks to Maravilla

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“I have always found that no opponent is very dangerous if you can keep a left hand sticking in his face, get in and get out, and prevent him from getting set for a punch.

~ Jack Britton, 1923

History is as circular as a boxing ring is square.

Imagine a master-boxer known for his matinee-idol appearance, great legs, and a crowd-pleasing willingness to mix it up. Legions of Spanish-speaking fans north and south of the border would picture “Maravilla, Sergio Gabriel Martinez. The English translation of “Maravilla is “the Marvel –and the description could just as well conjure up memories of the “Boxing Marvel Jack Britton. Britton, any boxing historian would tell you, was a World Welterweight Champion who fought at least 344 times between 1904 and 1930.

The thirty-five-year-old Martinez is a former Argentina Welterweight Champion scheduled to face Paul “The Punisher Williams in New Jersey on November 20th in a contest that the odds makers are calling even-money.

Ninety years ago Britton was also thirty-five and fighting in New Jersey:

FAMILIAR SPIRIT
Celebrated by Jim Jab of the Pittsburgh Press as the “master mechanic of mittdom and the “monarch of maul, Britton faced a man who “towered over him in everything but boxing skill. Despite his age, Britton still managed to “outfeint, outfoot, and outwit his opponent. “The crowd that jammed the big Jersey armory, the Associated Press reported,

…saw Britton give a masterly exhibition of the manly art. Fast with both hands and feet, Jack outfought Mike [O’Dowd] in all but the third and the seventh rounds. Both at the long range and the infighting, the middleweight found the welterweight too much for him. Even when Britton threw boxing to the winds and stood toe to toe with O’Dowd and swapped wallops, Jack seldom came out second best.

Britton’s winging hooks staggered his opponent, and the rare rounds he lost seemed to be times he was resting. When his opponent crowded him, Britton would dazzle the crowd with the skills that earned him his nickname: He’d pick his shots and counter inside. He’d lie back patiently and then explode with combinations to the body and head. Frustrated, his opponent would punch more and connect less while Britton evaded the shots with such mastery that the crowd would break into spontaneous applause. A writer for the New York Times thought that O’Dowd’s frantic punch rate was carrying the fight until his eyes refocused on Britton, who casually “sidestepped, backed away, ducked and dodged the shower of blows.

No accomplishment in his long career gave Britton more pride than his ability to handle Mike O’Dowd four out of five times. Like Paul Williams today, O’Dowd was routinely avoided back then, but Britton figured that “anyone fast enough to keep him on the move could beat him.

It was his legs. He was known for his legs –even at thirty-five. His trainer Dai Dollings was a New York City transplant who trained marathon runners in Wales. Sergio Martinez is a former professional soccer player and cyclist, and he too is known for his legs –even at thirty-five.

Britton proved to be a brilliant student of styles. And well he should have; his trainer taught the great Ray Arcel how to deconstruct boxers and exploit their every move. “Dollings was a smart trainer, Arcel recalled, “he was a fella who’d study the styles of the different boxers. And of course when I started with him, that was the one thing he inspired me with –everyone’s style is different, so you must understand the different styles of your opponents. And we used to make a great study, watching these fellas work.

Britton’s long apprenticeship and boxing brain saw him defeat a parade of great fighters and suffer only one knockout when he was still a teenager. It paid off in other ways too. He became as good, the Providence News proclaimed in 1923, as Gentleman Jim Corbett was bad at predicting fights. Britton not only anticipated outcomes, he explained why with an expert’s eye. When the World Featherweight Champion Johnny Kilbane met the French contender Eugene Criqui, Britton stood virtually alone and predicted an upset by knockout. The chuckles in the press section were silenced at one minute and fifty-four seconds of the sixth round. World Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey was still considered a man-killer that year, and it was a sure thing that he would knock out light heavyweight Tommy Gibbons. Britton predicted that Gibbons’ chin would hold up and see him last the distance but lose a decision. He was right. Criqui made his first defense against Johnny Dundee a few weeks after that. Britton said that Dundee didn’t have the punch to stop Criqui but that he would win by decision. He turned out to be right again.

Britton would have much to say to his modern mirror image about how to defeat a bigger, younger, and constantly-punching opponent.

