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Articles of 2010

40 Years Ago: The Fight Frazier Had To Win To Make The Ali Fight Relevant

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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. – Floyd Mayweather has done the math, give or take a tablespoon or two, and that has left him even more baffled than he was before at the demise of his much-anticipated fight with Manny Pacquiao.

In the end that fight didn’t happen because, well…who knows, but it sure wasn’t the math.

“You got 380 tablespoons of blood in your body,’’ Mayweather said recently. “When they draw blood they draw out one tablespoon. You still got 379 tablespoons left. You lose more than a tablespoon of blood in a fight. You lose more than that from your nose and mouth. I’m not talking about me! I’m talking about them other guys (who get hit more in a fight than Mayweather has been in his 40-fight career).

“I never knew a fighter didn’t want to take a $25 million drug test. If I was all about the money (with a guy who calls himself “Money’’) like people say I would have taken the (Manny) Pacquiao fight. I just feel we should clean up sports, period. Records are being broken by cheaters.

“This should happen in all sports to separate the good athletes from the great athletes. In boxing if you start good you usually are all the way good or you start to go down with age. You don’t start off average in this sport and at 25 suddenly become great. You don’t get knocked out at 106 pounds and then come knock out bigger guys. Boxing’s not like that.

“I know I’m a clean athlete. They can come whenever and take blood or urine. Any other athlete who’s clean should do the same. If you’re not on nothing, what’s the problem? A tablespoon of blood?’’

We may never know the real problem that caused Pacquiao to refuse a guaranteed $25 million to fight Mayweather and then settle for far less to face Joshua Clottey March 13 in a fight, frankly, that pales in comparison not only to Mayweather-Pacquiao but also to what Mayweather ended up with, which is a long-awaited showdown with 38-year-old welterweight champion Shane Mosley.

That fight came about because Mosley immediately agreed to the random blood testing Mayweather demanded, insisting he welcomed the chance to prove he is not using performance enhancing drugs as he did prior to his rematch with Oscar De La Hoya. Mosley has long insisted he did not know what he was using under the direction of since deposed strength and conditioning coach Darryl Hudson and one can debate that all day and never know the answer, but one thing is clear.

Both fighters will be clean on May 1 and boxing will be the better for it because unlike baseball, track and field, football and a growing list of other sports, two of prize fighting’s biggest names have decided they won’t wait for the men who run their sport to take a step. They’ll do it themselves.

When Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title in April of 1967 for refusal to be inducted into the United States army, there was a scramble to find his successor. The WBA held an eight man elimination tournament to determine its champion to fill the void vacated by Ali's absence.

However, not all of the top heavyweights were invited to participate in the tournament, such as former champ Sonny Liston, George Chuvalo and the then undefeated Buster Mathis. Joe Frazier who was Ring Magazine's top contender pulled out and instead fought Mathis who defeated him twice at the 1964 Olympic trials three and a half years earlier. Joe's manager and trainer, Yancey Durham, said Joe didn't have to fight in any tournament to determine Clay's successor (Durham always referred to Muhammad Ali as Cassius Clay), he'll just beat the winner. When Frazier declined the invitation to fight in the WBA's tournament, they turned to another Philadelphia heavyweight, Leotis Martin, who actually launched his own personal campaign trying to gain a fight with Frazier a few years later.

When the tournament was over Jimmy Ellis, who was at one time a stablemate and sparring partner of Ali's, was the winner. Ellis posted a ninth round stoppage over Leotis Martin, won a 12-round unanimous decision over Oscar Bonavena (dropping him twice) and then won a 15-round majority decision over Jerry Quarry in the final to win the tournament and capture the WBA heavyweight title.

A little over a month before Ellis beat Quarry, Frazier knocked out Buster Mathis in the eleventh round to win the New York State Athletic Commission's version of the title in the first main event held at the new Madison Square Garden. Via his victory over Mathis, Frazier also gained recognition as champ by the WBC along with Pennsylvania, Maine, Illinois, Texas and Massachusetts.

