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Articles of 2010

RINGSIDE VIEW: JuanMa, Gamboa, Duddy Get It Done At MSG Jr.

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NEW YORK — If Juan Manuel Lopez felt any pressure to perform moments after Yuriorkis Gamboa had blown out Rogers Mtagwa, against who JuanMa had struggled mightily three months earlier, it was not reflected in his methodical domination of Steven Luevano. Round by round, Lopez simply broke down the WBO featherweight champion on his way to a seventh-round TKO to acquire his second world title and set up a likely collision of the two 126-pound titleists.

If greasing the skids for a Lopez-Gamboa bout later this year was the point of Saturday night's exercise at Madison Square Garden's WaMu Theatre, that plan certainly wasn't disturbed by anything that occurred in the ring Saturday night. Lopez and Gamboa both dominated their respective — and disparate — opponents.

Anyone who expected Luevano to go quietly would have been mistaken, but the champion, now 37-2-1, isn't quite quick enough to box with Lopez, and lacks the punch that might discourage a foe from marching straight ahead to tenderize his face with combinations the way Lopez did throughout this one. Even when Luevano was able to land a one-two of his own — and it happened from time to time — it barely got Lopez' attention. Luevano's face became redder and redder with each succeeding round, and you could almost sense his resistance sapping as the bout wore on.

Early in the seventh, Lopez caught Luevano with a right uppercut that sent him reeling backward toward the corner, where a left, a right, and another left to him on the floor. Although all three punches landed, it was the middle one, described by Luevano as a right hook, that did the damage.

“I'd been blocking that punch all night, but then he got one through and look what happened,” said Luevano afterward. Although he had made the count and indicated his willingness to continue, Luevano was taken into custody by referee Benji Estevez 44 seconds into the seventh.

Lopez, now 28-0, said that his goal all along has been to win titles at four different weights, and Saturday's win puts him halfway there. As for Gamboa's showing against Mtagwa, JuanMa shrugged and said, through an interpreter, “It doesn't matter what he did. What happened with Mtagwa is going to happen because of styles.”

Which pretty much echoed the opinion Gamboa had expressed earlier. Asked whether their respective performances against Mtawga should make him the favorite in a prospective fight with Lopez, Gamboa seemed to feel that as yardsticks go, this one was pretty meaningless, the boxing equivalent of comparing apples and oranges.

“Different boxers, different styles, different weights,” said Gamboa.

Mtagwa, whose surprising performance against Lopez last October landed him in his second straight title fight, was simply overwhelmed in his bout against the WBA champion.

At 122 1/2, Mtagwa was the lightest challenger for this title in 27 years — since Rocky Lockridge (also 122 1/2) went up against Eusebio Pedroza (also 126) in San Remo, Italy in 1983, and the Cuban champion appeared to regard him with utter disdain, ignoring Mtagwa''s early attempts to land his jab while swatting him almost at will. Mtagwa landed just one of 22 jabs, Gamboa one of 20, but the difference was that Mtagwa didn't land much of anything else, either, while Gamboa connected with almost everything else he threw.

Mtagwa's handlers said later that the plan had been to just survive the first three rounds in much the manner he had survived the first six against Lopez — the difference being that this time he got caught and clocked and the game plan went out the window. Gamboa had floored Mtagwa near the end of he first round with a sweeping left.

Mtagwa withstood that one, but then in the second a right-left-right combo sent him toppling over again, and when he got up this time his legs seemed distinctly shaky. Gamboa then walked him across the ring to Mtagwa's own corner, where he landed a left and then appeared place his right glove atop the Tanzanian's head and push him straight down. It was a tactic that in other circumstances might have elicited a warning, but in this case Steve Smoger seemed to feel it offered a pretty good excuse to stop the one-sided fight, and when he did, it didn't exactly set off howls of protest from either the crowd or the Mtagwa corner, since at that point everybody had seen quite enough.

The win advanced Gamboa's record to 17-0. Mtagwa is now 25-14-2. His next bout probably won't be for a title.

In the early stages of his pro career, John Duddy registered so many first-round knockouts — seven in his first nine pro fights —that a man could have been forgiven for believing that “KO1” was the Irish middleweight's middle name.  His knockout of hapless Juan Astorga, a Mexican-born Kansas City resident, in the principal supporting act underneath the featherweight title doubleheader, marked the first time in nearly four years (Shelby Pudwill on St. Patricks Eve of 2006) that Duddy put away an opponent before a round-card girl could make an appearance.

That Duddy, who came into this one not having stopped an opponent in his last six fights, dispatched Astorga at 1:55 of the opening stanza may have less signaled an abrupt return of his punching power than it had to do with the abilities — and the stones — of his opponent. Astorga seemed apprehensive coming into the ring, and from the moment the bell rung appeared to be looking around for a soft place to land.

So anxious was Astorga, in fact, that a minute into the fight he sunk to his knees and took an eight-count from Wayne Kelly  — apparently without being touched. (Trainer Harry Keith said that Asturias' first trip to the canvas was a delayed reaction to a glancing blow to the temple. Looked more like one of those anchor punches to us.)

Not much later Duddy trapped Astorga in a corner, where he hurt him with a left-handed body shot.  Duddy followed that one up with a right, which missed, and a left uppercut, which did not. Astorga crumpled to the canvas and probably wasn't going to get up anyway, but by the time the count reached four Kelly had wrapped him in a protective embrace and was struggling to pull his mouthpiece out. His record is now 14-4-1.

