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Articles of 2010

THE KIMBALL CHRONICLES: Kimball Channels Ebert On The Fighter

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In a scene depicted in “The Fighter, a fat-cat boxing promoter makes Micky Ward an offer that should have been hard to refuse: Come to Vegas. Train year-round, all expenses paid.

Implicit in this generous offer is that the promoter, who is plainly based on Bob Arum, can see what is obvious to everyone else, including the audience, save Irish Micky, which is that if he hopes to revive a boxing career now in tatters he needs to get himself out of Lowell, Massachusetts, and cut his ties with a family that includes a leech of a mother who functions as his “manager and a drug-addled buffoon of an older brother who purports to be his trainer.

“But what about my brother? frets Mark Wahlberg, who portrays Ward. “He’s taught me everything I know. I can’t do it without him.

* * *

Although it was shot in what may have been a modern-day record 33 days, “The Fighter was nearly five years in the making. Somewhere along the way Brad Pitt, who was to have portrayed Ward’s brother-cum-trainer Dickie Ecklund, opted out and was replaced by Christian (Batman) Bale. As what may be a further indication of the chaos attending the metamorphosis of “The Fighter, the credits include no fewer than 13 producers, executive producers, and co-producers, while five individuals are credited with the story and screenplay. The result of this screenplay-by-committee is a jumbled mélange of a film that can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be an updated retelling of “Rocky or a particularly ugly episode of “Intervention.

“The Fighter is described as “based on a true story, and any fears that the Hollywood treatment would sanitize or sugarcoat its subject matter are quickly disabused by a warts-and-all portrayal of a dysfunctional family with more warts than a nest full of horned toads.

Bales’ Dickie is a bug-eyed nincompoop, an ex-fighter who once scored a somewhat dubious knockdown of Sugar Ray Leonard, but whose vision of reality is now so distorted that he thinks an HBO crew has come to Lowell to film a documentary about his “comeback. (The HBO crew is actually making a series on Crack in America, with Dickie a cautionary example of what can happen when drugs have removed every trace of common sense from a deluded soul.)

Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) doesn’t come off much better. A mother no son (save perhaps Dickie) could love, Micky’s mother is presented as such a selfish, venal matriarch she could be Fagin in drag. When she’s not stage-mothering Micky and indulging Dickie, Alice presides over a flock of daughters – big-haired, gum-chewing, chain-smoking, foul-mothed small-town bimbos. This inseparable – and indistinguishable – gaggle of slovenly crones serves the approximate function of the witches in Macbeth.

His sensitivity notwithstanding, Wahlberg’s blindly obedient Micky is somehow too confused to realize that his family has become a millstone around his neck. His girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) runs somewhat against type: She doesn’t want Micky to quit boxing; she just wants him to do it without Alice and Dickie.

That the only remotely sympathetic character besides Micky and Charlene is Sgt. Mickey O’Keefe, the kind-hearted Lowell policeman who trains Micky whenever Dickie’s off at the crack-house, is unsurprising, since he is played by Sgt. Mickey O’Keefe, apart from Sugar Ray Leonard (in a cameo) the only figure to portray himself in the film.

But the real problem with “The Fighter isn’t so much that it couches itself the trappings of a reality TV series, but that, having established those parameters, it goes wildly off the rails with its willful misrepresentation of reality.

* * *

The offer from the promoter who is not Bob Arum serves as a dramatic device triggering a sequence of events in which the conflicted fraternal relationship (as well as the misunderstood Dickie’s criminal career) are conveniently distilled into a single evening consuming less than five heavy-handed on-screen minutes.

