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Articles of 2010

Last Great Heavyweight Rivalry, Part IV: From Manila To The Bronx Via Nassau

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(Editor's Note: Last month TSS columnist George Kimball was invited to participate, along with two-time heavyweight champion George Foreman and Dr. Robert Rodriguez, in a Boxing Symposium at the University of Kansas. Entitled “The Last Great Heavyweight Rivalry,” Kimball's presentation at the KU event anecdotally compared the 1970s heavyweight nexus of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and Ken Norton with that of the middleweight rivalry celebrated in his acclaimed book FOUR KINGS: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and the Last Great Era of Boxing. That lecture formed the basis for the special TSS series which concludes with this installment.)

PART IV: FROM MANILA TO THE BRONX VIA NASSAU

(Coliseum, that is)

Somehow “It will be a killa and a chilla and a thrilla when I get the gorillla in Honolulu” just wouldn’t have had the same ring to it.

In April of 1975, just a few weeks before Ali’s scheduled defense against Ron Lyle, Don King summoned the press for a breath-taking announcement. The long-awaited rubber match between Ali and Frazier would take place that September, opening a new, 50,000 seat stadium in Honolulu — and that he himself would be the promoter of the extravaganza.

Although most reporters still regarded King as a self-promoting blowhard, he had retained some bona fides for his part in arranging the extravaganza in Zaire. King went on to reveal his plans for Ali to make an interim defense, against England’s Joe Bugner, in Malaysia that June, and if he’d stopped right there he’d probably have had his captive audience eating out of his hands.  Instead, King went on to tell the press that day that, having assembled a consortium of Middle-eastern businessmen as backers, he was deeply involved in negotiations to purchase Madison Square Garden.

The notion that the Mecca of Boxing would be controlled from, well, Mecca, and that a huckstering ex-con would be its front man was difficult to swallow. Michael Burke, then the president of MSG, found it extremely amusing, but like everyone else associated with the Garden, knew of no negotiations to buy a building that was not for sale in any case. (Burke did, on the other hand — with tongue firmly in cheek — wish King all the luck in the world with his venture in Hawaii.)

One phone call to Honolulu similarly established that there was no deal to stage a fight there, either. Mackay Yanagisawa, the manager of the as-yet unnamed Aloha Stadium, said that was by no means certain that the new facility would even be completed by September. (Although the Hawaii option faded from view, the cover of the August 1975 issue of The Ring was a facsimile poster for Ali-Frazier III — at Nasser Stadium in Cairo, Egypt.)

One of King’s seemingly fanciful boasts did come to pass when on June 30 of that year Ali defended against Bugner in Kuala Lumpur and won a unanimous decision, and another proved partially true. It didn’t take place in Hawaii and it didn’t take place in Egypt, but before the summer was out King had entered into an alliance with yet another Third World dictator. With Ferdinand Marcos assuming the role Mobutu had played in Zaire, and for pretty much the same reasons, a deal was struck for Ali and Frazier to consummate their trilogy in the capital city of the Republic of the Philippines.

The buildup to the October 1975 fight was dominated by two subtexts, both of which would have enduring consequences.  One was Frazier’s reaction to Ali’s constant needling.  If Smokin’ Joe had been ready to come to blows over being called “ignorant” before Ali-Frazier II, we can only imagine how he felt about being characterized as a gorilla at every turn in the buildup to this one. It was classic Ali gamesmanship, and he flung the term around so incessantly that it found its way into local English-language stories whose authors assumed it to be Joe’s adopted Nom de Ring.  Thirty-five years later we can only speculate how the entire future of the Ali-Frazier relationship might have been affected had their third meeting taken place in a city that didn’t lend itself to such an easy rhyme.

The other pre-fight contretemps came because Ali’s traveling party included the lovely Veronica Porche. As a pre-med student at USC, the aspiring actress had met Ali in Zaire after winning a contest to become one for four “poster girls” for the Rumble in the Jungle, and had regularly been seen in the champion’s company over the intervening year. Since the American sporting press generally turned a blind eye to Ali’s womanizing the relationship had not been widely publicized, but it had been so brazenly conducted that Belinda Ali could hardly have been unaware of it, but she had apparently determined to keep her counsel for the sake of her family rather than be publicly embarrassed.

