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Articles of 2010

The Accidental Trainer

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NEW YORK — You don’t hear much about it otherwise, but the Kingsway Gym periodically gets its moment of fame whenever there’s a big fight in New York — and sometimes even when the big fight is in, say, Dallas. Its location, at Fifth Avenue and 28th Street, makes it easy to reach for Manhattan-based media types, many of whom are prone to developing allergies at the very mention of words like “Bronx” and “Brooklyn,” and, as boxing gyms go, you’d have to say that it borders on the hygienic, in that the toilets flush and nobody spits on the floor. The interior is sufficiently bright that photographers and TV crews know they won’t have to hump in a bunch of lighting equipment up a flight of stairs from street level, so they like it too.

Of course, the very factors that make it an ideal location for these Media Day extravaganzas are counterintuitive to boxing tradition. A boxing gym is supposed to be dark and dank and, if not foul-smelling, exude that blend of 40 year-old cigar ash, human body odor, rodent excretia, and backed-up plumbing that provides a gym with its own distinctive aroma.

In that respect the Kingsway can only function as an impostor. It doesn’t smell like a gym, feel like a gym, or even look much like a gym in any traditional sense.  On the other hand, on this day at least, Lenny DeJesus looks every inch a trainer: As he waits for Joshua Clottey to go to work he is wearing clean dungarees a zippered jacket over a t-shirt, a jaunty black Kangol cap on his head, and a white towel draped over his left shoulder.

DeJesus is a 64 year-old boxing lifer, one of those guys most boxing fans have seen climb up and down the steps for years without ever knowing his name. On the other hand, you’ve probably read his name a lot in the last two weeks. That was when the March issue of ESPN: The Magazine hit the stands, with a story (“The Substitute”) on Clottey that described DeJesus as a “part-time locksmith and long-time boxing satellite” and conveyed the distinct impression that as he heads into he biggest fight of his life against Manny Pacquiao, the supervisory role in Clottey’s corner had been entrusted to the Village Idiot.

e of the PR minions had instructed Lenny to drop by the wardrobe department and pick up a trainer’s uniform.

1:15: Josh is in the ring

DeJesus stands off to one side and watches Clottey go through the motions while a large Ghanaian named Bruce wields the mitts.  The other one-third of the corner DeJesus will be running, an even larger Ghanaian named Kwaku Gyamfi, keeps time. Lenny just watches. He seems to be paying attention, but he issues no instructions.

“Look,” says one member of the fight mob as he watches Clottey’s workout, “Clottey is 32 years old. He’s had almost 40 fights. There’s nothing you can tell him now that’s going to turn him into a different fighter. You just wind him up and let him go.

“And what’s the corner going to tell him during the fight — other than “Get up, Josh!”

Maybe “Josh! Stay down!”?

1:35: Josh hits the double-end bag

Irish middleweight John Duddy has had a place on the Pacquiao-Clottey undercard since its inception, but he was just added to the Media Day lineup this morning. Half the photographers and most of the print guys seem more interested in Duddy, and they keep watching the door behind Clottey.

In December of 2007 De Jesus was in Duddy’s corner at the King’s Hall in Belfast when the Irishman beat former Commonwealth champion Howard Eastman. Irish Ropes had just begun to shake up the Duddy corner; Don Turner had replaced Harry Keitt, and Lenny was the cut man, taking George Mitchell’s place. Both Keitt and Mitchell are back and De Jesus long since moved along. That is the live of a vagabond cornerman. Hell, earlier in the Filipino champion’s career he even worked as Pacquiao’s cut man.

“There are five things you can do in a corner and I’ve done all of ‘em,” says Lenny. “Not even Freddie Roach can say that. I’ve been the bucket guy, the stool guy, the advisor, the cut-man, and I’ve been the head guy before, too. But mostly I’ve been a cut man.”

It has been nearly 22 years, in fact, since the last time De Jesus was the chief second in a world title fight. He was in charge of Miguel Santana’s corner, and led the celebration when IBF lightweight champ Greg Haugen, his face bloodied from a deep cut to his right eyebrow, failed to answer the bell for the 12th round.

“We had the title for about 15 minutes,” he recalled. “The fight was in Seattle [Tacoma, actually], and after they’d raised Santana’s hand they decided that the cut had come from a butt, so they went back to the scorecards.”

