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Articles of 2010




A few years ago Chuck Wepner received a long-awaited financial settlement from Sylvester Stallone for being the inspiration for the fictional screen legend Rocky Balboa. One of his first orders of business was rounding up some of his old sparring partners so he could take them and their dates out for a celebratory dinner.

Unlike Wepner, whose March 1975 challenge of heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali made him the muse for the “Rocky” character, former sparring partners Brian O’Melia, Conrad Tooker and Bobby Rooney never ascended to such high echelons in the sport.

But they couldn’t have been happier for their good friend Wepner, who compiled a record of 35-14-2 (17 KOS) during a career that lasted from 1964 to 1978.

“He’s a great guy,” said O’Melia, a journeyman heavyweight who fought from 1970 to 1980. “When he received the settlement, I think we were the first people he called. He told us to bring our wives or our girls, and to join him for a celebration.”

“Chuck never forgot where he came from,” added Linda Wepner, his wife of nearly 17 years. “And he never forgets a friend.”

Chuck and Linda will have lots more to celebrate this weekend, when they head off to Atlantic City for some hard-earned and well-deserved rest and relaxation. Both are employed as salespeople for Allied Beverage Group, the Carlstadt, New Jersey-based firm that is the largest liquor distribution company in the state.

On Friday, February 26, Chuck will turn 71 and Linda will turn 62. Not only will they be celebrating their respective birthdays, they will be rejoicing about their wonderful marriage that just seems to get stronger with each passing year.

“We always try to make each other laugh, and we have so much in common.” said Linda. “If he doesn’t remember something, I remember it. He loves to cook, I love to eat. We’re both Yankees fans. And we’re really good friends. We do everything, and go everywhere, together.”

The couple regularly travel to Atlantic City, but in recent years have also visited Europe, The Bahamas, Cancun, Florida, California and Las Vegas.

Linda still marvels at how much Chuck is recognized, even all these years after the Ali fight put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. One time they were walking in Rome, Italy, when he was mobbed by fans.

“Even if they don’t know he’s Chuck Wepner, they know he’s somebody,” she explained. “He has such a presence. He definitely looks like he had a few fights, but if people don’t make that connection they think he’s a basketball player or some other kind of athlete. Grown men are in awe of him. I never once saw him turn down an autograph. There have been times people were so excited to be with him, they even asked for my autograph. It’s unbelievable.”

Peter Wood, a finalist in the 1971 New York City Golden Gloves tournament and the author of “Confessions of a Fighter: Battling Through the New York Golden Gloves” and “A Clenched Fist: The Making of a Golden Gloves Champion,” recently had dinner with the Wepners, as well as O’Melia and Rooney and their significant others at Café Bello in Bayonne.

“There was a palpable buzz in the restaurant,” said Wood.  “It was obvious that to the other diners and the staff the champ was in the house.”

Describing Wepner as a quintessential Jersey guy would be a gross understatement. He was born, raised and still lives in Bayonne, and was even nicknamed “The Bayonne Bleeder” because of the prodigious amount of blood he spilled in fights against such championship caliber opponents as Ali, Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Ernie Terrell. Seeing Wepner on the canvas was as rare as a solar eclipse.

Not long ago he and Linda were on a cruise that contained lots of New Jersey residents. “Word got out that Chuck was on the cruise, and it was bedlam,” said Linda. “It’s nice to see how people relate to him. He’s such a good guy – and such a regular guy.”

Not that there haven’t been times where he wasn’t so well received. One time, while in Atlantic City, Chuck and Linda walked past a Legends of Boxing exhibit at one of the casinos. Wepner was the lone white face among several large posters of such boxing greats as Ali, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. Linda asked the clerk, who looked totally uninterested, who the white guy was.

“Some guy who thinks he can fight, but doesn’t know how,” he replied derisively and dismissively without even bothering to look up from what he was reading.

When she pointed out Chuck, who was standing a few feet away, the man was mortified, but calmed down when he realized the good-natured Wepner was chuckling over the incident.

Any initial hurt feelings Wepner might have had were soothed when that encounter led to him making a few paid appearances that weekend.

It was the regular guy persona that propelled Wepner to prominence, and still draws people to him in a big way. When he got the call to fight Ali, he was a working stiff who moonlighted as a boxer. He was given little chance of even lasting a few rounds with Ali, but more than held his own and even knocked “The Greatest” down. His life has been a whirlwind ever since. There has even been talk of a movie being made about his life, with John C. Reilly in the starring role.

Stallone, who was then a struggling actor, was impressed enough by his performance to go home and pen the original “Rocky” screenplay in a matter of days. The film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976. It also made a superstar out of Stallone.

Although the “Rocky” franchise has generated over $1 billion in revenue, it was not until recently that Wepner received any compensation for being its muse. At one deposition hearing in San Diego, he told Stallone, who he is admittedly very fond of, “No offense, it’s just business.”  

It’s hard to believe that Wepner is a septuagenarian because he leads such a full life and carries himself so youthfully. His wife still jokes about the fact that “after 16 years of marriage, I have to keep my Puma’s on at home because he’s always chasing after me.”

When that comment elicits a laugh, she quickly interjects, “It’s true. I’m not kidding.”

It’s not hard to believe because Wepner exudes an excess of youthful vitality and positive energy, never seeing the glass as half empty but always as half full. While appraising Stallone’s latest incarnation of his most famous character in the film “Rocky Balboa,” Wepner lauds the fact that the fictional 58-year-old boxer came out of retirement to take care of unfinished business.

“Life doesn’t stop at 60 or 70,” said Wepner. “You’re as young as you feel. If you have unfinished business, take care of it. Life is too short to have regrets.”

Noted boxing historian Mike Silver, the author of the acclaimed book “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science,” calls Wepner “a delightful man” and wishes he had his own talk show because of his good nature, everyman appeal, and common sense approach to life.

“I’m a guy everyone can relate to,” Wepner has said. “I got my shot and I ran with it. Most people would do the same if they had the chance. I’m very lucky. I never forget that.”

Linda first met Wepner shortly after the Ali fight, when a mutual friend put them on the phone with each other.

“I hear you’re big and gorgeous,” were the first words her future husband said to her, to which she replied, “No, I’m short and cute.”

The first time she met him, she said, “he took up the doorway,” but the attraction was strong.  They dated as friends, and then didn’t see each other for 16 years. After being reunited, they tied the knot in September 1993. This will be their 17th birthday together as man and wife.

“There will be a lot more down the road,” said Linda. “He’s a great guy and we have a great life. We’re so happy to have found each other. Every birthday together is better than the last one, which means this will be the best one yet.”

Articles of 2010

Judah To Fight Mbuza March 5 In NJ




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



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




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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