Duddy (28-1), told the crowd afterward that “the old John Duddy is back.

“I hope yez got a good taste of that tonight, because there's gong to be more of that to come this year,” he promised.

The Irishman, who hopes to maintain a contending position that would put him in a title bout later this year, is scheduled to next perform at Cowboys Stadium on the March 13 Pacquiao-Clotted undercard, but don't expect to see him against a top middleweight. Duddy's advisor, Craig Hamilton, said that Duddy's next opponent would be, well, somebody a lot like Juan Astorga. (In fairness, Hamilton said this three days earlier, before he had actually seen Astorga “fight.”)

Duddy could hardly have been pleased to learn earlier in the day that Billy Lyell, whose own trainer described him as “a B fighter” when he upset the Irishman in Newark last year, had slipped into the challenger's role in an IBF title fight next Saturday in Germany. (Champion Sebastian Sylvester had been scheduled to defend against Pablo Navascues, but when the Spaniard failed a doping test Sylvester's promoters were left scrambling. (Since the first American offered the fight, Philadelphian Derek Ennis, tried to improve the $50,000 offer and never heard back from the Germans, it can probably be reasonably inferred that that's exactly what Lyell is getting — which is not to suggest that it isn't a wise move on his part.

Jorge Diaz, the undefeated (10-0) featherweight from Jersey City, made short work of Tommy Atencio, who traveled all the way from Denver for a fight that lasted less than a minute and a half. Diaz floored Atencio with a straight right and, and although he was able to bounce right back up from that one, the instant referee Kelly turned him loose, Diaz unleashed a left to the body that looked as if it had sawed the opponent in half. Atencio (4-4) was counted out at 1:27 of the first.

The opponents in the other early undercard bout were apparently grown from a hardier strain than Atencio, as five imported victims managed to last until the final bell in their bouts against local favorites. Or perhaps matchmaker Brad Goodman was just looking to get the opponents some rounds.

One of them, South Carolina junior welter James Hope, appeared to have Long Islander Chris Algieri in some serious trouble at least a couple of times in their six-rounder, and probably deserved better than Waleska Roldan's 59-55 mark. Billy Costello and John McKaie had it a closer at 58-56, but the result was still unanimous in the hometowner's favor. Algieri improved to 10-0, while Hope fell to 4-3.

Polish-born New Jersey welterweight Pawel Wolak didn't exactly struggle in his bot against his Baltimore opponent Ishmael Arvin, but probably didn't frighten away prospective future opponents with an essentially lacklustre performance. Wolak (now 26-1) carried the issue 80-72 on Costello's card, 79-73 on those of McKaie and Alan Rubenstein. Arvin is now 15-2-4.

Brooklyn light-heavyweight Will Rosinsky (10-0) unanimously outpointed Kansas City's Markas Gonzalez (7-3), with Costello scoring the one-sided bout 40-35, McKaie  and Rubenstein 40-36.

Long Island welterweight Tommy Rainone upped his pro mark to 12-3, pounding out a unanimous decision over Gerardo Prieto (6-8) of Provo, Utah in their four-round prelim. Rubenstein had it a shutout at 40-35, while Roldan and McKaie 39-31.

Size mattered in the curtain-raiser, in which Philadelphia cruiserweight Garret Wilson (7-3) was giving away just three pounds but dwarfed by nine inches in height,  couldn't win a round in his bout against undefeated 6' 6″ Puerto Rican Carlos Negron (7-0). All three judges (McKaie, Roldan, Rubenstein) scored it 60-54.
****
TOP RANK BOXING
WaMu Theatre at Madison Square Garden
January 23, 2010
FEATHERWEIGHTS: Juan Manuel Lopez, 125 1/2, Caguas, Puerto Rico TKO'd Steven Luevano, 126, La Puente, Calif. (7) (Wins WBO title)
Yuriorkis Gamboa, 126, Guantanamo, Cuba TKO'd Rogers Mtagwa, 122 1/2, Dodoma, Tanzania (2) (Retains WBA title)
Jorge DIaz, 126 1/2, Jersey City, N.J. KO'd Tommy Atencio, 127 1/2, Denver, Colo. (1)
CRUISERWEIGHTS: Carlos Negron, 181, San Juan, P.R. dec. Garrett Wilson, 178 1/2, Philadelphia, Pa. (6)
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS: Will Rosinsky, 173 1/2, Brooklyn, N.Y. dec. Markas Gonzalez, 172, Kansas CIty, Kans. (4)
MIDDLEWEIGHTS: John Duddy, 160 1/2, Derry, Northern Ireland KO'd Juan Astorga,  159 1/2, Lee's Sumitt, Mo. (1)
JUNIOR MIDDLES: Pawel Wolak, 154 1/2, Debica, Poland dec. Ishmael Arvin, 154, Baltimore, Md. (8)
WELTERWEIGHTS:  Chris Algieri, 140 1/2, Huntington, N.Y. dec.  James Hope, 141 3/4, Rock Hill, S.C. (6)
Tommy Rainone, 148, Plainview, N.Y. dec, Gerardo Prieto, 147, Provo, Utah (4)
***** 

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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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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