Referee Jim Cassidy said that he was aware of the rule, but assumed that Santana was ahead on all three cards anyway. As it turned out he was ahead on only one of them, and, long after most of the crowd had gone home, a “stunned” Haugen was awarded the decision. The headline in the local paper read “Santana ‘robbed’ as Haugen gets bizarre win,” and the story noted that “Santana’s trainer, Lenny DeJesus, of New York City, thought his fighter had been robbed. ‘My fighter’s hand was raised in victory, and my fighter was awarded this fight!” said the distressed DeJesus.”

“They never looked a replay or nothing. Even the referee told is he knew it was a punch and not a butt,” adds Lenny. “The reason they did it was everybody knew Haugen had already signed to fight Jim Watt in London — for a lot of money.”

Lenny has been doing pretty well until he says that. And here we thought cut men didn’t have to worry about taking too many blows to the head.

Watt had retired after his 1981 loss to Alexis Argello — seven years before Haugen-Santana.

1:40: Josh hits the heavy bag

When the gloves are pulled off Clottey, the towel comes off Lenny’s shoulder for the first  time all day.  He vigorously sets about drying the fighters forearms and hands, sending a spray of sweat that glistens beneath the lights. Joshua is wearing a dark red t-shirt with a baseball on the front. On the back it says “Baseball.”

Does Clottey play baseball? DeJesus is asked.

“I don’t think so,” says Lenny.

After a January press tour that opened at Cowboys Stadium and moved on to New York, Clottey returned to Accra, where he hoped to secure a visa that would have allowed his trainer, Godwin Nil Dzanie Kotey, to work his corner against Pacquiao. Kotey’s previous visa expired in December of 2009, and the security regulations involved in the process had changed dramatically between then and the time he applied for a new one; over Christmastime a Nigerian passenger had attempted to turn himself into a Roman candle on approach to Detroit.

So when Clottey flew back in February to open camp in Fort Lauderdale barely a month before the Pacquiao fight, De Jesus had more or less by default become his trainer.

“I guess I’m it,” he told ESPN’s Chris Jones at the time. Jones did not, it should be noted, seem exactly bowled over when Lenny explained that his “first job will be getting this kid up those stairs and into the ring.”

Lenny assumes that Clottey must have worked while he was back in Ghana. DeJesus, in any case, was there to meet him in Florida, and claims that over the last several weeks the challenger has sparred close to 90 rounds.

“I got the sparring partners,” he says. “They was all lefthanders, too.”

1:45: Josh hits the speed bag

John Duddy shows up, in street clothes, and announces that he is not going to work out.

“Nobody told me about this until it was too late,” he explains. “I already did all my work this morning.”

He does pose for a few pictures with Clottey, and chats amiably with boxing writers. Around the gym, grumbling photographers begin to pack away their equipment.

Over on the other side of the gym, Media Works’ Ed Keenan describes the Clottey camp in Florida.

“I finally went to Lenny and said ‘Look, you have to give me your phone number. I keep setting up these interviews with Clottey, but then he won’t answer his phone.”

“Lenny tells me ‘Aw, mine won’t work either. A few days ago I fell in the swimming pool with my clothes on and my phone was in my pocket.’

“That was last week. He still hasn’t gotten a phone.”

This might mark Lenny as old school, or maybe just stubborn.  Just imagine for a moment, for instance, having to make a split second decision which to carry out of a burning building, his training mitts or his cell phone. It wouldn’t even be close.

But Lenny, we felt like asking him, doesn’t a locksmith need a phone, too?

1:50: Josh talks

Albeit briefly.

For the past month the question has been whether DeJesus or anyone else actually had enough time to get Clottey ready for this fight. The groundwork in Florida was by all accounts preliminary jousting, and from a preparation standpoint, the dog-and-pony show at the Kingsway has largely been a wasted day.

Now Joshua Clottey says “I have done all the work I need. I wish I did not even go to Texas for the next eight days. I want the fight to be now.”

Is the tail wagging the dog here, or what?

1:53: Josh done talking

Josh says he’s ready. Lenny says he’s not.

“But that’s not exactly what I’ll say to him,” says Lenny. “Dealing with fighters is dealing like little kids sometimes. If you don’t want them eating candy, you can try to show them how it’s harmful, but if you give them an order — Don’t eat candy! — the first thing they’re gonna do is go eat even more when you’re not looking.

“Sure, he needs more work between now and March 13th. He’s fighting Manny Pacquiao!    I just gotta figure out a way to make him think it’s his idea.”

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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