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Articles of 2010

BBM's Hall of Fame Spotlight: Ed Schuyler Jr.

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Ed Schuyler Jr. covered his first fight for the Associated Press in 1963. He was named the AP’s national boxing writer in 1970, a position that he held until April 2002. During that time he traversed the globe with the Muhammad Ali circus, covering his three fights with Joe Frazier, as well as his upset of George Foreman.

He was also ringside for 39 of Larry Holmes’s bouts, including his epic battles against Ken Norton and Gerry Cooney, and the sensational round-robin involving Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard in the 1980s.

During this time he also covered horse racing, which he compares to boxing because of the endless array of characters that inhabit the sport.

Thirty-three times Schuyler covered the Kentucky Derby. He missed one of them, in 1976, because he was in Landover, Maryland, for a Muhammad Ali title defense.

While Schuyler has enjoyed a longtime love affair with both sports, he says that boxing has always been much easier to cover.

“To cover a big fight, you basically have just two people you have to write about. In horse racing you have about 20,” said Schuyler. “But the two sports have many similarities, the most obvious being all of the characters. They might not be good people, but they are all colorful. That’s what links the two sports more than anything else.”

The colorful characters were not always the fighters themselves. In many cases they were the promoters, managers or hangers-on such as the gaudy Mr. T., who shot to prominence in the late 1970s, first as the bodyguard to Leon Spinks and later as the ultimate Hollywood villain.

“Don’t cross Mr. T.,” quipped Schuyler at the time. “If you do, he’ll dot both of your I’s (eyes).”

Along with promoter Wilfried Sauerland, matchmaker Bruce Trampler, referee/commissioner Larry Hazzard, and manager Shelly Finkel, Schuyler will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Non-Participant category during the IBHOF’s 21st annual induction weekend in June.

“It’s a good feeling,” said the 75-year-old Schuyler from his home in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, where he covers high school and college football and writes about boxing’s old-timers for his own amusement. “It’s nice to see your career recognized. It pleases me very much.”

Schuyler began his journalistic career as a summer intern in Pittsburgh. He jokes that the internship “lasted 42 years.” Among the first bouts he covered was Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s shocking first round knockout of Emile Griffith at the city’s Civic Arena in December 1963.

For a young man who had been a boxing fan since he was a kid, Schuyler couldn’t believe his good fortune.

“Griffith had just been named Fighter of the Year by The RING magazine, so that was a big deal at the time,” recalled Schuyler.

After a short stint in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Schuyler arrived in New York in 1965. At the time Jack Hand and Murray Rose covered boxing in eloquent fashion. When Hand took a job with the National Football League in 1970, Schuyler became the AP’s national boxing writer. That job eventually took him to 18 countries, as well as Puerto Rico. It also filled him with enough memories for several lifetimes.

He says the first Leonard-Hearns fight was the best fight he ever covered, and he admits to still getting excited when he thinks about it or sees clips of it on television. Most memorable was the Ali-Frazier trilogy. Schuyler has great respect for Frazier, but says that, “Ali was bigger than life and the most charismatic athlete ever, in any sport.”

For him and scores of other ringside scribes, the fight where Holmes dispensed a brutal beating to an aging and overmatched Ali was “a sad, sad night.”

Schuyler also found the Larry Holmes-Ken Norton and Holmes-Cooney fights to be extremely memorable. When asked if he ever found a better story in the loser’s dressing room, Schuyler said that was rarely the case, unless the loser was someone as charismatic and compelling as Ali or Roberto Duran.

That certainly was the case after Holmes destroyed Ali, as well as the post-fight setting in Duran’s quarters after the No Mas debacle.

“The hardest story to write is always the follow-up story, but in those cases it was easy,” said Schuyler.

Schuyler also vividly recalls entering the dressing room of George Chuvalo after the rugged Canadian had lost a decision to Oscar Bonavena. Chuvalo was laying on a table, in obvious discomfort.

“I asked George what was next and his manager, Irving Unger, jumped up and said, “We’re not retiring,’” said Schuyler. “His guy just got murdered, for God’s sake, and Unger was answering for him.”

Truth be told, Schuyler rarely wrote about boxing. Because he was usually on deadline, he most often dictated his words back to the AP offices and they compiled the actual story. After the Thrilla in Manila, the dramatic third fight between Ali and Frazier, Schuyler said he dictated a couple of hundred words a round, which was much more than usual.

“The fight was such a war, there was so much to say,” he said. “Nobody expected this type of effort from either man. The dramatic ending, with Eddie Futch stopping the fight and Ali saying he had been close to death, resulted in me dictating about 4,000 words.”

When Mike Tyson fought Lou Savarese in Scotland in 2000, a fierce rainstorm sent nearly all of the ringside reporters scurrying for cover. Photographer Teddy B. Blackburn remembers seeing Schuyler, completely alone and adorned in a hooded parka, dictating into the phone during the less than epic battle.

