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Articles of 2010

This Weekend Will Not Stand As Promoter De La Hoya's Proudest Moment

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When Oscar De La Hoya first decided to go into the promotional business he said he did it for the boxers. He claimed he was going to be different, someone who would not adopt the same abusive practices of so many of his predecessors. So how did this weekend happen?

On the same day De La Hoya is promoting a fight he said only a few months ago should not happen, when he wheels in the well-shot Roy Jones, Jr. to face semi-retired Bernard Hopkins at Mandalay Bay, he is also co-promoting a fight in Manchester, England between WBA heavyweight champion David Haye and former champion John Ruiz. He has contractual agreements with both. In other words, he’s become (Don) King For A Day.

Although De La Hoya has done many great things for boxing, this is not his proudest moment. It is a shameful one, in fact, because it is another example of how the corrupting nature of the sport seems to eventually infect everyone who enters it, even someone with all the good intentions De La Hoya once talked about.

The Roy Jones who will enter the ring at Mandalay Bay under the banner of Golden Boy Promotions is a 41-year-old fighter who is 5-5 in his last 10 fights and suffered three brutal knockouts during that span, including one only four months ago in Australia against former light heavyweight champion Danny Green in what was supposed to have been a tune-up for the Hopkins fight. Some fear it may have been, after Green knocked Jones out two minutes into the fight.

Immediately after it was over, De La Hoya blogged the following: “This is one of those cases you see all the time, a great fighter who doesn’t know when to call it a day…You can see that he’s not the same.’’

Yet De La Hoya is adding and abetting Jones by allowing him to fight under his promotional banner against one of his business partners, the 45-year-old Hopkins. It is a rematch of a 17-year-old fight, one Jones won to help propel himself to stardom. For years Hopkins sought a rematch but terms could never be agreed upon until, frankly, both had no one else to turn to and so they will be facing each other in what Jones all but admitted is more like a benefit retirement dinner than a competitive boxing match.

Several days ago Jones was asked why anyone should spend $49.95 of their hard-earned money to buy this fight on pay-per-view. The proper answer was they shouldn’t but instead Jones unknowingly revealed what this exercise is about – greed and self-delusion.

“Because we've laid down our hard-earned lives to put on two stellar careers over that 17-year period [since the first fight],” Jones said. “So why not lay down your hard-earned money to watch two guys who put their hard-earned lives on the line to entertain you people for 17 years. They understand who we are. They know who we are. They've watched us for years. We've entertained them for years, so why not give back to us and let us go at it one more time for the ages?”

For the aged would have been more accurate.

Hopkins (50-5, 32 KO) can at least argue he’s been active and successful the past seven years but Jones can say no such thing. He has not won a meaningful fight since he beat John Ruiz seven years ago to claim the WBA heavyweight title. It was a proper moment to walk away but the guy who never wanted to fight when he was capable of it now finds himself unable to stop when he can’t.

That is the dangerous trap Jones has put himself in and De La Hoya has helped make it possible. Perhaps Jones and Hopkins would have found a way to square off anyway but the fact is no one is interested, barely anyone is covering it and unless insanity rules the earth on Final Four weekend, no one is going to buy it. So unless you enjoy seeing a shot fighter take shots, what’s the point?

Hopkins is far from heavy handed but the way Jones has looked the past few years you don’t need heavy hands to knock him out now. You just need hands, which Hopkins still possesses.

Joe Calzaghe didn’t have the power to do that so instead he beat Jones like a rug hanging on a fence for spring cleaning. He cut him up, slapped him around and by the end thoroughly embarrassed him. It was sad to watch and leads you to wonder if they still have a boxing commission in the state of Nevada since Mark Ratner left,  if they’ll approve a match like this one.

Antonio Tarver beat Jones from pillar to post before knocking him out. Glen Johnson would have but he knocked him stiff before he had time to. Then came Green, who blew on Jones and he went down like a building made of straw. Does the Nevada Commission not have a videotape machine?

Jones (54-6, 40 KO) made obvious he knows what he is these days when he was asked why he thought Hopkins was willing to fight him now, so long after a rematch has any meaning. His reply was sadly accurate.

“I can’t regret that man not wanting to get into the ring with me until my career is over,’’ Jones said, incredibly. “The only reason he’s fighting me now is because he feels like I’m done. He feels like I’m washed up.’’

Who doesn’t feel that way? Not even his long-time trainer, Alton Merkerson, who has repeatedly admitted the past few years that Jones is in decline while reminding everyone that he knows when to stop a fight.

He may, but when you’re getting knocked out two minutes after it starts there’s no time to stop it. All you can do is pick up what’s left when it’s over.

Unlike Jones, Hopkins has retained a measure of his skills, although not as much as he once had. He remains smart, tactical and able to avoid being hit flush very often. Jones has none of those attributes anymore. He is simply an empty vessel, one who once feared ending up blind and nearly mute, like his friend of long ago, Gerald McClellan, but now seems to have forgotten that possibility exists every time you step into a boxing ring. Maybe that’s the most damning sign of his decline. He no longer remembers what can happen to you inside those ropes.

McClellan has been unable to function since the night he went to war with Nigel Benn, trapped in a mist from which he will never emerge. Jones always refused to go visit him until he was done boxing, saying it would unhinge him. It’s time to visit before he ends up unhinged himself.

Perhaps the saddest part of this is that the entire idea of the two of them fighting is pointless. It leads neither anywhere,   except closer to a place no one wants to think about.

Neither is going to come out of this with a win that will increase their marketability. As it is, no one is buying tickets, no one wanted to buy the fight and no one can understand why De La Hoya got his company involved in this fiasco.

At least the fact De La Hoya has both sides of the Haye-Ruiz fight is understandable. Haye is the WBA heavyweight champion and perhaps a fighter on the rise. If he wins he’s a cinch to get a big unification fight with one of the Klitschkos, which means many millions for all involved. Ruiz is the first and only Latino to win the heavyweight championship and a natural for De La Hoya’s company. If he wins, there’s another big fight for him out there because he will have the only belt not worn by the brothers Klitschko and they want it.

So one can at least understand the business side of Golden Boy’s involvement in Haye-Ruiz even though people used to scream bloody murder when King did this kind of stuff. In the end, that Golden Boy Promotions is involved in such promotions though,  says more about what the business of boxing is doing to Oscar De La Hoya than what De La Hoya has done for boxing.

What it says about Roy Jones, Jr. is that he’s reached the stage in his boxing life that they all do – he needs someone to protect him from himself. Too bad in boxing nobody like that exists.

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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