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Articles of 2010

Hunter On Ward-Bika: This Is A Dangerous Fight

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TSS recently spoke with Andre Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter to get the final word on why the Andre Dirrell fight did not take place. Hunter gives his thoughts on what really transpired when Dirrell pulled out of the Super Six, the foolishness of boxing, and the possibility of fighting Lucian Bute in the near future.

RM: I know that you were critical of treatment that Andre Dirrell received on the most recent episode of Fight Camp 360. Can you please elaborate on your opinion?
VH: Well you know Andre Dirrell is neurologically hurt. I happened to be at ringside when he was hit with that punch. (Dirrell was hit with an illegal blow to the temple by Arthur Abraham during the 11thround of their bout last March. Abraham was disqualified for the foul.) It was a brutal punch. And he was not ready for the punch. It is obvious that the punch did a lot of damage. So I am not surprised at all to hear that he is having repercussions from the punch. With the tournament being a great concept, with so many great fighters, there have been some setbacks. I just hope that the fighters get the benefit of the doubt. If he is hurt then he is hurt. I think that there should be no question.

RM: How do you think that Dirrell is feeling mentally? He says that he is still having blurred vision. What do you think?
VH: Other than what he says that he has, I can’t come up with any other symptoms that accompany his conditions. I am sure that there is more. I think that he stated that he is not sleeping well at night, and his vision is impaired to a point. And he is just not having a general sense of well being. I think if you look at the symptoms of concussions, what Dirrell is describing fits right in with the symptomatic explanation of concussions.

RM: Do you want to touch on the belief that the Ward/Dirrell fight did not take place because of their “great friendship?
VH: Well, all I have to say on it is that they are friends. And by them being friends, people are going to draw their own conclusions. Andre Dirrell has proven that he is a professional. In no way, shape, or form did I believe that he pulled out of that fight because of friendship. I mean, for what reason? His future is not set. People say ‘Well, he pulled out of the fight for a bigger money fight down the road.’ What guarantee does he have that he will get the big fight? You can’t predict where you are going to be down the road in a certain time of your career. Last year, we were projected to finish # 5 or # 6 in the Super Six Tournament. This year we are projected to be #1. It would be foolish in this game to attempt to predict the future. To say that he is saving himself to fight Andre Ward for more money in the future is foolish. There is no way to predict where his career is going to be. And there is no way to know where Andre Ward’s career is going to be. To say that Dirrell is saving himself to fight Andre in two years time is ridiculous. There could be two fighters at the top that we don’t even know right now. This is boxing, anything can happen.

RM: So it is foolish to plan?
VH: It is foolish to plan in boxing because you never know what could happen. When the tournament started Dirrell planned to win. But he did not plan to get hit with a foul, and be neurologically put out of the tournament. I am sure Kessler was favored to win the tournament. But he did not plan to pull out because of cuts and double vision. You can’t say that someone is planning or plotting, sitting on the shelf just for the big fight down the road. You can’t say that.

RM: So what is the benefit of planning in boxing?
VH: There is no benefit. In this business, people are going to like you, and people are going to dislike you. The people that dislike you are going to fathom anything that they can to try to prove a point. The people that like you are going to be concerned about your health and well being. That is the way it is in life. I saw the same thing with Tom Brady when he had his knee injury. I saw the same thing with other athletes in other sports. It is a part of the territory with being a professional athlete. When fans get involved; those that hate you are attack you. And those that love you are going to be concerned about your well being.

RM: So are you concerned about Andre Dirrell’s well being?
VH: Of course I am concerned about his well being. You have to understand that I know him since he was ten years old. He has a family. He just got married. He has two children. Boxing is what he does for a living. He is in the most dangerous sport in the world. And to be right at the cusp of infiltrating the pound for pound lists of boxing, and being considered one of the best fighters in the world today, I don’t think that he would give that up. You have to remember that there was only a short period of time for him between fights, which took place in March. And for him to get ready for another fight, with the rigors of camp, and things like that, he could have been risking being permanently impaired. We have seen so many examples of fighters that fought when they should not have been fighting. One of the cases that come to my mind is Benny “The Kid Paret. After fighting Gene Fullmer and taking some horrific shots, Paret went right back into the ring with Emile Griffith three months later, and he died as a result. These are the things in this sport that you want to make sure that you are 100% right about.

RM: One guy we have not even talked about is your upcoming opponent on Saturday night, Sakio Bika.
VH: I happened to think that this is a very dangerous fight. We are not cutting any corners in preparation. He is respected. And we hope to stop him from doing what he wants to do.

RM: Before the Allan Green fight, there was a lot of animosity and tension between your respective camps. I don’t sense that with Bika. It seems like you guys are just doing work, business like.
VH: Well boxing has a place for those that talk and predict. You have one career, and you should do it your way. You could lose a fight, and if it is in your personality to come back and talk after you lose, then by all means do it.

RM: So Bika is not really talking is he?
VH: No, I don’t recall him having a history of talking trash. But I think further down the road, with certain opponents, it will come. Again, it is just boxing.

RM: What are your thoughts on Lucian Bute signing a three fight deal with Showtime?
VH: I think that it is a great thing. I think that Showtime has made a commitment into their vision of things. They have a great golden card with the Super Six regardless of how many champions have had to back out, the fighters are still well known. Now with the addition of Bute waiting in the wings to fight the winner, or some of the participants in the tournament, I think it will keep the Super Middleweight division very exciting over the next few years to come. All of the fighters are relatively young. And I can’t think of anyone in this crew that does not have at least three or four years of good fighting left in him. Even if you have a Bute/Abraham, Ward/Froch, or Johnson/Kessler, all of those are good fights. I can’t think of one fight in that group that Showtime would not be interested in. These are good quality fights.

RM: There are some that believe that Bute is already lined up to fight the winner of the Super Six.
VH: Well, you have to remember that they already promised Kessler that. So, I don’t know what is going on. Kessler was promised the winner of the Super Six. So we don’t know how that is going to unfold. But with having Bute there it creates a lot of stimulating possibilities for the fighters and fans. The talent is really close between the top eight fighters in this division. It is a well balanced division. Bringing Bute in brings anticipation. It brings excitement. And we are looking forward to fighting him one day.

RM: Do you think that it is going to happen next year?
VH: It is hard to say. I think that the guy that wins the Super Six is in a good position on how he wants to go about doing things.

Articles of 2010

Judah To Fight Mbuza March 5 In NJ

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles of 2010

UFC 125 Preview: Frankie Edgar Vs. Gray Maynard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edgar versus Maynard should be a good one.

Other bouts:

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles of 2010

Borges Looks Back, And Forward With Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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