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Articles of 2010

Trainer Hunter Works Psychological Warfare On Green…And Ward

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For all of the time that I have known him, Andre Ward has prided himself on being a classy professional. He attempts to stay away from the trash talk and come fight night, let his work do the talking. This humble trait is being taught by his long time trainer and godfather, Virgil Hunter.

Although Hunter has tried to instill in  Ward the importance of humility, he is also a master of psychological warfare. Now, he's been working that angle on Allan Green, Ward’s next opponent in the Super Six Tournament on April 24, and also on his own fighter.  Green replaced Ward’s original opponent Jermain Taylor in the tournament. In a press release this week, Green stated that he could beat all the fighters in the tournament, including Ward.  

“I’m one of the best super middleweights in the world and the tournament rules allow me to come in and be in the mix with a chance to advance and ultimately win this thing. I just don’t see anyone that could beat me,” Green said.  

Hunter has nothing against Green’s skills and thinks it is his moment in the sun–to a degree.

“He is a hungry fighter that is getting his opportunity,” Hunter said. “We take that into full account. And he is being prepared for seriously, just like every other opponent that we fought. No shortcuts, no letup, it's full steam ahead,” Hunter said. “It is like the Bible says; ‘The time of chance comes upon all men.’ I don’t knock him if he wants to talk and make the most of it.”  

Hunter also went as far as rating Allan Green above his long time pupil.  

“I rank Green ahead of Andre at this point,” he said. “He has been in the top ten longer than Andre. He has more pro experience. You know, he is a big puncher, and he is confident. So I rate him above Andre. I don’t rate Andre above anybody he hasn’t beaten yet.”

Meanwhile Andre Ward, who was close by as I conducted the interview, broke out in a smile when he heard his mentor show love for his future opponent. The three of us sat at the far end of the Kings Gym in Oakland, Ca. This prompted Hunter to take his point even further.

“It is true. He (Ward) hasn’t beaten him yet,” Hunter said. “Green has been ranked in the top ten longer than we have. And Green also says that he is the best. So I take him at his word. That is the real reason. He says he is the best. He says that he will knock out everybody in the tournament. So I believe him, I take him at his word. So at this point, just based on what he is saying, I rate him above Andre.”

Sounding somewhat provoked, Ward broke in. “I really don’t have a comment on anything like that,” Ward said. “That is the coach’s decision. He is making sure that I am motivated, so I am going to continue to work hard and stay ready.”

Hunter noticed Ward get irritated and went even further with his point without hesitation.  

Hunter continued in his dissection of Allan Green while Ward prepared for his day of training. The trainer thinks that Green’s greatest asset is his punching power. But Hunter also feels like Ward has a weapon that not many people truly understand.

“I will say that he has good punching power. But there is a difference between Green’s power and Andre’s power. As he was maturing at the professional level, I did not ask Andre to deliberately go and knock someone out. I know he has the ability to do that. But I took the reverse approach. I taught him to get some rounds in and understand the business, because you really can’t consider yourself a person that could truly knock out somebody until you knock out the best.”

After winning his last two fights against Edison Miranda and Mikkel Kessler, the undefeated Ward has earned recognition as one of the top super middleweights in the world. Hunter feels like Ward baffles his opponents to the point of shock and confusion. According to Hunter, opponents still can’t figure him out, and really don’t want to for that matter.  

“You see to the untrained eye what Andre is doing looks like finesse. But you get your honest answers from opponents. You get your honest answers from fighters. Andre is one fighter that I have never had anybody push, request, or ask me for a rematch. Even in the amateurs nobody had requested a rematch. I have also heard them (Ward’s opponents) say countless times that, 'I have never seen anything like this before. I do not understand what is going on. What he did to me I have never thought anybody could do it.’ It is hard to explain.”

Ward defeated the heavily favored Mikkel Kessler in November of last year to win a portion of the super middleweight championship. But Hunter was not surprised of the outcome. Although Ward only had 20 fights going into the bout, Hunter knew from the jump that his fighter had too much experience for Kessler.  

“It is estimated that Andre is at least 150-0 since he last lost a fight in the amateurs. I mean, people lost count. Even though Kessler had 43 fights and ten title defenses, he did not have more experience in fighting than Andre had. Andre has been battle trained since he was nine years old. His opponents look slow motion to him. Andre’s ability is about confusing his opponent. Kessler just could not prepare for it. That is why he could not cope with what Andre was doing to him.”

Hunter claims that the Allan Green will be equally disorientated when he jumps into the ring with Ward on April 24th.

“Green cannot prepare for Andre. He is going to find out that he is going to be in a situation where everything that he thought is not true. I respect Allan Green’s ability. But Andre’s skill is such that Green’s ability will be in compliance to what Andre wants him to do. This is a fighter of sleight of hand. You thought you saw an Ace but it really was a Queen. You thought it was a Heart, but it really was a Club, uh oh.”

The Kessler camp complained that Ward used illegal head butts to cause cuts over both of Kessler’s eyes. Hunter acknowledges butts but states that the butts were caused by fault of both combatants. For instance, Hunter says that on the second head butt incident in the middle rounds, it was Kessler coming forward, and Ward pulling away. Be as it may, Hunter has his own theory on why the fight was stopped.  

“I think Kessler quit. You know they say it was because of the head butts. But he was no worse for wear because of the head butts in the ninth round. I think Andre was ready to knock him out. He was real close to getting him out of there. But when the doctor came in and they were debating on whether or not to stop it, Kessler did not protest. So to me, he gave a concession. He did not verbally protest at all. He did not say ‘hold it man please, it is just another round and half left.’ He did not protest. To me, that is a concession.”

Now that Ward is a champion, Hunter advises us to look for more excitement to come from the Bay Area kid.

“I am looking for Andre’s fights to terminate inside the distance. I am not pushing for the knockout. My first preference is that the fighter quits, or that the corner or doctor stops it. Hitting you with a punch and knocking you out is on my last preference point. I really like you to quit. I really like it when they just say enough,” Hunter said. “His ability to set you up for the knockout is there, and it going to surprise a lot of people. They don’t know that he possesses this ability. I want to unveil it on the best. That is where the problem is going to be for Allan Green.”

Hunter has nothing but praise for the Green camp. And for Ward and Hunter, the best Allan Green is the only Allan Green that they want to face.

“I particularly like his coach. John David Jackson was a good, competitive, champion. He is somebody that I admire. I like his brain trust. The good thing about it is that we know we are going to fight against a guy that is fully prepared to beat us. So it eliminates excuses. He has a world class trainer. He has world class training facilities. He has been ranked in the top ten for several years. He has a good record and he is confident. All those ingredients make it real nice because when you get the victory, you don’t have to worry about someone tarnishing your victory with excuses. ‘Oh, he did not do this, or he did not do that.’ We will know that we beat the best Allan Green. We want to beat the Allan Green that everyone believes in.”

There is no word on where Ward will hold his training camp for the Allan Green fight. He usually stays close to within the home base of Oakland. But Hunter says that things are being discussed and they will make a decision in due time. “Either way it goes, it is going to be a great camp,” Hunter said.

As far as sparring is concerned, the Ward camp is in discussions to call in Danny Jacobs, a highly touted middleweight prospect, to lace them up against Ward in the coming weeks.

Contact: Raymond.Markarian@yahoo.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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