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Articles of 2010

Must-See TV? Not Yet, Anyhow

Bernard Fernandez

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There is a school of thought among American sports fans that if an event isn’t on television, it must not be very important.

Saturday’s matchup of IBF/WBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko (53-3, 47 KOs) and Philadelphia-based challenger “Fast” Eddie Chambers (35-1, 18 KOs) in Dusseldorf, Germany, will not be shown live in the U.S.

For members of Chambers’ inner circle, the decision by HBO Sports executives to not televise the fight is akin to a cold slap in the face. They figure the suits at the pay-cable giant will owe their guy an apology, at the very least, should he return to Philly with Klitschko’s title belts in his possession. A hefty, long-term contract would be a nice gesture toward making amends.

Rob Murray Sr., Chambers’ manager-trainer, believes the polite and well-spoken challenger — a 9-1 underdog — is being penalized for not adhering to a predetermined notion of what a black fighter is supposed to be.

“African-American athletes, I believe, have been stereotyped,” Murray groused. “They’re supposed to be controversial — the more controversial the better. There was this circus-type atmosphere surrounding Mike Tyson. You got the same thing now with Floyd Mayweather. It’s like the controversy overshadows their ability. It’s the same thing in basketball with guys like Allen Iverson.

“Last I checked, Eddie hasn’t shot anybody. He hasn’t raped anybody. He has no domestic-violence cases pending. He doesn’t run with a bunch of gangsta rappers and drug dealers. He doesn’t have any tattoos.

“He’s an apple-pie nice guy. That’s not the kind of black athlete TV tries to sell.”

Kery Davis, senior vice president of HBO Sports, said Chambers’ ability is not an issue, nor are his squeaky-clean personal habits. HBO would be very interested in speaking to Chambers, Murray and promoter Dan Goossen if Chambers “goes to Dusseldorf and pulls a Buster Douglas,” a reference to Douglas’ shocking, 10th-round stoppage of Tyson on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo, which is generally regarded as the biggest upset in boxing history.

But it is not only Chambers who won’t get TV face time in America on Saturday. Klitschko, widely considered the best heavyweight in the world, even better than his older brother, WBC heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko, won’t be on, either — and that is the result of circumstances Davis said are largely beyond HBO’s control.

“We’re not out of the heavyweight business by any means,” Davis said. “We’re just looking to be more opportunistic with the heavyweights, doing fights that fit for us.

“There are several factors that played into our decision not to televise (Klitschko-Chambers). We’d obviously prefer to do a show originating in the United States than one in Europe because we get to do them live and in prime time.

“The quality of the show also is a consideration, and we also must look at scheduling issues. Klitschko-Chambers is taking place during the middle of the NCAA Tournament. We did not think our best course of action was to go against March Madness.”

Some have theorized that HBO, if not abandoning the heavyweight division, at least has backed away because the Klitschkos, natives of Ukraine, are far superior to the level of possible challengers from the U.S. Wlad and Vitali are too robotic, too Ivan Drago-like, too unendearing to American audiences. The buzz is now generated on these shores by smaller fighters like Manny Pacquiao and Mayweather.

It is true that the Klitschkos, who a few years ago seemingly were determined to gain a foothold with U.S. fans, no longer come to these shores as regularly as they once did. But that, too, is probably an economic decision; boxing has become a niche sport in America, but it is mainstream stuff throughout Europe, and hotter than Hades in Germany. Klitschko-Chambers will be held in the 50,000-seat ESPRIT Arena, which might be described as Cowboys Stadium without that ultrahuge high-def video screen hovering over the ring.

“The Klitschkos (Vitali is defending his title against European champ Albert Sosnowski on May 29 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany) make so much more money fighting in Europe than they can in the United States,” Davis said. “It would be hard for them to leave that much money on the table to come here.”

And the complaint that the Klitschkos simply are too good for their own good?

“We put on dominant champions all the time,” Davis said. “If you’re the best fighter and better than everyone else, that doesn’t mean we’re going to ignore you until a more competitive opponent comes along.

