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Articles of 2010

Ruiz Wants Title From Haye, Then A Klitschko

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Despite his pedestrian boxing style and low-key manner, there are some remarkable things about two-time heavyweight champion John Ruiz that would not immediately come to mind when his name is mentioned.

One is that he’s fought for the heavyweight championship of the world 12 times, twice as often as the last New Englander to hold the title, Rocky Marciano, the only heavyweight champion to ever retire undefeated and stay that way.

Another is that he’s fought for the heavyweight championship of the world more times than Jack Dempsey, Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott or Riddick Bowe as well, and if he somehow wins the WBA portion of the belt back for a third time on April 3 at MEN Arena in Manchester, England he will join Muhammad Ali and his old nemesis Evander Holyfield as three-time heavyweight champions.

Appraised of these facts recently before beginning an early training workout at the squat South Boston Boxing Club, Ruiz’s eyes widened and an almost embarrassed smile crossed his face. The 38-year-old former champion knew without anyone saying it what much of the boxing world would make of such connections. They would shake their heads as if such things were something for the relentless Ruiz to be embarrassed about.

Frankly, he is not but he understands the difference between himself and those fighters. He may be a historical footnote as the first Latino to ever win a portion of the heavyweight championship but there are footnotes and legends and he understands who is what.

“Those are legends in the sport,’’ said Ruiz as he began the long process of preparing to meet recently crowned champion David Haye, the former unified cruiserweight titleholder with the big punch and bigger mouth. “I don’t put myself up with them. I’ve been blessed to have that many title shots and still be around with a chance to win it again.’’

His 13th and probably final chance if he doesn’t win comes against the power-punching Haye (23-1, 21 KO), a man who claims Ruiz’s straight forward style is perfectly suited for his speed and powerful right hand. Time will tell but suffice it to say Ruiz does not look at their short-term future together in quite the same way.

“This is a good opportunity for myself,’’ Ruiz (44-8-1, 30 KO) said. “His problems come against guys who stay on him and pressure him. That’s what I do. He likes to move so I’ll want to pressure him and make him fight. I guess we’ll find out who’s made for who.’’

If Ruiz were to win in his first fight working under the banner of Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, it would likely open the door to a unification fight with one of the Klitschko brothers, two fighters he has always believed he would do well against. HBO, however, could not think of a bigger nightmare, a fact Ruiz long ago has grown accustomed to.

HBO broadcasters Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley have been consistent and unbridled critics of Ruiz’s style, which is, to be kind, less than pleasing to watch. Yet those skills have twice taken a kid who grew up in a rough part of Boston to the heavyweight champions, were enough to go 1-1-1 against Evander Holyfield when he still could fight and twice resulted in his losing hotly disputed decisions to then WBA champion Nikolai Valuev in Germany.

Those two fights were the reason Ruiz is now facing Haye. Although he was Valuev’s mandatory challenger for a third time Ruiz felt it wise to defer to Haye, allowing the muscular Brit to face Valuev with a guarantee he would get the winner.

Ruiz, like De La Hoya, HBO executives and most everyone in boxing assumed Haye would dethrone Valuev and he did but he failed to dominate him, struggling with the 7-foot Russian and looking oddly passive much of the night.

In the end none of that mattered to Ruiz. All that mattered was he would get a second chance to become a three-time champion regardless of what the boxing world thought or would have preferred.

“This is my second chance,’’ Ruiz said. “Things are perfect at this point. I feel at ease for the first time in a long time.

“All the time (Don) King was promoting me it wasn’t a happy marriage. It was Don first and me second. I signed with him when I was No. 3 in the world because I felt I’d never get a shot at Lennox (Lewis) and King had Holyfield.

“He did give me an opportunity to fight Holyfield (three straight times as things turned out) but Don always made more than me. I’m glad it’s over between us. The last few ties I fought for him he worked against me. It’s been a battle with King for quite a while now.’’

Now the most popular Latino fighter of his time, De La Hoya, is promoting the only Latino to ever hold the heavyweight title, a marriage which seems perfectly made. Time will tell about that of course because Ruiz knows all too well that his new promoter’s view of him will depend on how he’s viewed after squaring off with Haye.

