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Articles of 2010

Spectre Of Mayweather Looms Over Pacquiao

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Freddie Roach tried. So did Manny Pacquiao. They couldn’t do it for long but you had to give them an ‘A’ for effort. They both tried to talk about Joshua Clottey.

“He is a very strong guy and he’s a strong puncher,’’ Pacquiao’s trainer said of the man who will challenge Pacquiao March 13 in Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas. “His best punch is the uppercut but we will not fall into that pocket too often to let him use that shot.  I do have a lot of confidence in my fighter and the reason why is the way he has been sparring. We have big strong guys that fight a lot like Clottey.  Manny has been handling them with ease in sparring.

“Manny is on top of his game and he’s got the game plan down and he’s very sharp right now.  I’m happy where he’s at.  I think we will overwhelm him and the fight will end before 12.

“I don’t care who trains Joshua Clottey for this fight, he can’t beat us. He is what he is.  Let’s face it.  He fights the same way in every tape I watch.  Whether he fights southpaws or right-handers, he is predictable.  He’s good at what he does but he does the same thing over and over again and he is very predictable.  He’s going to try to change for this fight but once he gets in he will revert back to it.  We are 100% ready for his style.

“He’s resilient. The beginning of the fight is going to be very hard because he is a very good opponent and he likes to fight.  We will break him down and I am confident the fight will not go 12 rounds.

“We have watched a lot of tape on Clottey.  We know his characteristics, we know his mistakes and we know his habits.  I do feel that the way Manny Pacquiao is training for this fight, the game plan and how to beat Clottey is in place.  I know Clottey is a big strong guy and a great fighter and we respect him and he’s a real tough guy but with Manny Pacquiao I feel that he’s going to overwhelm him with his speed and his combinations. I do believe he will be the first person to stop him before the 12th round.’’

That was about it for legitimate Clottey talk. After that Roach, Pacquiao and promoter Bob Arum all had a hard time keeping the conversation away from the real reason this fight was made, which is because The Fight was not. That fight was to be the showdown with Floyd Mayweather, Jr., a bout not only boxing fans but general sports fans were buzzing about.

It did not come off because Pacquiao refused to accede to Mayweather’s demand he agree to random blood testing for performance enhancing drugs right up to nearly fight time. Although Pacquiao would rather have talked about Clottey, the spectre of Mayweather continues to hang over him and this fight, making it little more than a footnote unless a moment comes when Clottey appears to be competitive against the finest pound-for-pound fighting machine in the world.

Assuming that doesn’t happen, and Clottey’s resume gives no reason to expect he will be anything more than stubbornly resilient, the talk remains what it has been for months – who refuses to take a drug test worth $40 million?

This has affected the promotion with Clottey in many ways but Arum did his best when discussing it to turn it into a show of Pacquiao’s strength in the marketplace rather than weakness at the doctor’s office.

“To be frank, we had to overcome disappointment,’’ Arum claimed. “People were looking forward to a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight.  That is clear. Our job is to present Joshua Clottey as he is.  A bigger guy.  A stronger guy.  A guy who has never been off his feet.  A real test for Manny Pacquiao.  That is what will sell this fight.

“You can’t say there are two household names fighting on March 13th but Clottey is a well-respected welterweight.  He lost a very close decision to Miguel Cotto in his last fight.  He won the title by stopping Zab Judah.  He is a formidable opponent and I think that the public gets it.  The pay-per-view at $49.95 is going to do extremely well and we are very pleased with the ticket sales at Cowboys Stadium.’’

Arum has predicted at least 45,000 in attendance, which is a sellout the way they have configured Cowboys Stadium, and whatever crowd they get will be there because of Pacquiao because as hard as Arum tries to sell Clottey, no one’s buying. They’re buying Manny vs. Whoever and all sides seem to know it.

“He is truly a crossover star,’’ Arum said by way of putting the best face on this situation. “That was our goal when we started with Manny was to break him out from the Filipino base that he had.  We were able to pick up millions of Hispanic fans and we have broken him in to the general conscience of the people around the world.  How many fighters of our time go on Jimmy Kimmel Live and go on Good Morning America and have a big article coming out in Time magazine?  I think that is saying something.’’

It is but at this stage of things most of what is being said in the days and weeks leading up to this fight is about the fight that wasn’t, a fact that grates on everyone involved.

“I don’t want to talk about or think about blood testing,’’ Pacquiao said. “I want to focus on the Clottey fight.  I did take a blood test when I fought Erik Morales.  I didn’t think I would fight Mayweather because people know Mayweather was not ready to fight me.’’

That has become part of the prevailing explanation from the Pacquiao camp even though one could turn that argument inside out and level the same charge at Pacquiao. As Mayweather jokingly said a few weeks ago, “What kind of fight don’t take a $25 million drug test (no wonder he had trouble with the IRS)? A guilty fighter.’’

Whatever the reason, the failure of the two sides to come to an agreement on a fight the general public badly wanted to see is one both sides will have to live with for some time. How long is anyone’s guess.

The prevailing wisdom is eventually monetary pressures will force that match to happen but Roach indicated for him there’s a better reason to make the match than the money it’s worth.

“We are not happy with his [Floyd Mayweather Jr.] remarks,’’ Roach said. “Manny wants to fight him in the future because of the remarks he made.  Sometimes when Manny is shadowboxing, he will show me how Mayweather fights and how he will take care of the problem.  I’ve never seen Manny do that before.  He was trying to ruin our reputation with those allegations so we do want to fight him and we do want to knock him out.

“I would like to shut him up of course.  Obviously he is just going to have to go by the rules.  It is like saying we want to fight five-minute rounds.  Commissions do that, not fighters.  If you let him have his way it’s like giving away the first two rounds – it’s crazy.  I do want Manny to fight him and I know Manny would knock him out and then the whole world will be happy.’’

Perhaps so but Pacquiao has said he can live without it, believing his legacy has already been written. Although a win over Mayweather, the best fighter of this era not named Pacquiao, would enhance that legacy he seems well able to go on without it even if the people around him cannot.

“I’m OK,’’ he said. “I don’t need to fight him. What I believe is Floyd Mayweather is not ready at this time to fight with me.  That’s why he makes the reasons to cancel the fight. I feel bad and disappointment because he is accusing me of using drugs or whatever and trying to ruin my name in boxing.  People know I have been successful through God and hard work.

“I don’t really need Floyd Mayweather because what I have achieved in boxing is good enough for me and people know that by comparing my achievements in boxing to his achievements.’’

Perhaps but the simple fact is the two of them are involved in something known as prize fighting and the prize is not some alphabet organization’s belt. The real prize is the money they pay you to fight for the belt and there’s only one way either of them can earn $40 million in one night – if the other is in there with him. Anything else is small potatoes.

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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UFC_Edgar_and_Maynard_Dec._2010
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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