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Articles of 2010

MEMORIES WITH MLADINICH: Bruce Trampler

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As a kid growing up in suburban New Jersey, Bruce Trampler always dreamed of being a sportswriter. His passion was baseball, but by the time he was in high school he had developed an affinity for boxing. Back in the 1960s, when nearly every major city had at least two newspapers, Trampler used to scour the New York and New Jersey dailies for fight results.

Long before he even knew that The RING record book existed, he had become an inveterate data collector. In July 1967, he attended his first live fight, a heavyweight bout between Joe Frazier and George Chuvalo at the old Madison Square Garden.  It was there that he met muckraking journalist Flash Gordon, colorful matchmaker Johnny Bos, and future HBO broadcaster Harold Lederman, who was then a young ring official.

That same year Trampler began attending Ohio University in Athens, where he majored in journalism. While there he remembers hitchhiking, sometimes in blinding snowstorms, to small club shows throughout the region.

It was in Columbus, Ohio, in December 1967, that he met rock-solid middleweight Billy “Dynamite” Douglas, the father of future heavyweight champion James “Buster” Douglas. After Douglas beat Larry Tatum  by decision, in a bout Trampler recalls as being “bloody and brutal.”

Trampler made his way to the winner’s dressing room.

He interviewed Douglas for the college paper. Although the article was never published, a relationship was forged that propelled Trampler into the fight game.

Although too young to be licensed, Trampler began acting as Douglas’s de-facto manager.

Despite the fact that he worked a full-time job, Dynamite was known for never turning down a fight. Trampler’s credentials were solidified in the Douglas camp when he imported Hilton Whittaker from New York to fight Douglas in January 1968.

“I think Billy was down two times in the first round and again in the third round, but he went on to win a decision,” said Trampler. “He really beat the bleep out of Whittaker. Billy was such a tough guy, he loved having fights like that. People were saying what a great matchmaker I was, but I was really clueless. I just knew the guys who handled Whittaker, and wound up getting lucky.”

Another fond memory of that era is putting young Buster, who was all of nine or ten years old, on his lap and teaching him to drive a car. His relationship with Buster lasts to this day.

Trampler would go on to become the busiest matchmaker in the game, and he has been the architect for the careers of such champions as Michael Carbajal, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Erik Morales and Kelly Pavlik.

He was also instrumental in the early career development of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the extremely successful comeback of George Foreman.

Joe Dwyer, the president of the NABF, which Dwyer refers to as “the Triple A of professional boxing,” calls Trampler “the best career builder in the business, bar none.”

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

Modest to a fault, he still seems somewhat surprised at his hard-earned and well-deserved induction. “I honestly don’t think it’s hit me yet,” he said.

During Trampler’s college days he attended all of the fight cards he could, regardless of what it took to get there. He also obsessively cut all the clippings he could find, and became friends with promoters Chris Dundee, who was based in Miami Beach, Don Elbaum, who operated throughout the Midwest, and Teddy Brenner, who handled the matchmaking duties at Madison Square Garden.

Trampler concedes that Dundee and Brenner had reputations as “cold and austere men,” but says that he found them both to be “warm and friendly.”

They were impressed by his youthful exuberance and enthusiasm, as well as his keen attention to detail in his record keeping. Brenner would often call Trampler to get his opinion on fighters he was thinking of bringing to MSG to fight local attractions like featherweight Davey Vasquez.

“I was just an upstart kid, but I think he saw the fire in my belly,” said Trampler, now 60 and the matchmaker for Top Rank for nearly 30 years. “Even if I proposed a dumb matchup, Teddy never scolded me.”

Trampler remembers joking to Brenner that he would one day take his job. Brenner responded by removing $10,000 in cash from his pocket and telling him, “Take it, you can have it.”

When Trampler took a matchmaking job with Dundee, he tried to get Douglas as many fights as he could. Despite his outwardly nominal record, Douglas’s warhorse reputation made him hard to match. When Trampler began an association with J. Russell Peltz, doors began to open for Douglas, who had no compunction about traveling to the City of Brotherly Love to take on such tough Philadelphia fighters as Bennie Briscoe and Willie Monroe.

Trampler left Florida in the mid-1970s to run shows in Ohio. It was there that he met Dean Chance, a boxing manager who in his past life as a baseball legend had won the Cy Young Award. After a short stint there, Trampler went to work for Pete Ashlock, a onetime Texas cowboy who owned the Orlando Sports Stadium in Florida and had fighters Mike Quarry and “Irish” Gene Wells under contract.

Around Christmas 1974, Trampler flew to Orlando where he was picked up at the airport by Quarry. Over the course of three years, he made matches for approximately two shows a month. He also handled the publicity, and even transported visiting fighters to and from the airport.

“I wasn’t looking to build my resume, I was just happy to be learning the trade,” he said. “But it could be a nightmare. There were no cell phones back then, so you’d be driving on the Interstate, hoping there’d be a working pay phone at the next rest stop. The weigh-ins took place on the day of the fight. If the phone rang, I didn’t want to answer it because it was probably a pullout.”

On some nights Trampler would leave the arena with great pride, while other nights he’d be furious over what had transpired. All in all, however, he said, “No one made money, but we had a good time.”