All of that changed when Veronica accompanied Ali to an official function at the presidential palace. Ms. Porche’s presence might have been innocent enough (she probably just wanted to compare shoe collections with Imelda Marcos), but in the course of the state visit, Ferdinand Marcos introduced Veronica as “Mrs. Ali.” Ali himself certainly had the opportunity to correct him, but when he did not, stories describing her as his “wife” were circulated all around the world. A steaming Belinda Ali was shortly on a flight to Manila, and after a noisy and unpleasant confrontation at the champion’s hotel, departed again.

It was the end of Ali’s second marriage. He would marry Veronica Porche in 1977, a union which produced two daughters — Hana Ali, who would write The Soul of a Butterfly, and Laila Ali, who would accumulate a 24-0 record as a professional boxer.

The turmoil surrounding Ali’s personal life so dominated the run-up to the Manila fight that many assumed it would prove a distraction; even Frazier joked about it. When he encountered Tom Cushman he indicated the lady next to him and said, “I’d like you to meet my girlfriend. Florence is also my wife.”

The bout was held outside Manila, at the Araneta Stadium in Quezon City. Television was once again calling the tune, and it commenced at 10:45 in the morning, Philippines time. Officially, Ali (224 1/2) and Frazier (215) were significantly heavier than they had been for the earlier two meetings; there’s no telling how much they weighed at fight time since the weigh-in was conducted five days beforehand. There were 28,000 eyewitnesses, including the Marcoses. The referee, a little-known Filipino named Carlos Padilla, would capitalize on the exposure he received in the Thrilla by moving to Las Vegas soon afterward, and by 1975 was working high-profile bouts in his adopted hometown.

There were three distinct phases to the Thrilla in Manila. Ali dominated the first act, outboxing Frazier while he peppered him with long-range jabs and combinations to the head, simultaneously negating Joe’s favored weapon as he grabbed him behind the neck before he could unload with the hook.

Act II, comprising the middle rounds, went to Frazier almost by default once Ali wearied and stopped punching. Joe had opened the sixth by landing three solid hooks to the jaw, any one of which, in his own estimate, “could have knocked down a building.”

As he took one of them, Ali supposedly said to Joe, “And they told me you was all washed up,”  to which Frazier replied, “they lied to you, didn’t they?”

At this point Ali once again retreated to his refuge on the ropes, but if the Rope-a-Dope had been an inspired tactic in the Foreman fight, it was all wrong for fighting Joe Frazier, who was not only much better conditioned, but seemed to delight in the opportunity to punish his despised rival without meeting serious resistance. Ali appeared ready to quit after both the tenth and eleventh, but Dundee was able to haul him off his stool and force him back into the ring.

After eleven rounds in the hot, late-morning sun, both men seemed exhausted, but Ali summoned a second wind that saw him take the fight to Frazier. By now Frazier’s eyes were rapidly closing, and he occasionally looked like Mr. Magoo in the ring, turning the wrong way in his confusion. “He can’t see you!” Dundee shouted to Ali from the corner.

Ali appeared to stagger his foe several times in the 12th, and in the 13th he unloaded a punch with such ferocity that Joe’s mouthpiece threatened to go into orbit. The mouthpiece, which had landed in the audience, was not replaced until the end of the round, and after 13 Frazier’s mouth had accumulated several new lacerations. By the 14th Ali’s punches had completely closed Frazier’s left eye; the right one wasn’t much better.  The scorecards would later confirm that Ali’s lead at this point was virtually insurmountable — he was up 66-60 on Padilla’s, 67-62 and 66-62 on those of the two judges.  In other words, Frazier’s only hope lay in a knockout of a target he couldn’t even see, much less hit.

When the bell sounded for the final round, Frazier could be heard pleading with Eddie Futch, saying “I want him, Boss!”, but the trainer held Frazier down, saying, “It’s all over. No one will forget what you did here today,” as he motioned to Padilla that his man had had enough.

Ali could have been speaking for both of them when he pronounced the experience “the closest thing to dying I know of.”

For all rancor that had passed between the two, Ali said afterward, “If God ever calls me to a Holy War, I want Joe Frazier fighting beside me.”

*  *   *

Ali had followed the Thrilla in Manila by making three title defenses (against Jean-Pierre Coopman, Jimmy Young, and RIchard Dunn) in the first five months of 1976. Frazier didn’t fight again until the next June, when he was matched against Foreman at before just over 10,000 at the Nassau Coliseum in what may well have been the least-memorable of any of the ten bouts between the members of the quartet. The meeting of the two former champions was even overshadowed by Ali’s “fight” against the Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki in Tokyo three nights later.