“It was a monsoon and all of the other writers were nowhere to be found,” said Blackburn. “Fast Eddie acted like it was just another day at the office. I always admired him, but he really got my respect that day.”

Actually, says Schuyler, Tim Smith of the New York Daily News and a few other hearty souls, returned to ringside for the main event. So did Ferdie Pacheco, who wound up tripping over and disconnecting Schuyler’s phone cord.

Events such as that, which might seem catastrophic at the moment, are all sources of amusement for Schuyler as he recounts them today. It is obvious that he loved boxing, and looks at every day of his career with nostalgia, reverence, and in some cases, sadness.

He laments the fact that junior middleweight Tony Ayala Jr., who he describes as “the nicest guy to interview,” was tortured by demons that came out when he drank and resulted in him beginning a long prison sentence for rape and kidnapping just as he was on the cusp of boxing superstardom.

“He was a really special fighter,” said Schuyler. “His whole life was ruined because he couldn’t handle a couple of drinks.”

He described Holmes as “hardest, most dedicated trainer” that he ever met. He has a special fondness for the longtime heavyweight champion because of his fierce work ethic and tremendous belief in himself.

“Larry had this great desire to learn,” said Schuyler. “He sparred with Ali, Norton and even Joe Frazier a little bit. But he never became a sparring partner, never developed that mentality. I admire him for that.”

While Schuyler concedes that racial and ethnic rivalries have always propelled boxing, he still found the Holmes-Cooney promotion to be “disturbing and unsettling, the most racist thing I ever covered.”

“The promoter (Don King) was black, and he didn’t shy away from it,” said Schuyler. “Lots of little things came up, like Cooney being on the cover of Sports Illustrated even though he was the challenger, and the rumor about President Reagan putting a phone in Cooney’s dressing room in case he won. I’ve never been able to prove if that is true or not.

“It wasn’t Larry or Gerry’s fault,” he added. “People really wanted Cooney to win. He could punch like crazy, and he was a really nice guy.”

Other less prominent “nice guys” that Schuyler had the pleasure of covering were heavyweights Chuck Wepner  and Randy Neumann. He still chuckles over the fact that, in 1974, they fought at MSG in New York for the New Jersey heavyweight title. Wepner was known as the Bayonne Bleeder for his propensity to bleed in nearly every fight he engaged in.

When referee Arthur Mercante stopped the fight in the sixth round, Wepner pleaded with him to let it go on. Mercante informed him that he was stopping the bout because of Neumann’s blood, not his.

“It was probably the only time in history a Wepner fight was stopped because of the other guy’s blood,” laughs Schuyler.

As much as Schuyler admires boxers, he purposely never got too close to them. “I never wanted to be an insider, I wanted to be a reporter,” he explained. “Someday I might be in a position to have to write something negative  about them.”

He garnered the first interview that Mike Tyson granted after his release from prison, and still feels for all of Tyson’s travails.

“Between 1986 and 1989, he was brilliant,” said Schuyler. “His hand speed and reflexes were something. He would have given Ali fits. If Joe Frazier gave Ali fits, so would Tyson. But I think he would have had trouble with Foreman, just like Frazier did. Tyson was a crowd pleaser, and that’s what the heavyweight division needs. But he had no friends when he needed them most.”

Unlike most observers, Schuyler considers Floyd Mayweather Jr. a crowd pleaser. “He is a very technical fighter, who uses his speed and defense very well,” he said. “I don’t have to see a bloodbath in every fight. Sometimes I want to see artistry, and he gives you artistry.”

While Schuyler would eagerly anticipate a bout between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, he has problems with the fact that the general public considers the Pac Man a champion in seven weight divisions.

“He didn’t win titles in all of those divisions, he won pieces of the titles,” he explained. “You don’t need four weights between 105 and 112 pounds. If you can’t make 112, fight at 108 for God’s sake.”

Schuyler also has problems with the practice of not weighing in on the day of the fight. He cites the 1997 bout between Gabe Ruelas and the late Arturo Gatti that was supposed to be contested at 130 pounds. Both made weight the day before the fight, but entered the ring within two pounds of the welterweight limit.

“People weren’t paying to see two welterweights,” he opined. “Making weight is supposed to mean something.”

Having been honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America for “Excellence in Boxing Journalism” in 1970, Schuyler is arguably the dean of living boxing writers. Not the least bit curmudgeonly, he is polite, gracious and sharp, just as he was on the boxing beat when surrounded by young and brash writers, many of whom had no comprehension what the term “beat writer” meant.

He is grateful for having had the privilege of doing something he loved for so long, as well as for the lasting impact and enduring legacy he left.

“If you can’t write about boxing, you should be selling shoes,” he said. “It’s a writer’s sport. Because the material is so rich, the stories write themselves.”

This year’s IBHOF induction weekend will be held from June 10-13, 2009. For more information, log onto: www.ibhof.com or call 315-697-7095.

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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