Unbeknownst to Trampler, Brenner had called Ashlock to request permission to speak to him about helping him out at MSG. Duke Stefano was retiring, and MSG, which had a vibrant fight schedule, needed to fill the void.

Trampler enjoyed what he was doing in Orlando, and felt a strong sense of loyalty to Ashlock. Two things, however, sealed the deal for Trampler: The always gracious Ashlock told Trampler that he’d fire him if he didn’t accept Brenner’s offer, and Brenner told Trampler he’d be forced to give the position to Don Elbaum if he didn’t accept it.

“Orlando and Pete Ashlock will always be in my heart, but it was time to go to New York,” said Trampler, who took an apartment on West 23rd Street, which was a short walk from his new office.

Brenner was soon fired from MSG, and Gil Clancy became the full-time matchmaker. Clancy kept Trampler on, but was forced to let him go with a year’s severance package in order to fulfill a hiring quota.

“It was the politics of the time,” said Trampler. “It had nothing to do with my work performance.”

Trampler did freelance work for Don Chargin and Aileen Eaton in California, and Steve Eisner in Arizona. Brenner soon called and asked him to write up a proposal for a weekly boxing series on a fledgling network called ESPN.

Not long afterwards, Brenner and Trampler drove to the ESPN offices in Connecticut to make their pitch. ESPN loved the idea, but contracted Bob Arum’s Top Rank to do the actual shows. Brenner was angry, but his feelings were mollified when Arum hired him as the matchmaker. Brenner then brought Trampler aboard.

When Brenner had triple bypass surgery in the early 1980s, Trampler took on more and more responsibilities in the Top Rank organization. Among the early ESPN stars he helped develop  were Freddie Roach and Doug DeWitt.  He has been with Top Rank ever since.

As long as Trampler has been doing what he does best, and as much due diligence as he puts forth when selecting opponents for prospects, he is candid and honest enough to admit that he can still get awfully nervous as a fight unfolds.

He said he was “sick to my stomach” in the first round of the recent Yuri Foreman-Daniel Santos fight, when it appeared that Foreman might have been overmatched. Although trainer Freddie Roach and manager Shelly Finkel had signed off on the faded Kassim Ouma as the first big name opponent for 2004 Olympian Vanes Martirosyan, he was uncomfortable for the first couple of rounds.

He remembers having butterflies when a young Oscar De La Hoya was dropped by Giorgio Campanella and Narisco Valenzuela, as well as when Miguel Cotto was put on the canvas early in his career by DeMarcus Corley and Ricardo Torres.

“I felt both of those guys were weakened by the weight they were fighting at,” said Trampler. “When they got up, I could see that their eyes were clear. Once they moved up in weight, they didn’t have those problems anymore. But, yes, there are times when your heart is in your throat.”

In 1987, during the early days of George Foreman’s seemingly improbable comeback, Trampler was introduced to Foreman hours before he was going to fight Bobby Crabtree in Springfield, Missouri. Trampler had met Foreman years earlier, through Brenner at MSG, and didn’t care for him.

At this meeting, Foreman’s advisor, Ron Weathers, asked Trampler for an assessment of Crabtree.

“George was in the back of a limo, and I said that Crabtree was a southpaw,” recalled Trampler. “George glared at the promoter, Rick Parker, and said to me, ‘Don’t tell me anymore.’”

“I told George that I had seen Crabtree knock Renaldo Snipes down,” continued Trampler. “I told George that he’d beat him, but he’d make him pay.”

Foreman stopped Crabtree in the sixth round, and later told Trampler that he had hit him even harder than Ron Lyle did.

Foreman took a liking to Trampler, who arranged for him to fight Rocky Sekorski in Las Vegas in December 1987. After the first round, Foreman told his corner that they better tell the referee to stop the fight because he was out of gas. Foreman wound up stopping Sekorski in the third round.

For a man who has accomplished so much, over a long period of time, and with no end in sight, Trampler can be frustratingly modest. He is quick to credit Arum with being “a genius emeritus,” who recently engineered the lucrative deal that will see Manny Pacquiao fight Joshua Clottey in Dallas in March.

Having spent so many years behind the scenes, it seems that he is much more comfortable being there than in the limelight. One thing, however, is certain. Trampler never forgot where he came from, nor has he lost his enthusiasm for the sport that has come to define so much of who he is.

As recently as 2008, he did a high profile show in Puerto Rico on a Friday night, but caught the first flight off the island the next morning. He jetted to Newark, New Jersey, then to Columbus, Ohio, so he could attend a small club show in nearby Gloucester.

While there he vividly recalled the time, four decades earlier, when he paced off the space at the Athens Armory, in the town in which he had attended college, to gauge if there was room to erect a ring and put on a show.

He won’t call it an epiphany, but describing the moment seemed to dredge up an emotional reservoir.

“Bob (Arum) still gets fired up when he talks about signing some young prospects,” he explained. “He’s really passionate about the young blood. It’s hard not to share that passion, especially when a young fighter, and their family, entrusts their career to you. It’s a big responsibility, and one that I will always take very seriously.”

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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