(Trivia Question here: Who was the last opponent to have Ali on the floor? A: Inoki.)

The Long Island fight was promoted by an odd coupling of Jerry Perenchio, the Hollywood guy who had staged Frazier-Ali I, and Caesars Palace. Foreman had sent Sadler, Saddler, and Moore packing after the debacle in Zaire, and while he would team up with Hall of Fame trainer Gil Clancy later that year, Charlie Shipes and Howie Albert were in charge of the Foreman corner.

Frazier was actually the bigger of the two for this one, at 224 1/1 outweighing Foreman by half a pound. A boxing apothegm holds that people round don’t die square, but Joe attempted a complete makeover for this bout: He had shaved his head, could be seen woofing and jabbering away during the referee’s instructions, and had even jettisoned the boxing style with which he had been identified throughout his career in favor of a bobbing, weaving,and sometimes even dancing approach.

Foreman (“I was under the impression Frazier could only fight one way”) admitted that he was surprised to find himself facing this strange new opponent, but while what Eddie Futch termed “a change in tactics” made Frazier marginally more elusive and difficult to hit, his most feared weapons were also left without a launching pad.

Foreman had dominated each of the four completed rounds, and the more punishment Frazier took, the more he lapsed back into the Frazier of old. In the final minute of the fifth Foreman crushed Frazier with a short right. Joe stopped moving and provided a stationary target as Foreman followed that by using Frazier’s head for a speed bag, and when Foreman landed a sweeping left hook it knocked Frazier off his feet; all four limbs flailed simultaneously as he sailed sideways across the ring.

Frazier bounced up, but then delivered himself straight back into the fire. When Foreman put him down with a left uppercut, it was looking like Round One in Jamaica revisited. Frazier made it up at seven, but Harold Valen’s decision was made for him when Futch came up the steps and raced along the apron, imploring the referee to stop it.

Foreman was encouraged enough by his own performance that he spoke of being ready to challenge for the title again, but he was solidly outpointed by Young in Puerto Rico and would hang up his gloves for the next ten years. Frazier formally retired immediately after the Nassau fight, but five years later came back to meet Jumbo Cummings in Chicago, and was probably lucky to escape with a draw. Smokin‘ Joe had been 29-0 when he stepped into the ring against Foreman. In his last eight bouts he was 3-4-1.

*  *  *

The third match in the trilogy between Ali and Ken Norton at Yankee Stadium on September 28, 1976 rang down the curtain on the ten-fight series. As had been the case with its two predecessors, there wasn't much to separate Ali and Norton in this one, either. No one could have known it at the time, but while the House that Ruth Built would endure for another three and a half decades, Ali-Norton III would be the last boxing event ever to take place there.

As fate would have it, the bout was scheduled in the midst of a job action by the NYPD, and the only visible police presence inside or outside the stadium were those walking picket lines, and chaos reigned.  Pickpockets and small-time hoods operated with virtual impunity; The Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Red Smith wondered the next morning what the fellow who stole his wallet would buy with his Brooks Brothers charge card — and several scribes on their way through the press gate had their tickets ripped right out of their hands by brazen thieves despite the presence of picketing cops just a few feet away.

And on this night the robbery was by no means the exclusive province of the purse-snatchers. In several otherwise close rounds Ali staged showy flurries just before the bell in the hope that that was what the judges would remember, and he appears to have gauged their response accurately. Although their third fight produced the only unanimous decision of the Ali-Norton trilogy, the bout was in many respects even closer than the two split decisions had been: Mercante, the referee, had Ali up 8-6 with a round even, while Harold Lederman and Barney Smith both scored it 8-7. Switching just one round (and there were many extremely close ones) on the judges’ cards would have tilted the decision to Norton.

At most of Ali’s bouts for the previous decade he had enjoyed the support of the crowd, but the audience seemed almost divided in its loyalties. Given the pervasive atmosphere of danger hanging over the ballpark that night, it occurred to me that ringside probably wasn't going to be a great place to be sitting when the verdict was read; I'd already began to ease my way toward safety as the 15th round played out.

As I quickly made my way to the home team dugout along the first base line, where a tunnel offered the best means of escape, the angry mob was already laying siege to the ring. Behind me I could hear the recitation of the scorecards periodically interrupted by the splintering of wood as they surged forward, climbing across the makeshift plywood tabletops that had been installed in the ringside press section.

