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Articles of 2010

Another Play Forthcoming From Jack Of All Trades Ron Scott Stevens

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Boxing meets Broadway in “The Cutting Den,” the fifth play to be written and produced by Ron Scott Stevens, who is widely credited for resurrecting boxing in New York while serving as that state’s Athletic Commission Chairman from 2002 to 2006.

According to a press release, the play, which is directed by Richard Caliban and opens on Thursday, February 4, at the Soho Playhouse in downtown Manhattan, is “a modern day flood story set in a Brooklyn barber shop/ bookie parlor during the first week of a Major League baseball season. When debts go unpaid, sparks fly until the shop burns red.”

Like the previous works of Stevens, this play is full of ambiguities, moral and otherwise. His first, “Three of us Left,” which was produced in the early 1980s, dealt with the debilitating impact a gambler had on his family.

“Lippe,” which was produced in 1985, starred renowned character Bill Hickey in the title role of Lippe Breidbart, the manager and advisor to troubled heavyweight contender Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson, who challenged Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight title in 1957.

“Red, Green and Yellow (An Urban Myth)” was a four-character play centering on the personal and professional relationship between two complex men, one a drug dealer, the other plagued by immense anger issues, who make their living driving the same New York City taxicab on different shifts. The men, and their women, wind up at a surprise party where, Stevens says, “the bleep hits the fan.”

His last show, “Cherry’s Patch,” which also ran at the Soho Playhouse in 2006, chronicles the military tribunal type “trial” of fire officials after a Christmas Eve inferno leaves a beloved captain dead. One of the main characters in the play, Elbert Cherry, is reflective of Vernon Cherry, a New York City firefighter who, prior to losing his life on 9/11, used to sing the national anthem at pro boxing shows promoted by Stevens.

Among the stars of “The Cutting Den” is former WBO middleweight champion Doug DeWitt, who Stevens says brings the same intensity to the stage that he did to his memorable ring battles against James Toney, Milton McCrory, Nigel Benn, Matthew Hilton and Robbie Sims. DeWitt beat out four more experienced actors for the coveted role.

“Very few people realize the dedication it takes to be a successful boxer, much less a world champion,” said Stevens. “Doug was a very hard worker as a fighter, and he brings that same dedication to acting. He knows what it takes to be successful, and he’s willing to put in the work. He really wants to be a movie star, and he is not afraid to do what it takes to get there. This is a great opportunity for him to hone his craft.”

The 63-year-old Stevens has been doing what it takes for quite some time. To say he has a wealth of life experience would be a gross understatement.

He was born in Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn, Queens, and North Miami Beach. He attended but never finished law school. As a young man, he lived in Woodstock, New York, where he worked in radio and television.

Returning to New York City in 1980, he had no idea how he was going to re-invent himself. Never lacking in ambition, he drove a cab and wrote plays. He also got involved in boxing, as a ring announcer, magazine writer and editor, and later as a matchmaker and promoter.

He was the principal in several different promotional companies, including Powerhouse, Stillman’s Gym Inc., Star Bouts, and the Dukes of Boxing. Among the future champions he promoted were Lou Del Valle, Kevin Kelley, Jake Rodriguez, and Regilio Tuur.
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He had exclusive promotional agreements with former junior middleweight titlist Verno Phillips and cruiserweight belt holder Robert Daniels.

As a matchmaker for Cedric Kushner Promotions from 1998 to 2002, Stevens worked night and day, traveling the country, filling cards for shows and venues large and small. He was instrumental to the success of CKP’s Heavyweight Explosion series, where he garnered much appreciation for fighters like Frankie Swindell of Tennessee, Ron Guerrero of Texas, and Sedreck Fields of Georgia, who despite having nominal records still possessed gargantuan hearts.

“They could conceivably upset anyone on a good night,” said Stevens. “Guerrero came to New York and fought Jameel McCline to a draw. Fields beat former champion Al Cole in ten rounds on Long Island.”

For Stevens the most challenging part of being matchmaker was satisfying the needs of so many entities. In a sport where he says the availability of fighters is a lot scarcer than it was decades ago, matchmakers must get two fighters, as well as two trainers and managers, to agree to a match. Once that is done, the promoter still has to approve it.

In the event that time permits an undercard bout to be screened on television, the matchup must also satisfy television executives who don’t always understand the nuances of the sport.