In an apparently earnest attempt to match the offer from the promoter who is not Arum, Dickie first unsuccessfully tries to assemble a consortium of investors from among the Cambodian immigrant relations of Karen, his crack-house girlfriend. Rebuffed in his efforts to raise the money honorably, Dickie resorts to a goofy shakedown scheme: Togged out as a streetwalker, Karen (portrayed by the aptly-named Chantyl Sok) gets herself picked up by a john, whom she is in the process of servicing in the front seat of his car when Dickie and another crackhead show up, lights flashing, identify themselves as policemen, and over the owner’s vague protests, announce their intention to impound his vehicle. The junkie masterminds are in the process of toting up the contents of the citizen’s wallet (which Ms. Sok has managed to filch between gulps) when, announced by more flashing lights, the real cops arrive.

Dickle takes off, leading the constabulary on a high-speed foot chase across Lowell, straight to the restaurant where Micky and Charlene are dining. When he sees the cops beating the stuffing out of Dickie, Micky attempts to intervene but is quickly overpowered. One of the policemen, recognizing him as a fighter, deliberately smashes his right hand with a nightstick. The brothers spend the night in jail. The next morning Micky is released on his own recognizance while Dickie, by virtue of his 27 previous arrests, is packed off to a prison cell. With Dickie safely on ice, Micky’s career blossoms anew.

In real life, the episode with the nightstick did happen, pretty much as described, but it took place well before the mid-90s chronological time-frame of the film. And while Ecklund was a guest of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on several occasions during this period, the eight months of a 10-to-15 year stretch (for armed robbery) at the Billerica House of Correction depicted in “The Fighter occurred in 1999.

More to the point, beyond allowing Micky to hoist his bandaged paw and should “is this what I should thank you for? as Dickie is led out of the courthouse in chains, the nightstick episode serves utterly no dramatic purpose in the plot. (It can’t, since the three-year hiatus from the ring it produced occurred before the events dubiously depicted in “The Fighter even took place.

* * *
In production notes distributed at a New York screening this week, one of the film’s producers, Ryan Kavanaugh, summarizes his brief to director David Russell: “We told him to keep the heart and soul, but that we needed some ‘Rocky’ out of it.

Therein lies the rub. The legacy of the real Micky Ward is that of a blue-collar boxer who achieved enduring respect despite never having won a world title. His trilogy of bouts against Arturo Gatti may eventually put him in the Hall of Fame, even though he lost the last two of them (after winning a split decision in the first.)

In the Hollywood treatment, Ward’s stunning, come-from-behind knockout victory (with a body shot) over previously unbeaten Alfonso Sanchez in 1996 leads to an immediate title world title shot against Shea Neary in London in what the production notes describe as “the shot of a lifetime. A decisive underdog, Micky once again gets hopelessly outboxed for seven rounds before scoring an 8th-round KO and riding off into the sunset. The Gatti fights are alluded to only in a scripted crawl just before the credits roll.

In actuality, the win over Sanchez (on the Oscar De La Hoya-Pernell Whitaker undercard) did lead to an immediate title shot for Ward, who in 1997 fought Vince Phillips for the WBA junior welterweight title in Boston, and was stopped (on cuts) inside three rounds.

Micky’s bout against Neary came three years, eight fights, and one Dick Edklund prison stretch, later, and the only “title involved – the WBU 140 pound belt – was so lightly regarded that its legitimacy was recognized only in certain boroughs of London. (Micky himself put much stock in the WBU title, which he never bothered defending.) And while Neary was undefeated at the time, the result was not much of an upset to anyone who knew anything about boxing. For no apparent reason beyond sheer obstinacy, the film makes that 140-lb. fight a welterweight title bout and announces both fighters at 146. (Ward weighed 140, Neary 139.) Micky’s record going in is listed as 20-7. It was actually 34-9.

But it is neither The Fighter’s blatant disregard of the facts nor its hokey Hollywood ending that will baffle audiences, but rather, the mixed message implicit in the denouement, a warm and fuzzy Micky-and-Dickie moment.

“I don’t get it, the filmgoer will be scratching his head on his way out the door. “Are they saying Micky Ward won that fight because his scumbag brother was back in his corner? Or in spite of it?

(George Kimball’s column on “The Fighter originally appeared in the December 2 edition of The Irish Times. Copyright © 2010 by The Irish Times Newspaper.

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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