Win a portion of the world title again and doors will open. Lose again (he’s 5-5-1 with a no contest) and he’ll need dynamite to get back into the ring with a top-rated heavyweight.

Such has been Ruiz’s fate for much of his career. He has been dismissed more times than Charlie Sheen’s wives yet he has overcome each loss, long odds, a displeasing style and falling outs with both King and his long-time manager, Norman Stone, to find himself one fight from the heavyweight championship for a remarkable third time.

Looking back, the road has been long and littered with land mines not all of his own making and yet he remains a survivor and, with some luck, maybe more than that.

“This gets a little harder the older you get,’’ Ruiz said of making the shift from civilian to warrior. “The older you get the lazier you get. But I know if I don’t take advantage of this I’m beating myself. I’m going to be covering every corner.

“I’m very surprised to be in this situation where things are finally positioned right for my career. Too many of the fights I had came out negative even when I won because so many people were criticizing me.

“I fought most of the fighters out there. There’s not one person I avoided so I’m glad I’m still healthy enough to have this title shot.

“Many times I felt like quitting but I didn’t. Not many people can say they were two-time heavyweight champion. Only one can say they were the first Latino to win the heavyweight championship. They can’t take those things from me. I’m happy with my career but I feel I have a few more fights like this one in me.’’

Nearly 25 years ago, when Ruiz first walked into the Somerville Boxing Club in a hardscrabble part of town just across the bridge from Boston, he was there to live someone else’s dream. As things turned out however it became a dream larger than either he or his stepfather could have imagined.

That dream is close to ending now but come April 3, the wide-eyed kid who walked into the gym that day will be with Ruiz, a part of him he now remembers most when he goes to gyms like the one in South Boston and sees kids like he was hitting bags, skipping rope and dreaming of something so few ever reach.

“I started off like these kids,’’ Ruiz said. “I look at them and think how long a road it’s been. I’d never recommend boxing to anybody who doesn’t love it but if you do go for it.

“It’s funny what happened to me. If my mother didn’t split  up with my father and come to Boston from Puerto Rico I’d probably be playing baseball. My Dad’s thing was baseball. My step-Dad’s thing was boxing. That’s how I got here.’’

That way and with a lot of work, hard work, some heartbreak and a night with former heavyweight contender David Tua that lasted only 19 seconds.

That’s how long it took Tua to knock him cold nearly 14 years ago. When he left Atlantic City sitting silently through the six hour drive back to Boston with Stone late that night, it seemed impossible to believe one day he would be two-time champion and Tua would have faded into obscurity after losing badly in several title chances.

That is the fascination of boxing. You never know whose hand will be raised or who will emerge from the kind of spirit-crushing defeat Ruiz endured that night to make much more of themselves than anyone would have predicted.

“You always have to dream big to accomplish anything,’’ said Ruiz. “That fight with Tua was a night to remember. I keep it in the back of my mind always. It was an eye opener for me.

“I’ve never forgotten it because I learned from that night. It’s tough to get off the floor and become champion but don’t count out determination. Some have it and some don’t.

“As a light heavyweight (when he turned professional) I never knew I’d be heavyweight champion but I kept that dream alive. That was the drive for me to keep fighting no matter what.

“I always wanted to fight the Klitschkos because I believed I had the style to beat them. I think the critics at HBO were afraid of the same thing so they never let the match happen.

“I understood. I didn’t bring money to the table so for HBO to take a chance of them losing made no sense to them. That’s when the love of boxing changed on me.

“I realized boxing was not what I first thought it would be. I thought it was a sport, a competition between you and a guy who thought he was better than you and you fight to settle it. I never thought a guy was better because he talked better than you. I thought it was only if he fought better than you but there’s more to it than that.

“I understand now I wasn’t bringing a dime to the table but I was dangerous to them. Still am. I was angry about that for a long time because I thought for a long time it was just a sport like it was when I was a kid. Eventually you learn to treat it as a business.

“These days nobody is fighting nobody in the heavyweight division but I’ve always fought anybody. After I win the title back from Haye I still want the Klitschkos. They’re defensive fighters who hate to throw punches or take chances. I always felt I could beat those guys. After the Haye fight I hope I get the chance because they’re perfect for me.’’

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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