Martinez gives up four inches in height and six inches in reach in his upcoming title defense. Williams can sling shots that land from the third row. His stamina pushes the outer limits of human performance and his shots come flying like dishes thrown by poltergeists. Then there’s his chin. “You know them fighters with long necks and them long, pointy chins, Charlie Goldman once quipped, “they cost you more for smelling salts than they do for food. Williams has proven to be a rebuke to that stereotype. The durability of his chin is both surprising for the observer and demoralizing for the opponent, at least for now.

By all accounts this fighter presents a torturous set of problems for any fighter today …or yesterday.

WHAT WOULD JACK SAY?

Britton, with an Irish twinkle in his eye, would assert that Williams may have taken his 38th victory against Martinez, but he won’t get lucky twice. Luck bows before perfect strategy.

Williams’ has tendencies. He has bad habits. For a man who was able to find the flaws of no less than Benny Leonard, solving Williams’ style would be easy. Despite an average punch rate of a hundred per round, Williams is prone to become casual about it. He gets a bit detached as if on automatic pilot. The shots come from all angles, but they can be lazy and wide. Many offensive machines in history short-change their defense and Williams is no exception. His judgment of distance is off. When he steps inside he drops his guard, and on the outside, where his long body should dominate, he overreaches. The pressure of Williams has made him both formidable and feared but it comes with a cost. Pressure fighters are usually designed like badgers, short and strong. They try to compensate for physical disadvantages by fighting at taller opponents’ chest where their concentrated strength and stunted reach become advantages. They are usually not built like a Great Blue Heron. Williams is. Neither he nor a bird is designed to withstand head trauma.

Britton would remind us that Martinez’s style is much like his –it is much like an all-time great fighter’s. Watching the first round of their first bout is an eerie confirmation of exactly that. Martinez slides in and out to land shots on Williams and then disappears out of range. He steps off at angles, forcing the taller man to find him, turn, and reset. He drops his arms to his sides. This is vintage Britton.

The old master would also warn Martinez. The last southpaw stylist that faced Williams a second time was demolished in one round. That version should be anticipated on November 20th –the Avenging Williams. He will be as determined and focused as a heron on a shrimp in shallow water. If he is smart, he will spear his man with shots from the shore –where he can reach Martinez but Martinez can’t reach him. He will try to stun him and if he does, he will wade in behind well-aimed combinations to swallow him whole. Martinez is going to have to be very careful for the first few rounds.

Britton had a secret to beat his era’s Paul Williams: “He used to murder jabbers, he recalled about O’Dowd, “so when I got in the ring with him I just kept going into him all the time, toe to toe, swinging with his swings and he never got started. Ted “Kid Lewis was Britton’s arch-nemesis. Twenty-two times they clashed in what became boxing’s version of the Hatfield and McCoy feud. It was Britton who got the better of it, though handling the relentless ferocity of Lewis required wisdom. “I would go one round and box him, the next time I would slug him, Britton revealed, “I’d slow him up and in the next round switch and speed all over him. He didn’t know where he was.

Martinez must likewise present a study in contrasts. He must be cautious yet aggressive. He must avoid lingering even for a second at mid-range because that is the range where Williams’ punches can shock him. When Martinez went down in the first round last December, he got caught at mid-range. He got nailed twice at the end of the fourth while at mid-range. As he tired his legs got flat and that is when the fight got away from him. He must fight him at the two furthest poles: Outside of the perimeter (that is, outside of that wingspan), ready to connect when the overreaching Williams leaves his head hanging out like a nosey neighbor, and in close around the taller man’s chest where he can get rough safely.

Sergio Martinez watches film and formulates strategy with his seconds at training camp. We just conducted a séance. Jack Britton had secrets to defeat two of his roughest rivals –one widely avoided and physically overwhelming, the other an all-action fellow-great– and he is sharing those secrets. Is Martinez listening?

This much is certain: Maravilla and his legs will have to be near-perfect to triumph. If the ghost of the Boxing Marvel is in his corner, he will be.

…..
The graphic is the work of Jason McMann of Plymouth, MA. Ray Arcel’s recollection is from Ronald K. Fried’s Corner Men: Great Boxing Trainers. Britton’s predictions were found in Providence News, August 21, 1923; his analysis is in a Los Angeles Times series entitled “My 20 Years in the Ring, from March-April 1923. Charlie Goldman’s quote is from George Plimpton’s essay “Ring Around the Writers.

Springs Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com.

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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