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Articles of 2010

MEMORIES WITH MLADINICH: Edwin Torres

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For as long as he can remember retired Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Edwin Torres has been a boxing fan, so he was thrilled to be appointed to the New York State Athletic Commission in 2008 after three decades on the bench.

As much as Torres enjoys being part of the regulatory and administrative process for boxers, managers and promoters, what he loves most about the new job is being personally involved with the sport that has been so close to his heart for all of his 79 years. 

There is not much the longtime jurist, who is also the author of such quintessential New York-themed books as “Carlito’s Way,” “Q&A” and “After Hours,” all of which were made into successful feature films, loves more than a good scrap. 

He is especially enamored of Juan Manuel Lopez, 28-0 (25 KOS), the hard-punching Puerto Rican featherweight, and Cuban sensation Yuriorkis Gamboa, 17-0 (15 KOS), both of whom recently fought in separate bouts at Madison Square Garden. 

“Lopez is a buzz saw and an idol in Puerto Rico,” said Torres. “Gamboa’s nickname is El Ciclone, which means cyclone in English. I told him he fights more like a full blown hurricane. If Lopez and Gamboa ever collide, it will be the fight of the year.” 

Torres is also a big fan of Miguel Cotto, but would like to see him retire from the ring. From a fan’s perspective, he is looking forward to the upcoming bout between Cotto and Yuri Foreman, but admits to being a bit perplexed by Foreman’s success as a pro. 

“He’s a very good fighter, but he sure doesn’t look like a pug,” he explained. “He’s such a good-looking guy, there’s not a mark on him. It’s great to see a guy get that far without getting marked up. That really tells me how good of a fighter he is.” 

Since joining the commission, the fighter that has impressed Torres more than any other is Joe Calzaghe, who survived a flash knockdown and went on to totally dismantle Roy Jones Jr. at MSG. 

“What he did to Jones after getting knocked down was amazing,” said Torres. “He put his arms by his side and his head in Jones’s face. Jones had been doing that bleep for years, but Calzaghe beat him at his own game.”

While growing up in New York’s Spanish Harlem, Torres said it was hard not to be a student of the game. The first neighborhood heroes he recalls were bantamweight champion Sixto Escobar and lightweight and welterweight title challenger Pedro Montanez, both of whom hailed from Puerto Rico, the place where Torres’s beloved father, Edelmiro “Eddie” Torres, was born.

“Some of my most thrilling moments as an adolescent revolved around boxing,” said Torres. “I shook hands with Jack Johnson at the Fleet Circus, and with Jack Dempsey while I was walking down Broadway. The memory of meeting Dempsey is emblazoned in my mind.” 

Back then, said Torres, boxing was an integral part of the city’s fabric. Although there were clear lines of delineation between the newly arrived Puerto Ricans and the Italians and African-Americans in Spanish Harlem, the popularity of Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis transcended all racial and ethnic lines. 

“One day word got out that Joe Louis was going to be at the Oddfellows Temple on 106th Street and Park Avenue,” recalled Torres. “When he pulled up in a limo and stepped out, it was like God had appeared.” 

“We used to see Sugar Ray Robinson drive around in his chartreuse Cadillac,” he continued. “He was bigger than life, the greatest fighter of all time. He was non-pareil.” 

If athletic icons like Louis and Robinson were not there to run interference for local gangs, things could get pretty rough. 

“Puerto Ricans were not supposed to go east of Park Avenue,” explained Torres. “Our area was between Park and Fifth, from 99th to 116th streets,” recalled Torres.  “The blacks were west of Fifth. There was a tough Italian gang called the Red Wings, who had the entire area east of Park.”   

One time, after Torres ventured over to the Jefferson Pool, which was located on First Avenue, he was set upon by the Red Wings who beat him with bicycle chains and stick ball bats.

Torres’s father, who had served 12 years in the army and later became a captain with the postal police, was an extremely intelligent man who understood the value of education above all else. He demanded that his son be studious, and often told him that if he got locked up he’d rot in jail because he wouldn’t bail him out. 

One time his father spotted Torres in a pool hall on East 106th Street. He tapped on the window, curled his finger and ordered him to finish his game of nine-ball and come right home. 
 
“He told me to never go there again, and I never did,” said Torres. “It was good advice.” 

Torres and a friend, Johnny Calderon, entered the 1949 Golden Gloves tournament. Torres injured his hand early on and had to drop out, while Calderon made it all the way to the finals. 

“It was probably for the best because the fact is I couldn’t box oranges,” said Torres. “I couldn’t fight for bleep, and I didn’t want to get hit in the face.” 

Torres served three years in the U.S. Navy and graduated from Brooklyn Law School, which made his father the proudest dad in the world. Calderon, who on more than one occasion saved Torres’s chestnuts on the street, wound up serving time in prison for murder. 

 A young, brash and handsome Torres cut a dashing figure as he defended some of Spanish Harlem’s most notorious criminals in his early days as a lawyer. Late one evening, after leaving a club and being seated in a breakfast joint with several clients, Jake LaMotta entered the eatery.  