In lieu of credentials, the working press had been issued red, white, and blue baseball caps bearing the fight logo, presumably to make us more readily identifiable to the skeleton crew working security that night, and when I reached the tunnel the preoccupied guard waved me on through, simultaneously denying access to a squeaky-voiced fellow wearing a suit, but lacking the requisite baseball cap.

“But you've got to let me through,” I heard him pleading as he peered nervously over his shoulder. “I’m one of the judges.”

I turned to the the guard, and pointed back toward the ring, where utter chaos now reigned.

“I think you'd better let him get out of here. Now,” I said. The security man relented, and the judge followed me through the tunnel to safety.

And that was how I met Harold Lederman.

*   *   *

Although their shared rivalry in the ring would end with the debacle at Yankee Stadium, the boxing world hadn't seen the last of the four.

Ali lost and regained the heavyweight championship in fights against Leon Spinks in 1978. That his once remarkable skills were deteriorating was evident when he fought twice in the 1980s, and lost both times. A year after he was battered into submission by Larry Holmes in their 1980 fight at Caesars Palace, he traveled to the Bahamas and in a ring erected atop a dusty softball diamond outside Nassau, lost a 10-round decision to Trevor Berbick. Because the fight's amateurish promoters had failed to provide a regulation bell, the end of Ali's career was signaled by the clapping of a Bahamian cowbell.

More universally beloved today than at any point in his fistic career, Ali, his hands trembling as the result of the Parkinson's that had claimed his body, poignantly climbed the stairs to ignite the Olympic torch to begin the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Knocked out by Gerry Cooney in less than a round in his final fight, Ken Norton's post-boxing career was dramatically altered by a 1986 automobile accident that left him in a coma for three years. 

Neither did Joe Frazier ease gracefully into old age. More than five years after losing what seemed to have been his final fight against Foreman, he re-emerged to participate in an embarrassing sham of a fight in which he was awarded a draw against the portly Floyd (Jumbo) Cummings.  Frazier's obsession with Ali has hardened into a bitter animus that does not serve him well.  Frazier sometimes sounds as if he's claiming credit for Ali's Parkinson's, which he sneeringly describes as “Joe Frazieritis” and “left hook-itis.”

After watching his old rival light the Olympic cauldron that night in Atlanta, Smokin' Joe told Bill Nack, “It would have been a good thing if he'd lit the torch and fallen in. If I had the chance I would have pushed him in myself.”

If Ali, Frazier, and Norton had each overstayed his welcome in the fight game, that Foreman had not did not become apparent until 1986, when, following a hiatus of ten years, he returned to the heavyweight stage for a second career that was in many respects more remarkable than its predecessor.

The menacing figure that had intimidated reporters and opponents alike had disappeared, replaced by the roly-poly “Punching Preacher” who claimed that he trained on cheeseburgers. Foreman had initially returned because his Houston Youth Center was low on funds, but as the exercise continued well into his forties, money was the least of his worries, as the comeback led to roles as a television pitchman for everything from fast-food and auto-repair chains to the George Foreman Grill, which earned him several hundred million dollars.

When he was accused of hand-picking opponents, he would smile and reply, “They're only saying that because it's true,” but for the most part Foreman was not seeking out soft touches, but opponents who were stylistically suited to his particular talents.

In his 40s Foreman could punch as effectively as he had in his 20s. The one thing he could not do was chase an opponent all over the ring, so his preference was to take on opponents who, it could reasonably be inferred, would actually try to fight him. But guys who had never taken a backward step in their lives abruptly turned into acrobats and ballet dancers when placed in the ring with Foreman.

Despite losses to Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison, on November 5, 1994 Foreman found himself the challenger to 26 year-old Michael Moorer, an undefeated southpaw from Pennsylvania who that April had defeated Holyfield to win the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles.

I’d just checked into the hotel, and hadn’t even visited my room yet when I ran into Foreman.  We chatted for a few minutes, and then I told him I had gone on record in my newspaper picking him to win. Big George seemed to think that was the funniest thing he’d ever heard, and next thing I knew he was laughing so hard he wound up flat on his back, rolling around on the carpet. It wasn’t that he didn’t think he could win himself; he was merely suspicious of whatever thought process I might have employed to arrive at that conclusion.

“You’re not the first one,” he explained. He’d finally stopped laughing but the tears were still coming down his cheeks. “A bunch of you old guys are picking me. Everybody wants to roll back the clock.”

