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Articles of 2010

Don't Worry About The Calzaghe Revelations – He'll Be Fine

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Recently there have been reports filtering out that retired former super-middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe 46-0 (32) has been using cocaine recreationally. Since this news has surfaced in the media, some have soured on Calzaghe. But Joe's not the first former champion to go through this stage after retiring from the ring, and he won't be the last.

Most boxing fans are well aware that two of the greatest champions in history, Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler, both used cocaine after retiring from their hall-of-fame careers. And the fact that they had more opportunities awaiting them than most fighters do when they retired didn't help them make the transition from great fighter to everyday citizen. Boxing is a sport that tends to attract men who have somewhat addictive personalities. Actually, boxing is the closest thing I've ever experienced to an addiction in my life — and walking away from it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do after sustaining an injury while sparring in 1982. For so much of their lives, fighters, if they're real fighters and care about the outcome of the bout (not all of them do), give up and miss out on a lot of things in order to be successful. These are little things that most of us take for granted and don't even consider a big deal. That boxers have to sacrifice isn't news to anyone, but the psychological effect these sacrifices has on them may be.

For most of their 20's and 30's, boxers are watching everything they eat and are always worried about making weight. The ones that are dedicated, and fight below heavyweight, are even conscious of the amount of water they consume. Real fighters don't hang out with their friends until all hours of the night. And the thought of ingesting drugs or alcohol is never more than a thought, assuming they have a career in front of them and a true desire to go as far as their physical skill-set and mental toughness will take them. They’re also supposed to avoid sex at all cost — something they'll tell you is the most difficult of all the things they have to sacrifice.

During their active careers, when they're making all these sacrifices and hoping that fame and fortune will come to them before they retire, they relish thinking of the days when they can eat and do all the things they missed out on. In fact, the thought of these things sometimes helps them maintain their discipline. Ranked fighters and champions often fantasize about what it must be like to be a normal civilian and being afforded the luxury to eat, drink and have sex whenever you want to without thinking inside “I know I shouldn't be doing this, but just this one time won't hurt.” It's a never-ending psychological war that they engage in at different stages along the way.

Why do you think a lot of fighters blow up in weight once they're retired? Look at former junior middleweight champ Mike MacCallum: he'd dwarf George Foreman today if they stood side by side. Food was obviously MacCallum's weakness when he was in training. Then there are the fighters who overindulge in drugs and alcohol just because they can do so without guilt once they've hung up their gloves. They may not even enjoy indulging so much, but the fact that they are no longer forbidden from doing it makes them think it's better and more fun than it really is. Again, that's not a blanket statement in regard to all retired former champs and greats — but it's more the rule than the exception.

When fighters are young and on the way up, they're so consumed with making something of their career that they seldom pay attention to what's going on around them. They don’t even pay attention to other fighters unless they think they'll have to face them down the road. You'd be surprised at how little they know about boxing’s rich history and greats from the past during the time they themselves are trying to make a mark. My first trainer was former middleweight champ Joey Giardello, who eventually sent me to former middleweight contender George Benton. Regretfully, during the time I trained under them, it never once crossed my mind that they actually fought. I didn’t think to ask them what it was like to fight during Ray Robinson's era, or about the experience of fighting or training with him (Benton trained with Robinson and Giardello fought him on the downside of his career). No – I was too focused on getting better myself. Joe Frazier gloved me up often before sparring. And never once did I think to myself that the hands buckling my headgear had exchanged punches with Muhammad Ali in what is no doubt one of the greatest rivalries in sports history. Actually, “Smokin” Joe was just another guy/trainer in the gym.

I also didn't pick the brain of Willie Reddish (who trained Sonny Liston during his prime) the way I would've liked to have. Today, I'd have so many things to ask him. Whatever insight and history I gleaned from him was due to the fact that I used to spar his fighter Curtis Parker when he trained at Frazier's gym in north Philadelphia. But it never dawned on me to press Willie about Sonny's fights with Floyd Patterson, Cleveland Williams, Zora Folley and Muhammad Ali. And the same thing applies to Eddie Futch, who I was exposed to on a somewhat regular basis at one time. Eddie was Joe Louis' sparring partner and worked the corner of all three Ali-Frazier fights. Yet never did I ask about Louis or him not allowing Frazier to come out for the last round of the “Thrilla In Manila.” Why not? Because I wanted to be the next Joe Louis and make the 1980 Olympic team. The things that were passed along to me by Giardello, Benton , Reddish and Futch were the results of conversations in the gym as a group, not pointed questions on my part. The thought to inquire never dawned on me. Down the road if there's a need to pass along what was discussed, it will be if it applies to a particular topic or fighter.

Calzaghe has said boredom and having nothing to occupy his time with are the reasons why he's partied and snorted cocaine. And if anyone doubts him, I wouldn't. Joe's problem is he spent so much of his life living a regimented routine and was concentrating on making it to the highest level as a professional fighter. This was something he most certainly did, and that can never be taken away from him. But like most fighters, Calzaghe had no interest in any aspect of boxing other than the part fighters need to address, fighting.

Bernard Hopkins, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather are the start of a trend of fighters who have interest in more than just the combat side of boxing. If you talk to most fighters, they could care less as to who's the better NFL quarterback between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Most of them could care less about who's the better one on one player between Kobe Bryant and Lebron James in the NBA. And as far as the NCAA Tournament, I doubt many even know who makes up the final four this weekend. And how many do you think know or have given it a fleeting thought as to whether or not Tim Tebow will make it in the NFL as a quarterback?

Don't worry about Joe Calzaghe getting it together. He's just experiencing life as a civilian. Being confronted with the question of what to do with the rest of his life is just a shock to his system. But rest assured he's not on his way to becoming a drug addict and blowing his money. Eventually he'll tire of getting high, grow bored of it, and stop.

One of the drawbacks of being a fighter is that, if you’re going to make it to the top, you must be consumed with boxing. That doesn't allow time or thought for much else. Sadly, a lot of fighters, although much smarter and articulate than they get credit for being, don't have many interests outside of boxing. Most of them have been obsessed with boxing from their early teens or even younger; they've never given much thought as to what else life has to offer. Joe Calzaghe is not the exception.

The biggest mistake Calzaghe can make is to make a comeback and challenge the eventual winner of the Showtime Super-six tournament. It's a safe bet that things won't end badly for Joe. Once he finds out exactly what it is he wants to do, the qualities that drove him to the top–and to become the fighter and champion he was—will help him succeed in the next phase of his life.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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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