“He just stared at us, didn’t say a word,” said Torres. “He started circling the table, glaring at us in a belligerent manner. We tried to make believe we didn’t see him, but he kept glaring, looping around like a dangerous cat. Then he left.” 

One of Torres’s clients, who he described as “a short guy, but the baddest at the table,” pulled an automatic weapon out of his pants, racked it, put it in his crotch, and said, “If that mother comes back, I’m blowing his head off.” 

Torres, who was newly appointed to the Bar, could already read the headlines. He imagined himself being a prosecution witness in a defense case, as well as being disbarred and breaking the heart of his father. No one was more relieved than he was when the Raging Bull did not come back. 

After several years as a defense lawyer, Torres became the first Puerto Rican assistant district attorney to ever be hired in Manhattan. Frank Hogan, who was then the DA, didn’t want him, but powerful Greenwich Village politician Carmine DeSapio used his influence to get him installed in the prestigious position.

“Carmine was my goombah,” said Torres. “He invented me. When he gave his word, it was good. He got Hogan to give me a six-month trial period. The job paid $60 a week.” 

Shortly after assuming that position in 1959, two Puerto Rican punks who belonged to a gang called The Vampires murdered a teenager in a Hell’s Kitchen park. The case made national headlines because one of the perpetrators, Salvador Agron, had worn a cape during the crime. He was dubbed “The Capeman” by the press. 

Torres wound up as the second seat (assistant) to the prosecutor during the well-publicized trial.

One day in court, Torres said “the hacks (guards) were taking The Capeman out of the courtroom. As he passed me, he snarled at me and called me a Spanish name that means stool pigeon or traitor. He was a punk and a half, so I jumped up. I still had the ghetto in me back then.” 

Torres made his bones in that case. When his six-month trial period was up, Hogan was asked to assess his new charge. “I wouldn’t trade him for two assistants,” was the response. 

Appointed to the bench in 1977, Torres quickly garnered a well-deserved reputation as the toughest of jurists. Although he is most famous for telling a killer that his parole officer had not even been born yet, he said that is far from his best pre-sentencing comment. 

He told one rapist, “I will rise from a moldy grave and visit a pox on the misguided parole board that sees fit to release you.” 

The next day he observed one of his court officers scratching his crotch. When Torres asked what he was doing, the officer said he had been visited by a pox.

As much as Torres likes to talk about the past, he is equally comfortable in the present. One minute he’ll be regaling you with a story about being awed by meeting Rocky Marciano at the Copacabana, the next he’s reveling about how much he enjoys the maniacal Irish fans that exciting middleweight John Duddy brings to his fights. 

He is not a big proponent of Mixed Martial Arts, which is currently prohibited in New York State, but concedes, “People love it and it generates a lot of money. I’m a purist, but maybe it’s time has come. If it’s something that is inevitable, there’s no point in protesting for the sake of protesting.” 

Like just about everyone else who follows boxing, Torres is disappointed that the heavyweight division is so dreadful, but believes that Manny Pacquiao is by far the most exciting fighter he has seen in a long time. 

“What a throwback he is!” proclaimed Torres. “He comes to fight, not run around. His hand speed is on par with Pernell Whitaker, but he’s so aggressive and gets stronger as the fight progresses.”

Perhaps Torres enjoys Pacquiao’s throwback status because he is such a throwback himself. He never ventures outside unless he is impeccably attired. His fedora fits perfectly on his large square head. He still has the rugged good looks and thick musculature of an older screen legend. He works out daily – and it shows in his natural grace and fleet-footedness. He looks a lot closer to 50 than 80. 

What is most appealing about him, in an old school way, is the salty language of the streets that he speaks with such fluidity. He says it like he sees it, and makes no excuses in the interest of political correctness or expediency. 

His latest writing project is a screenplay called “Pleasant Avenue,” which chronicles the beginnings of large scale heroin importation into the city by the mob in the years after World War II. 

“In 1948, I was here in the midst of this, a cauldron of gangs,” Torres recently told the New York Times. “The ethnic lines started to be crossed with the introduction of heroin. All of a sudden, mothers of some of my friends wanted to know why their sons were stealing clothes, appliances, anything. They didn’t know what heroin was. Even hip guys like me had never seen a street junkie.” 

The two protagonists, Mario and Nino LoPresti, are the sons of a man who lost his life standing up to the mob. One becomes a police officer, while the other is a pug who becomes a junkie. 

The language is crisp and snappy, in much the same fashion that Torres talks. “Slurs are hurled fast and often, and one seven-letter curse is so common that it becomes nothing more than a word that heralds the imminent arrival of a noun,” wrote the Times. 

From all indications, this might be Torres’s best work yet. The project, which will soon go into film production, has him as thrilled as a youngster who just won his first fight or sold his first script.

“I’m almost 80 and this bleep still excites me,” he said. “I’m a listener and a chronicler, and I’m looking forward to someday seeing this story on the big screen.”

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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