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Articles of 2010

IS THE MAIN EVENT ON YET? Off-TV Undercard Report

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It's intervention time. Enough is enough. I don't care what focus groups say. I don't care if by and large people buy pay per views to see the main event, and chat and keep the sound off until the feature attraction. It is time for someone to clue in the sports' power brokers, and tell them they are not serving the sport or themselves by serving us hardcore fight fans dreck before the featured tiff. Three bouts preceded the Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey main event at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, and all of them showcased long stretches of listlessness, and sparring-level back and forth.

It's not just me; the HBO announce team laced into Top Rank, the card's promoter, during the Alfonso Gomez-Jose Luis Castillo “fight,” which ended in pathetic fashion, with Castillo signaling the white flag on his stool.

But sometimes I feel like I'm in the minority harping on this; judging by the comments I see, a lot of you accept the status quo, and feel you get your money's worth by and large on these PPV cards, which feature too many retreads, never will bees and favors to managers. Weigh in in the comment section, if you are with me, or if you think I expect too much, TSS U. Bottom line, I say the undercard is an ad for the sport. You can pack it with fan friendly battles, and draw new fans to the sport, or you can turn off new eyeballs, and condition people to expect subpar material…Your choice, suits…Basically, you have me wrapped up, you have me on board, even if you continue this sad pattern. But I'm at the top five percent of the hardcore. 50,994 people too often visited the restroom, and the hot dog stand, instead of being enraptured by scintillating back and forth pugilism at Cowboys Stadium. Hopefully, you'll see the light, and give the fans what they deserve. Pay per view cards packed top to bottom with enticing fare. End rant…til the next display of putridity, the cynic in me says…

In the final fight before the main event at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas on Saturday night, Humberto Soto won a unanimous decision, by scores of 115-111, 117-109, 117-109, the announcement of which drew the most tepid of applause. Around the world, fight fans had no clue who won, because they'd long ago tunred down the volume, and glanced at their screen only long enough to make sure the main event wasn't starting.

The vacant WBC lightweight crown was up for grabs, for the record. Soto won the stat war, going 160-638, while Diaz went 90-634.

Soto (age 29; 134 1/4 pounds; from Mexico; entering at 50-7-2 with 32 kos; two time world champ; current super feather titlist) came in a winner of six straight, while Diaz (age 33; 134 pounds; from  Chicago; entering at 35-2-1 with 17 kos; ex lightweight champ) fought once, a win against Jesus Chavez, after losing to Manny Pacquiao in 2008 (TKO9).

In the first, the lefty Diaz started bleeding above his right eyebrow. He then went down, off a right hook-left hook combo, and his glove touched the canvas. In the second, Soto popped a lead right which hit home frequently. Soto's movement proved problematic to the wide-stanced Diaz. His jab wasn't going to do any damage, and Soto knew it. The Mexican looked completely at ease through four. Manny Steward admitted that “I'm not really scoring the fight” during the sixth, which tells you a bit about the level of buzz and import in this squareoff. Diaz connected on just five punches a round through six, even though he kept chugging forward.

Diaz didn't go away. He stayed in pressure mode, and it looked like the cards would be close after the twelfth. Then again, Gale Van Hoy was on duty, so really, who the heck knew what the decision might look like…Diaz outlanded Soto in the ninth. His body work was more than annoying. But he hit the deck in the twelfth, off a six punch combo, at the end of the frame, his second two point round.

Alfonso Gomez (age 29; 145 pounds; living in California; entering at 21-4-2 ) battled Jose Luis Castillo (age 36; 144 pounds; from Mexico; entering at 60-9-1; former two time 135 pound champion) with Gomez' WBA cont-a-something or other welterweight tile on the line. Both men have illustrious feathers in their career caps: Castillo was in a fight of the century with Diego Castillo in 2005, while Gomez retired Arturo Gatti in 2007. “To have the crowd go through this type of fight is not fair,” said HBO analyst Emanuel Steward, after seeing what both men had to offer in the first round. I'm in Manny's corner; I'll never understand Bob Arum's insistence on feeding PPV viewers hamburger undercards when they pay filet mignon fees…But hey, maybe rounds two through twelve would prove to be classic…

Er, no. But it beat the Duddy-Medina appetizer. But not by that much..Seriously, I think it's time for an intervention for Mr Arum. Most churches are more lively during service than was Cowboys Stadium for too damn much of the undercard action. I don't give a tinker's damn what the focus groups say, that people pay for the main event and don't care about the prelims. Baloney. Major league pile of Oscar Mayer. Like the UFC does, give them wars from start to finish, and people will be happy that they spend the dough, even if the main clash isn't A level. Really. Who needs a focus group to grasp this screamingly obvious fact? Seriously…I'd like to see Arum on a future episode of “Intervention,” in a room with Kery Davis, Ross Greenburg, Marc Taffett and Todd deBoeuf.  “This is a sorry excuse for an undercard fight on a major pay per view card,” Max Kellerman said during round four. Jim Lampley called the scrap “inappropriate,” but did make mention of the fact that Top Rank wanted to bolster the undercard with the return of Antonio Margarito.

This stinker ended after the fifth, as Castillo said 'no mas' on his stool.

In my mind, unless there is a verified injury to Castillo, the commission should yank his license, because otherwise there was no reason for a professional with pride to pull the plug. Jose LUis Castillo, unless he was injured, should exit the game for good, because he doesn't appear to have the drive to do it anymore.

Gomez went 92-356, while the quitter Castillo went 47-213.

In the pay-per-view opener, John Duddy (age 30; 160; 28-1, with 18 kos entering; from Ireland, fighting out of NYC ) clashed with Michael “The Murder Man” Medina (age 23; 155 1/2; 23-1-2 entering, with 18 kos; from California, living in Mexico) in a scheduled ten rounder. Duddy is Duddy. He gets hit too often, especially from jabs and left hooks, and is still caught without a definitive identity. Brawler? Boxer? Hybrid? He's still figuring it out. He was showing a savvy concentration on landing a right to the body in the first couple rounds. Medina looked hesitant to be the aggressor early, but every now and again, he'd score clean. His hooks, especially, were purposeful. The HBO announce crew, Lampley, Steward and Kellerman, all agreed that Duddy has dulled in recent years; he used to be more of an “eye of the tiger” type of fighter, but some of that fire has dimmed. Perhaps that is the wiser course of action for a man who has a tendency to cut, and leaves himself open to easy countering when he lets loose. I say it is; this is the recipe for him to get to that one big money cashout fight, which will go a long way in making these years of sacrifice pay off. He's not fighting to entertain us, he's fighting to feed his family for the next thirty years. Over the last couple of years, Duddy has become a much more focused fighter. He doesn't have the lapses of concentration that used to plague him. Those lapses of concentration, though, when he'd see red, made him more fun to watch. Duddy got wobbled by a right to end the seventh, and he went to his corner wobbly. In the eighth, Medina didn't press the issue. He kept on backing up, instead of attempting to leverage his advantage. Steward said that Duddy's pop used to be at a 10 level, and is now a 6. The ref warned Medina for going low at the end of the round, and took a point from the underdog. Duddy drew blood, on the left cheek, in the ninth. He didn't go balls out to end the show on a high note, electing to simply go the safe route, get the win now, look stellar later.

We'd go the cards, which read 96-93 Duddy, 96-93 Medina, 96-93 Duddy. The stats read: 177-601, to 173-528, for Duddy.

Check back for George Kimball's comprehensive ringside report.

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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