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Articles of 2010

Boxing, The Healthiest Zombie In The Sports World

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Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian media theorist who coined the phrase “the medium is the message.’’ Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum believes these days the venue is the message. If he’s right about that then the message is clear – boxing lives!

For decades now the death of boxing has been widely lamented.

It was dead from overexposure.

It was dead from shoddy and sometimes shady decisions.

It was dead because there were too many champions and too few fighters worth of those titles.

It was dead because of inept commissions and corrupt ratings organizations.

It was dead because there were no new stars and few places to develop them.

It was dead because of the Mike Tyson Effect.

Boxing was dead because of the rise of MMA and the UFC phenomenon.

It was dead because it was absent from free TV and mostly missing from the pages of the old media, once known as the newspaper business back when it was a business and not a sinkhole of broken finances.

In sum, boxing has been declared dead more times than Lazarus, yet it remains on its feet and Arum contended last week that the deals he has cut to put on Manny Pacquiao vs. Joshua Clottey at Cowboys Stadium outside of Dallas on March 13 and Miguel Cotto vs. Yuri Foreman in Yankee Stadium on June 5 are a declaration that despite the constant handwringing and predictions that boxing is your grandfather’s sport it is poised to rejoin the debate over how sports fans spend their dollars.

“If we believe- and I certainly believe it – that boxing is a big-time sport, boxing is on a crest,’’ Arum argued forcefully. “Boxing isn’t a niche sport or a dying sport, but it’s a big-time sport and putting it in big stadiums like Cowboys Stadium, like Yankees Stadium, like the new stadium in the Meadowlands, proves that point because when you put your product in venues like that, what you’re saying to the world is that boxing is a big-time sport and can hold its own past any other sport.

“We know what’s happening in Mexico…boxing is getting higher ratings than soccer and certainly any other sport going on regularly on terrestrial TV on a Saturday night.  We know it from Germany where arenas are constantly sold out and the ratings are through the roof. We know if from England and the Philippines and Japan.  We don’t know it yet from the United States but I’m telling you, it’s like the sleeping giant that is there.

“Boxing in the U.S. will take its place the same way that it is doing in the rest of the world – like a big-time sport.  Putting these events in these stadiums will prove that and demonstrate that.’’

The first step in that direction is that the Clottey-Pacquiao fight is close to a 45,000-seat sellout at Cowboy Stadium despite the fact one fighter is from Ghana and the other from the Philippines. Although Pacquiao is considered the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world and hence a huge attraction on his own, Arum is drawing primarily from a Hispanic fan base in Texas so he has created a heavily Hispanic undercard to interest a loyal following for the sport within the Latino community.

That is called marketing, something most promoters think is what you do when you go shopping for groceries but Arum has always embraced. He has long been at the top of that end of the field and unlike many of his competitors he has shifted with the times.

Once he wanted to rule the heavyweights. When they slipped toward Don King and then slipped out of view (and out of the country), he shifted to the welterweights and middleweights and in recent years has gone both to even smaller fighters and to the Latino community, where boxing is a leading attraction.

He has adjusted to changing times and circumstances while others have not, and because of it he’s back at the top of his sport over 30 years after starting there with Muhammad Ali as his main attraction. It’s harder now than it was when Arum first cracked the business but clearly he has done it with the unlikely combination of a Filipino superstar and a primarily Hispanic fan base that he caters to.

In the end, regardless of how he figures to pack more than 40,000 fight fans into a football stadium in Texas and another large crowd into Yankee Stadium in June it is, he believes – and boxing fans should hope – it is all testament to the rebirth of the greatest one-on-one competition in sport – boxing.

“As you will see on March 13, there is no stadium or arena in the world like Cowboys Stadium,’’ Arum said. “What makes the event super exciting is that screen that goes from one 20 yard line to the other and is super high definition.  The screen will be 30 feet above the ring.  Every replay and every punch in the fight will be seen in really high definition.  Indeed, as pretty as the Cowboy cheerleaders are, wait until you see them on that big screen, it is something really special.

“We didn’t set the stadium up for 40,000, we set it up for 45,000 and we are on our way to selling out. There are a lot of Hispanics in Dallas.  We are selling a lot of tickets to Hispanics.  On the principal undercard bouts we have Hispanics.  We have Jose Luis Castillo fighting Alfonso Gomez, John Duddy, who is Irish, fighting Michael Medina, a Mexican from Monterey, middleweight, and David Diaz against Humberto Soto for the WBC lightweight title.

“(The size of the crowd) that’s up to Jerry (Jones, the owner of the Cowboys who offered a $25 million site fee for the failed Pacquiao-Mayweather fight). Right now everyone would have a tremendous view of the fight.  We could expand but right now we are on target to sell the 45,000 tickets and we’d be very happy doing that.  By the time the fighters get into town, we would have sold well over 40,000 tickets.  We would then have 3,000 or 4,000 tickets to go and it would be up to Jerry to expand.

“On the non-televised portion of the card, it is loaded with Hispanics like Roberto Marroquin of Dallas – the Hispanics and Mexicans will be well-represented.  Manny Pacquiao has fought many Mexicans and when I was down in Mexico identified Manny as a Filipino/Mexican and the Mexicans in California feel that Manny is one of them.’’

That latter point is typical Arum hyperbole but the larger one he is making is not. Boxing once held many of its biggest fights outdoors because of the crowd demand, but there has been no major outdoor fight at Yankee Stadium since Arum put on Ali vs. Ken Norton in 1976. To return there over 30 years later with Cotto-Foreman is a leap of faith not so much by Arum but by the people who run the new Yankee Stadium and the fans who have been loyal to boxing for so many years, even when the greed and short-sightedness of many of the people running the sport made that difficult.

Yet because of its primal beauty, compelling action when at its best and fundamental appeal, it seems the sport is growing once again in the United States to the point where major stadium fights can now be staged with confidence fans will come. What this all adds up to is one word – hope.

Hope for a sport that has always deserved better than its gotten from the media, from general sports fans and, frankly, from many of the men who have made millions off it.

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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