For ten rounds against Moorer it looked as if the clock had caught up with George. The seat next to me was vacant, and seemingly every round either Mort Sharnik or Bill Caplan would slide into it, watch for a few minutes, and ask how I had it scored. My recollection is that I up until then I hadn’t given Foreman a round.

Foreman’s face, as it had in the Holyfield fight, had accumulated a ghastly collection of lumps, and both eyes had been reduced to narrow slits, as if he were wearing some particularly gruesome relic left over from Halloween. The younger man had simply been too quick for him. In Teddy Atlas’ game plan Moorer was able to get in, land a couple of quick punches, and get out before Foreman could even set up behind his jab. And the boxer George Foreman had become at 45 could still pulverize you with his right, but he needed to be able to land the jab to do it.

Then in the ninth round the voice next to me was the first to take note of the almost imperceptible shift in the action. Because Moorer was not being hit by any clean shots, most people, including the television announcers, didn’t even notice, but while he was still unable to get to Moorer with the full force of his punches, the champion had slowed just enough that Foreman was for the first time all night able to jab — and each jab was the first half of a one-to combo.

“That’s it, George. That’s it,” the barely audible voice to my left. “You’ve got him now.”

And if you’ll watch the tape carefully now the shift in momentum is retrospectively clear. Even though Moorer was blocking everything Foreman threw with his gloves, he was still feeling the impact, because each time Foreman hit Moorer’s gloves with that thumping left-right combination, Moorer’s gloves hit Moorer — sometimes hard enough to snap his head back.

By the time Caplan arrived in the tenth he was also beaming at what to him loomed a foregone conclusion. To the crowd, and to much of the ringside press section, it might not have been clear that Foreman had just taken over the fight, but he had.

There was more of the same in the tenth. Moorer, winded, could no longer get in quickly enough and still keep himself out of harm’s way, so he was no longer an offensive threat. He had all he could to do keep his hands up to ward off the bombs Foreman was throwing his way, but he was paying a price for that as he continued to absorb the punches second-hand.

The ending came swiftly. Foreman threw another left-right, and this time managed to split Moorer’s gloves to land the jab, and came right around them with the right that immediately followed. A look of surprise came over Moorer’s face, and his gloves dropped just enough for Big George to find the opening. He cracked Moorer with another jab and came right up the middle with a right hand, and the next thing anybody saw was Michael Moorer, stretched out on the canvas while Joe Cortez counted over him.

More than twenty years after losing his title in one of the more improbable upsets in heavyweight annals, George Foreman had at 45 done what many considered impossible, but for all the drama that accompanied that emotional moment, when I look back on it  16 years later, as I often do,  the knockout punch isn’t what springs to mind.

*  *   *

Hours later, I’d filed my story for the paper, but as exhausting as the evening had been, sleep wasn’t going to come easily on a night like this. Having decided to go down to the casino to unwind, I had to walk the length of a football field before I located a $25 table. (On fight nights in Vegas, a game with a $25 minimum is considered a small stakes game.)

I’d been there for 15 or 20 minutes when, far down at the other end of the hangar-like casino I heard the noise commence. At first it sounded as if a freight train were coming through the building, and the din steadily picked up momentum until it became a rolling roar. It was happening so far away that at first it was difficult to see what all the commotion was about, but it gradually came into focus: George Foreman, accompanied by a couple of his sons, were headed for the MGM exit out on the Strip, and to get there they had to walk a couple hundred yards along a carpeted walkway that bisected the floor-level casino.

And has he and his party passed by, every game in the joint was briefly suspended. Gamblers stopped gambling and leapt to their feet to join in the deafening applause as Foreman passed by. Dealers stopped dealing, croupiers stopped raking, and they and the pit bosses and the cocktail waitresses and everyone else committed themselves to the the joyous task of saluting Foreman.

When George and his party drew abreast of my table I wasn’t even sure he saw me, but I gave him a quick thumbs up anyway. Only then did I pause to even think about it. Back east it was almost three in the morning. In Vegas it was drawing close to midnight. Where was Foreman going at this hour?

Almost as soon as I asked myself the question, the answer became apparent: He was headed for the airport.

Two hours earlier he had become the oldest man in history ever to win the heavyweight title, but right now George Foreman was on his way to catch the red-eye back to Houston. He still had to preach in the morning.

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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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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