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Articles of 2010

MEMORIES WITH MLADINICH: Shelly Finkel

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Although the notion of computers was still very futuristic in the late 1960s, the enterprising Shelly Finkel, who had just dropped out of New York University, where he majored in marketing, was hustling a living by handing out flyers for a computer dating service outside of a dance club.

A guard came outside and took Finkel and his partner, a longtime friend named Eli, into the club to meet with the four absentee owners. They asked Finkel if he knew anything about running a club. Although the obvious answer would have been no, the 23-year-old Finkel, who was full of youthful exuberance, answered in the affirmative and got a job he had not even been seeking.

“I built it into the most successful club on the East Coast,” said the now 65-year-old Finkel. “I brought major acts of the day there, bands like Cream and Procol Harum.”

Fire regulations did not allow more than 890 patrons in the club, but Finkel said there were often as many as 3,000 people trying to get inside the Action House in Island Park, a suburb of New York City.

Thus began Finkel’s circuitous journey, first to the echelons of the music industry and later to the top of the boxing world.

Along with referee/commissioner Larry Hazzard Sr., promoter Wilfried Sauerland of Germany, matchmaker Bruce Trampler of Top Rank Inc., and longtime Associated Press journalist Ed Schuyler Jr., Finkel will be inducted, in the Non-Participant category, into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, in June.

Managing the Action House made Finkel, a Brooklyn native, realize what a natural born promoter he was. He soon did concerts at the Village Theater in New York, which was renamed the Fillmore East. He also promoted shows at the Singer Bowl in Flushing Meadow Park, where Joe Frazier, the eventual gold medalist, fought Buster Mathis in the 1964 Olympic Trials.

Over the years Finkel also promoted The Doors, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Chambers Brothers. He later learned that a young Billy Joel once claimed to be a road manager to sneak into one of his concerts.

He brought Jethro Tull to the New Haven Civic Center in Connecticut, even though the venue owner had never heard of the artist. The same thing occurred with Ed Powers, who Finkel said was “the man” at the Boston Garden, but had no idea who Hendrix was when Finkel did a concert there.

The highlight of Finkel’s musical career was convincing the owner of the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway in upstate New York that he could fill the venue with a quarter of a million people. He and his partner, Jim Koplik, actually brought an estimated 600,000 rock fans there, in July 1973, for the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, which featured the Allman Brothers, The Band and the Grateful Dead.

As Finkel built a thriving music promotion empire, he never lost his love of boxing. He had warm childhood memories of watching Sugar Ray Robinson, Gene Fullmer, Carmen Basilio, and others, on the Friday Night Fights with his father. Because Finkel lost his father when he was relatively young, he always had an affinity for youngsters in the same position. When his own  children were still very small, Finkel befriended a 7-year-old neighbor who had been devastated by the loss of his dad.

He took him on regular outings, which included Golden Gloves matches around the New York area. While doing so, Finkel became a big fan of amateur sensation Alex Ramos, who was known as The Bronx Bomber. He followed him throughout his career, and jumped at the opportunity to manage him when he turned pro in 1980.

When President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Olympic Games that year because of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Finkel hooked up with Lou Duva to also manage the likes of Johnny Bumphus and Tony Ayala Jr., both of whom were scheduled to represent the United States in the ill-fated Games.

Things took off at a breakneck pace, as Finkel, a master navigator, was able to skillfully maneuver through the shark-infested waters of professional boxing. It was Ramos who introduced Finkel to Mark Breland, the latter of whom Finkel still believes just might just be the greatest amateur boxer in history.

When he signed Breland after he won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Breland’s influence led fellow Olympians Pernell Whitaker, Evander Holyfield, Meldrick Taylor and Tyrell Biggs to him as well.

Throughout his 30 years in boxing, Finkel has experienced no shortage of ups and downs. None was worse than his successful development of Ayala Jr., a sensational prospect who was on the verge of superstardom when he was jailed for 17 years for a particularly vicious sexual attack.

“We did all the right moves with Tony, got him to the title, only to see him lose it all before he even fought for it,” said Finkel. “That was very disappointing.”

The greatest highlight of Finkel’s boxing career was watching Holyfield dethrone Buster Douglas in 1990. Holyfield won that heavyweight title that Douglas had wrested from Mike Tyson nine months earlier.

“I couldn’t believe that I managed the heavyweight champion,” said Finkel. “It was a great feeling.”

Because Holyfield has meant so much to Finkel from both a personal and professional standpoint, he is extremely saddened that Holyfield is still boxing despite the fact that he is in his mid-forties and has earned well over $100 million in purses.

“To have made the kind of money that he did, and not have it now, is very disappointing,” said Finkel. “He had received good advice.”

Finkel is as active as he’s always been, and now manages or advises scores of top-tier fighters, including the Klitschko brothers, Robert Guerrero, Victor Ortiz and Vanes Martirosyan.

Despite the often repeated advice of Ernest Hemingway to never fall in love with one’s fighters, Finkel said it is often hard not to. He relates a story written by the late Jimmy Cannon about a full-time mechanic who was a part-time fighter of nominal skills.

“When people asked him what he did, he’d say he was a fighter, not a mechanic,” said Finkel. “It’s hard not to respect that kind of pride and dedication.”

He was particularly impressed with the grit shown by Ortiz, who was being groomed for stardom by HBO when he was shockingly stopped in six rounds by Marcos Rene Maidana in June 2009.

“I knew he’d bounce back,” said Finkel. “But there’s always a little doubt. You never know how fragile a fighter’s psyche may be, especially one who had never been dropped or hurt before getting stopped for the first time. Ortiz has great ability, and he is a great story.”

Asked if he is forlorn over the scores of perceived unhappy endings in the sweet science, Finkel said that unhappy endings can sometimes be found in the unlikeliest of places. What constitutes a happy ending, he believes, is not just leaving the sport with a hefty bank account and one’s brains intact.

He questions whether Vitali Klitschko will ever be completely satisfied with his career because he was not able to avenge his loss to Lennox Lewis. Or if Marvin Hagler, despite having immense wealth and a great life as an actor in Italy, will ever rid himself of the bitterness he can’t seem to shake over the result of his controversial fight with Sugar Ray Leonard.

Or whether Breland, who had so much success as an amateur, will forever lament the fact that he didn’t hold all of the professional welterweight belts?

“Regardless of how things ended, every fighter I’ve ever dealt with that made it will say that they wouldn’t trade their experiences for anything,” said Finkel.

Neither would Finkel, the married father of three grown children, none of whom are involved in boxing. He’s proud of the work he’s done with all of his fighters, especially Breland who followed his advice and is financially set for life.

“A lot of people are second guessers, they always wonder if they should have taken this job or bought that stock,” said Finkel. “I grew up not far from Mike Tyson, but was able to move on and have a great family. My children were able to finish their educations, and will achieve more than I did.”

Finkel has never lost his affinity for boxers or for a great boxing match. He still gets excited when fighters like Guerrero, a Mexican-American world titlist, or Martirosyan, a 2004 American Olympian who is Armenian by birth, draw big hometown or ethnic crowds.

He also finds it hard to believe how fortunate he’s been to have had such a rewarding journey, one that will lead to him being enshrined alongside so many boxing legends.

“I’m honored,” he said when asked about his upcoming induction. “I feel honored to be in the company of the greatest people in the sport.”  

The IBHOF induction weekend is scheduled for June 10-13, 2010. For more information call 315-697-7095 or log onto: www.ibhof.com.

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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