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Articles of 2010

Conte Volunteers To Catch Cheaters If He Can

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Victor Conte might not bear much of a resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio, but the controversial founder and president of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, better known to the public as BALCO, is eager to play the sort of reformed bad-guy role undertaken by the strikingly handsome leading man in a 2002 film, Catch Me if You Can.

If you recall, DiCaprio was cast as an actual person, Frank Abagnale Jr., who joined the FBI to aid law enforcement in its apprehension of the most clever perpetrators of bank fraud. It’s a familiar storyline; in an old television series (It Takes a Thief) and a new one (White Collar,)  suave and mostly contrite confidence men are enlisted from prison by government agencies for their potential to help nail non-reformed evil-doers.

Conte fits the ex-convict part of the profile well enough, having served four months after pleading guilty in 2005 to conspiracy to distribute steroids and money-laundering. With a client list that included disgraced Olympian Marion Jones, champion boxer Shane Mosley and baseball slugger Barry Bonds, he of the literally swollen head and cartoonishly inflated biceps, Conte was and is widely viewed as the serpent who enticed world-class athletes with an apple enriched with anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, erythropoietin (EPO) and designer drugs that came to be known as “the clear” and “the cream.”

Now Conte says he wants to make his expertise available to every anti-doping organization in ridding sports of performance-enhancing drugs. If the FBI was willing to swallow its pride and take on Frank Abagnale Jr., he reasons, why wouldn’t, say, the Nevada State Athletic Association reach out to the one man whose knowledge of PEDs might exceed all others?

“I will never, ever do anything involving illegal performance-enhancing substances again,” Conte says. “I would never again subject my family members to what they went through. That is a past life for me.

“There needs to be a change in where the spotlight is, and it needs to be put upon Olympic governing body officials, the owners of the teams and the players’ union executives who have had the full knowledge of the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs for 50 years.”

But if the testing procedures for the Olympics, the NFL and Major League Baseball are flawed to the point of being “inept,” according to Conte, he saves his most scornful rebukes for boxing, which he describes as the “wild, wild West” of PEDs.

“Most fighters open training camp about eight weeks before a fight,” Conte says. “They only way to ensure they’re really clean is to have some type of random, unannounced testing, and both blood- and urine-testing.”

If that sounds like a semi-accusatory finger being pointed at Manny Pacquiao, whose March 13 megafight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. fell apart because of Pac-Man’s incensed refusal to participate in a higher level of drug-testing than ever has been implemented in boxing, so be it.

“Is it suspicious the way (Pacquiao) has gained so much lean muscle mass while retaining and even seemingly improving his power and speed? Yes,” Conte says. “It is highly suspicious. But it’s difficult to make any type of allegations against him because he’s never tested positive for illegal drugs. The problem is that he has been subjected, as is the case with all boxers, to the standard urine testing that, in my opinion, is worthless.

“It’s announced testing. Any time an athlete knows when he or she is going to be tested, they or someone advising them knows the clearance time of these performance-enhancing drugs. If you know urine tests are only going to be administered immediately before and after a fight, all you have to do is taper off an adequate number of days and you’re going to test negative.”

To buttress his argument that most sports’ drug-testing is as best inadequate and at worst useless, Conte points out that Marion Jones tested negative for PEDs 160 consecutive times. She only admitted to using them, he contends, to avoid more substantial jail time while testifying under oath before a grand jury.

Conte’s insistence that he has seen the light and has crossed over to the side of good and virtue have for, the most part, been viewed with skepticism by those agencies to which he has made overtures.

Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission (the scuttled Pacquiao-Mayweather bout was to have taken place at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand), said Conte’s very public crusade to become a latter-day Frank Abagnale Jr. is akin to the fox requesting to guard the hen house.

“I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t put a lot of stock into what Victor Conte has to say,” Kizer says. “I’m amazed at how much press he’s getting these days.

“But that said, the NSAC is known not just for drug-testing, but in being very pro-active in all aspects of regulation. We change and update our rules as need be. Almost two years ago we instituted out-of-competition drug-testing, to be even better at detecting. Keep in mind, our ultimate goal is not to catch people; it’s to keep people from using in the first place.

“We were also the first (state boxing commission) to put in testing for steroids. We did that in 2001, I believe. We also expanded around that time our testing for stimulants.”

So Conte’s claims that boxing’s testing procedures are mostly for show are groundless?

“I’m very pleased with our policy,” Kizer said. “We actually had some experts from the U.S. Olympic Committee and USADA (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) come here eight or nine months ago to talk about our drug-testing. They didn’t have a problem with it at all. Definitely nothing about blood (testing) came up.”

Conte said the problem – well, one of them, anyway – is that many of the so-called “experts” giving their stamp of approval to agencies like the NSAC are anything but.

“Mosley has sued me two times in federal court in California, and there’s still an ongoing suit in the New York State Supreme Court where he’s suing me for defamation,” Conte notes. “Before his fight with (Miguel) Cotto in 2007, he came out and said I misled him. He said I gave him vitamins when I was instead giving him performance-enhancing drugs. That is simply not true.

“He testified before a grand jury and admitted that he knowingly used EPO. We have a videotape of his deposition in New York in October 2009 where he admits again that he knowingly used EPO, that I told him what it was and what the benefits and side effects were.

“He’s asked, `So you injected the drug before any attempt was made by anyone from the Nevada commission whether the drug was legal or not? Is that true? And he said yes.