“The television people want competitive fights, even in four and six rounders, and I don’t blame them,” said Stevens.

“But it’s not easy to get an 8-0 guy to fight a 7-0 guy. The TV people might accept a 4-4 guy, if it’s a good 4-4. There could also be hometown issues or size issues. Look at Manny Pacquiao, who wouldn’t fight Yuri Foreman because Yuri’s too tall. There is a lot of work that goes into solidifying a fight. Most outsiders can’t begin to understand that.”

Because Stevens had built his stellar boxing career from the ground up, he was widely viewed as the best man for the job when then Governor George Pataki named him New York State Athletic Commission Chairman.

This occurred despite the fact that Stevens is a lifelong Democrat and Pataki was a highly regarded Republican. When Eliot Spitzer replaced Pataki and asked for resignations from numerous agency heads, Stevens’ held on to his job. It was only after Spitzer was forced to resign amid a sex scandal that the new governor, David Patterson, replaced him with Melvina Lathan, who is the current commissioner.

Under his stewardship, boxing in New York flourished, with the number of pro shows going up incrementally each year. When he first arrived, there had been only 17 pro shows the year before. When he departed, the number stood at 40. Despite the growth, there had been no fatalities or life-threatening injuries incurred by any fighter on his watch.

There was controversy, however, when Stevens placed Evander Holyfield on medical suspension after a lackluster performance against Larry Donald.

“There was a lot of misconception about what really happened,” said Stevens. “The fact is that Holyfield was outpunched 4-1, and he lost 10 out of 12 rounds. This bad performance followed three previously bad performances. After what I witnessed against Donald, where Holyfield wouldn’t let his hands ago, I suggested he be suspended until he could be fully tested to see if anything was wrong.”

To be fair, and in order to not take away Holyfield’s livelihood, Stevens arranged for a sophisticated set of tests that would be paid for by the state. If Holyfield passed them, the suspension would be immediately lifted. Holyfield stalled in taking the tests, but when he did he passed them, although not with flying colors.

Stevens saw fit to lift the medical suspension, which by virtue of the Muhammad Ali Act precluded him from fighting anywhere in the country. He put him on administrative suspension, which meant he could fight in other jurisdictions if he passed local tests.

It was only much later that Holyfield admitted having a shoulder problem that precluded him from throwing punches with the intensity that he used to. Had he disclosed that ailment earlier, much of the hoopla could have been avoided.

“I think we handled it the right way,” said Stevens. “Evander could have been boxing much sooner if he chose to. As a commissioner, you often have to protect the fighters from themselves.”

Most recently, Stevens was one of the four finalists to be interviewed for an executive position on the California State Athletic Commission. No decision has been reached as of yet, but he would love to throw his hat back into the boxing ring. He wholeheartedly believes he could do as much good on the West Coast as he did on the East Coast.

“The safety of the fighter always comes first,” said Stevens. “I expect the referees and the judges to be on the money, and in most cases they are. It’s important to allow the drama to remain, but you must keep the event as safe as possible.  When in doubt, I’d much rather see a fight stopped sooner rather than later.”

Whether or not Stevens brings his fine administrative skills to California is yet to be seen. But what is looming on the immediate horizon is the production of yet another of his plays that he has poured his heart and soul into.

As a longtime boxing person, he defends the sport’s rank and file players as being among the finest and most selfless people he’s ever known. He said trainers often spend months working with a fighter, with their only monetary payoff being 10 percent of a $600 or $1,000 purse.

And despite the seemingly noirish quality of his urban morality tales, he said the recurring themes in all of his plays is far from dark.

“I realize a dark side exists in the world, but I believe in the ultimate goodness of man,” he explained. “This is not to say I don’t plant my characters in dangerous terrain, but there is always a sense of hope. If there is a recurring theme in my work, I hope that is it.”

“The Cutting Den” will run from February 4-21.  The Soho Playhouse is located at 15 Vandam Street, New York, NY 10013, phone 212-691-1555. Tickets range from $30 to $55 and can be purchased by visiting www.sohoplayhouse.com.

Also check out: www.thecuttingdenoffbroadway.com.

For more information, contact Donald Tremblay at 718-664-3405 or by e-mail at: dtremblay@earthlink.net.

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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