“People said for years that Roy Jones Jr. was unbeatable, but they watched his fights anyway because how often do you get a chance to see a great artist perform? Being too dominant isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

But Davis will concede that the recent Eastern European stranglehold on the heavyweight division has made the selling of boxing’s big men for domestic consumption a bit more difficult.

“If an American heavyweight were to emerge as a true threat, either by beating a Klitschko or having a sensational fight with one of them, that would to a lot to energize the division,” he said. “I don’t know if Chambers is that guy, but we’ll see.”

Chambers is 1-1 in previous trips to Germany. He said he was too tentative when he squared off against Alexander Povetkin on Jan. 26, 2008, in Berlin, the result being a 12-round, unanimous-decision loss. After that fight, he replaced his dad, Eddie Chambers Sr., as his lead trainer with Murray, who already had been serving as his manager. On July 4, 2009, the 6-1 Chambers came in at 208¼ pounds, the second-lightest of his career, and outmaneuvered and out-quicked 6-7, 253½-pound Ukrainian giant Alexander Dimitrenko in winning a unanimous decision in Hamburg.

It is that Chambers – fast as a middleweight, and a more damaging puncher than some imagine — who Murray insists will restore the U.S. to the forefront of heavyweight glory.

“Klitschko cannot fight on the inside, and he won’t fight on the inside,” Murray said, so confident in Saturday’s outcome that he doesn’t mind revealing Chambers’ fight plan. “When you get close to him, he grabs and clinches.

“He only wants to fight you at arm’s length. He’s able to get away with that because he really doesn’t jab; he paws at you, paws at you with that long left hand, trying to set you up for the overhand right.

“Opponents buy into that whole `Dr. Steelhammer’ bull, that his right hand is so devastating that they have to stay away from it. That allows Klitschko to stand back and have his way with most guys.”

Most guys, maybe. But not everyone.

“When Lamon Brewster beat Klitschko, he bum-rushed him, got inside and hurt him,” Murray said. “Klitschko gets hurt very easily. That’s no secret; he got stopped in all three of the fights he lost.

“Another thing: he keeps his foot in the bucket all the time. That’s how the old Philly trainers like Yank Durham and Sam Solomon described it. In other words, he’s punching and retreating at the same time. He had (Ruslan) Chagaev leaning and wobbly, but he still didn’t fully commit. He stayed in his preferred range. He’s like the basketball team that won’t drive the lane and only shoots perimeter jumpers.

“It’s great if it works, and it usually has for him, but by fighting that way all the time he limits himself. We’re not limiting ourselves. Joe Louis fought bigger guys like (Primo) Carnera and (Max) Baer. He used his jab, got in, got out. He circled, showed them angles, kept them guessing. And when Louis got inside, he threw uppercuts. Klitschko can’t throw uppercuts and he doesn’t handle it well when the other guy is throwing them. He doesn’t like it when someone punches up on him.

“If you get inside those long arms, Klitschko will turn his back on you. He automatically goes to the ropes. It’s almost like he’s trying to get out of the ring.”

To hear Murray tell it, Chambers almost can’t help becoming champion against a clumsy, one-dimensional goof like Klitschko. But the much-smaller challenger has more going for him than the reigning king’s supposed deficiencies.

“America should embrace Eddie Chambers,” Murray continued. “This is somebody who fought his way out of poverty. He delivered newspapers as a kid, before the sun came up, in the rain and the snow. Is that a great story or what? He came to Philly (from Pittsburgh) in 2002 with nothing but a dream. He’s undersized. They say he can’t punch. But look at who he’s beat. He retired Calvin Brock. Brock afterward that Eddie is the best fighter he ever fought. He destroyed Dimitrenko. Derric Rossy got so brutalized by Eddie, both of his eardrums were busted. He hasn’t been the same since.”

Sounds like a potential HBO kind of guy, if he can do all that Murray claims he can. The again …

“They’re numbers-crunchers at HBO, not really boxing people,” Murray said. “They’re guys who cut their doughnuts and French fries with a knife and fork. It’s a disgrace this fight isn’t on TV in the United States, but you can bet it’s a big deal in Germany. They understand and appreciate boxing in Germany.

“Who knows? When Eddie’s the champion, maybe we’ll just fight over in Europe.”

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

David A. Avila

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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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