After Frazier disposed Mathis, he defeated Manuel Ramos, Oscar Bonavena, Dave Zyglewicz and Jerry Quarry in his attempt to clean out the division. Ellis, on the other hand, only fought once and beat former champ Floyd Patterson via a 15-round decision in Sweden. After fighting Patterson, Ellis suffered a string of injuries that kept him inactive during all of 1969.

By mid 1969 their was some bad blood between Frazier and Ellis, who were clearly the two top active heavyweights in the world. In fact Ellis jumped into the ring and admonished Frazier after Joe stopped Quarry to retain his NYSAC title. At the time Jimmy and Joe had two common opponents that the boxing media used to compare and contrast them, Oscar Bonavena and Jerry Quarry. Ellis had his way with Bonavena more than Joe did, but Frazier was better against Quarry.

When asked after fighting Frazier who would win between the two, Quarry said, “I don't know, that'll be a good one.” A week before Frazier and Ellis met, Muhammad Ali was convinced he'd never be allowed to fight again and said he'd give his championship belt to the winner and recognize him as champ, just as Ring Magazine announced they would do.

Leading up to the Frazier-Ellis fight, Angelo Dundee who trained Ellis and Ali, repeatedly said Ellis had the perfect style to whip Frazier and there was no way Jimmy would get trapped on the ropes by Joe the way Quarry had been. To which Frazier's trainer Yank Durham responded saying, Quarry didn't have a choice as to being trapped on the ropes or in the corner and neither would Ellis. Durham continued saying maybe Ellis can hold Frazier off for a few rounds, but eventually Frazier's constant pressure will break Ellis's will and wear him down.

On Monday night February 16th 1970, Ellis and Frazier met at Madison Square Garden in New York City to decide who was Muhammad Ali's rightful successor as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Frazier was the Las Vegas betting favorite, but due to Dundee's words and interviews, Ellis was picked to win by a majority of press row when they were polled the night of the fight.

Ellis came out at the bell for the first round and carried out Dundee's fight plan to the letter. Jimmy fired one-twos at Frazier on the way in and kept his feet moving. For the first round Ellis had success turning the slow-starting Frazier in the corners. In round two Ellis carried out the same strategy, but he wasn't hurting Frazier who was starting to get closer. Early in round three Ellis was forced to retreat because Joe was beginning to smoke and get to his body. With a minute left in the round Frazier caught Ellis pulling out with a sweeping left-hook to the jaw that had him stumbling around the ring with Frazier in pursuit, but Ellis held on and survived the round.

However, Ellis had a big problem on his hands because Frazier returned to his corner with a huge grin and smile on his face indicating that he knew that having slowed Ellis in the last round, it would only get worse for Jimmy in the next round. Ellis came out and tried to feign that he wasn't hurt and could fight Joe straight up, which Frazier was more than happy to oblige. But Ellis couldn't hold him off and was trapped in his own corner with Frazier smashing him to the head and body with lefts and rights. Finally, Frazier caught Ellis with a short left-hook on to the chin and Ellis slowly sank to the canvas.

Ellis beat the count and was immediately met at ring center by Frazier who sensed the kill. During their first exchange after Ellis got up, Frazier landed a brutal left hook to Ellis's body and followed that up with another one with all his weight and force to the chin. Ellis crashed to the canvas and looked to be finished. But Jimmy who couldn't be saved by the bell ending round four, summoned great reserve to beat the ten count. Ellis stumbled and missed the top rope on the ring apron to balance himself as he was about to sit on his stool in his corner.

Smartly realizing that one minute in between rounds wasn't enough time to revive Ellis, Dundee stopped the fight, enabling Joe Frazier become the undisputed heavyweight champion – sort of.

There was this guy out there who went by the name of Muhammad Ali who was granted a boxing license by the state of Georgia seven months later. From that moment on,  Ali served notice to the boxing world that Frazier wasn't the real champ until he beat him, and the WBA eliminations were merely imitations. Nine months later Frazier smoked light heavyweight champ Bob Foster in two rounds in just four minutes of fighting paving the way for the “Fight Of The Century.”

However, Frazier had to beat Jimmy Ellis in order to make the upcoming fight with Ali as historically significant as it was. As all informed boxing observers know, Frazier vs. Ali I is without question the most anticipated fight in boxing history.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.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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