“I read shortly thereafter an article in the  New York Daily News that indicated the WBC was conducting an investigation of Shane Mosley. The WBC attorney’s name is Robert Lenhardt. I called him and said, `Look, I would be willing to assist you in this investigation.’ I sent him emails and documents. All I got back from him was an acknowledgment, `We’re in receipt of this information. Thanks.’ He didn’t seem to have any interest in following up.”

I spoke to Lenhardt and he said he was limited in what he and the WBC could do at this time because Mosley’s lawsuit against Conte was in litigation.

“The WBC believes it is one of the early leaders in all of sports in putting in anti-doping regulations,” Lenhardt said. “Now, did Mr. Conte send information to the WBC? I can confirm that he did. But the WBC recognizes that these matters (Mosley’s defamation suit against Conte) are currently being litigated in the U.S. court system, so there has been no determination (of their validity) in advance of the outcome.”

Conte has received similar rejections from other organizations and agencies whose message to him basically is “thanks, but no thanks.”

“I met with officials of USADA face-to-face,” Conte says. “I reached out and wrote an open letter to WADA. I flew to New York and met with Dick Pound, who is the founder of WADA and was then its chairman.

“On each occasion I’ve offered my advice. But the new regime at WADA, headed by Australia’s John Fahey, doesn’t want to listen to me because I’m a bad guy. Fahey said he’d rather get his information from medical doctors than from a convicted felon.”

To hear Conte’s detractors tell it, he is a slimy guy who hopes to cleanse himself by smearing others, a ploy often used by certain politicians and used-car salesmen. Conte counters that those who vilify him, while paying lip service to the concept of purifying sports of  PEDs, are not willing to go the distance because they know that sports fans aren’t really as interested in having all-natural heroes as they profess to be.

As proof of the existence of a double standard, Conte points out that Mark McGwire, obliged to confess his steroid-injected past as a condition to returning to baseball as the new hitting coach of his former club, the St. Louis Cardinals, was cheered by 2,500 red-clad fans of the team in a packed hotel ballroom. Those same fans so willing to forgive one of their own presumably have less tolerance toward, say, Bonds, Manny Ramirez and Roger Clemens.

More evidence comes in the form of a poll of track and field fans in Europe, where the sport is much bigger, at least between Olympics, than it is in America. Asked whether they’d rather see a certifiably clean 100-meter sprinter clocked in 10.2 seconds, or a steroid-fueled one break the world record (the current men’s mark is 9.58 seconds), a majority of respondents gritted their teeth, ’fessed up and admitted they’d rather see the faster guy on PEDs.

Conte said Mayweather’s demand of random blood testing of himself and Pacquiao, up to five days before the fight, although unprecedented in boxing, should be instituted as the industry standard.

“Pacquiao said he had agreed initially to testing 30 days out, then he agreed to cut that to 24 days out in the final phases of the negotiations,” Conte says. “The Mayweather sided held firm at 14 days, so the big story supposedly was that they were 10 days apart.

“Well, let’s look at what could be done with a 24-day window. I don’t believe so-called `designer’ steroids are being used much anymore, like the THG (the “clear”) that was at the heart of the BALCO scandal.

“All anabolic steroids are similar to testosterone. If you test often enough over a sufficiently long period, you can see where the perks are. What athletes are doing now is using low-dose testosterone. The gels and the creams will clear in a day. Oral testosterone will clear in about four days. Water-based injectable testosterone will clean in about 10 days.

“With intense training and a two-week program of anabolic steroids or low-dose testosterone, you can get a significant advantage in terms of strength and power.”

And users need not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger during his Mr. Universe incarnation, either.

“Steroids make you tight and pumped-up. You lose speed,” Conte says. “It’s great during the training process because you’re going to build explosive strength, but thereafter you go back to a normal fluid balance so that you no longer have that tightness. Your flexibility comes back. You’re going to lose some speed. But if you taper off, you’re much faster 10 days to two weeks out than you are while you’re still on the stuff.

“Now, the drug EPO increases your percentage of red blood cells. If you start out at 40 percent, in a two-week time frame or less, you could increase that to 50 percent. That’s a 25 percent increase in the percentage of red blood cells. Oxygen molecules attach themselves to the hemoglobin, and that means 25 percent more oxygen is being delivered to the muscle tissue. It also means the metabolic waste byproducts, like carbon dioxide, ammonia and lactic acid, are transported out 25 percent faster. That gives you a huge edge in training and especially in the later rounds of a fight.”

Not that all fighters should be regarded with a raised eyebrow if they resist blood-testing. Even big, strong guys have been known to faint at the sight of needles. Others are queasy if taken to a high place. Hey, it happens.

“I think you could do blood testing up to five days of a fight with no physical detriment to a participant,” Conte says. “A compromise of 10 days would be all right. But as soon as you go 14 days or more, that’s enough time to use EPO and build up your red blood cell count. At 24 days, there’s all sorts of things that can be done with thyroid medication, fast-acting forms of insulin, EPO, testosterone.

“Now, for psychological reasons, some athletes are going to complain if blood-testing becomes mandatory. Manny Pacquiao isn’t the only one. Asafa Powell, the Jamaican Olympic sprinter, is terrified of having blood drawn. A lot of people are. But to take a very small blood sample would have an extremely minimal or no effect physically. Once someone got accustomed to it, it’d be much easier to accept.”

For now, though, the biggest fight of this century – and maybe the highest-grossing one of all time – remains on the drawing board because of an impasse neither side appears willing to take steps to resolve. And if you’re waiting for boxing officials to step forward to work out the kinks, don’t hold your breath.

“I believe there’s a rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs in boxing, and there has been for decades,” Conte says. “It’s certainly not anything new.”

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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