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Articles of 2010

JOSE CORPAS SPECIAL TO TSS: The Boxing Bailout, Pt II

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If the U.S. Government can sponsor a Cash for Clunkers or a Cash for Caulkers program, surely it can sponsor a Bailout for Brawlers.

If boxing were to receive a financial stimulus, how should it use the money?

One option to work towards lessening the amount of severe injuries to pro fighters could be something as simple as a variation of baseball’s pitch count.  Implemented amid much controversy, the idea of counting the amount of pitches a pitcher throws was created to protect a pitcher’s arm.  The brain should be given at least the same level of consideration in boxing as an arm is given in baseball.  Is a punch count to protect a boxer’s head a feasible idea?  Not too different from the already well established three-knockdown rule, medical professionals can come up with a set amount of punches that would be considered excessive, and when that amount is reached, an automatic stoppage would occur.

“I don’t like that idea,” says Elbaum, adding, “I don’t like the three knockdown rule either.  You can only make so many changes before it becomes something other than boxing.”  The pitch count was met with a similar response but it has prevailed and while some lament the lack of complete games by pitchers, it has been credited with prolonging careers and reducing injuries.  Granted, the amount of blows that will trigger an automatic stoppage would have to be an amount that will keep boxing from becoming “something other than boxing.”  It shouldn’t be a low enough number that fights are ending prematurely, nor should it be a high enough number that the safety of the fighters is compromised.  If going down three times, even if they’re flash knockdowns or a fighter taking a knee, constitutes a fighter being overmatched, then getting hit in the head some 250 or so times probably should as well.  Dr. Robert Gambrell, a chief ringside physician and member of the Sports Medicine Association of Augusta who has studied and written about boxing safety, says, “The problem with counting head blows may come down to opinion: What is a significant head blow versus a glancing blow.”  Concerns over a fight being stopped due to “soft” blows are justified but when a fighter goes down three times, even if unhurt, the fight is halted.  Another legitimate concern is that it would encourage head hunting, and it may, but it should also encourage a greater emphasis on defense.  The pitch count doesn’t distinguish between soft tosses or 90 mile per hour heat and a punch count shouldn’t either.

The British Medical Association mentions that the minimum force needed to cause brain damage is unknown so there is no way to determine what is a hard punch versus a soft punch. There is now.

Equipment manufacturer Riddell makes football helmets with sensors in the padding that registers and measures the magnitude of a blow.  The data is wirelessly transmitted to computers on the sidelines within seconds, where it is monitored by medical personnel.  Recipients of severe hits, rated in g-forces, are given immediate medical attention.  A similar technology exists for boxing, where nine sensors are placed inside the headgear.  It is called the HIT System and is being used by
a research group at Wayne State University under the direction of Dr. Cindy Bir.  The HIT System would have to be adapted for use in professional boxing.  Senior Research Engineer Jonathan Beckwith states that placing sensors in the gloves has been discussed, although they are not currently pursuing it.  Dr. Robert Gambrell says, “The use of sensors in gloves to measure the force of punches was looked at by Dr. Marilyn Boitano a few years ago.  The problem is knowing how
much force, or what dose, is dangerous to the brain and nervous system.”  If this technology could be used during all future boxing matches, then the data could be pulled from those bouts where a head injury occurs and perhaps a conclusion of how much force is dangerous can be drawn.  Any monies received from a bailout could be used towards the research and development of this technology.  Technology such as the HIT System or one similar could go a long way towards
giving boxers the medical attention they need especially during the critical “golden hour.”  Dr. Gambrell believes “that the use of sensors in headgear and gloves would be great for research and studying the effects and forces involved in boxing. It is another step to use them in competition.”  It’s a step we should consider taking.

Unfortunately, in matches where a fighter has suffered head trauma, the extent of the injury is not known until after the fight, which can be several rounds after the injury occurred—a delay with potentially serious consequences.  Boxer Rita Figueroa, who is recovering from emergency brain surgery for a broken blood vessel after her November 6, 2009 fight with Kita Watkins, was spared her life by a matter of minutes.  “We got her before she slipped into a coma.  She would've
progressed to the “severe ultimate scenario of coma and obviously death shortly thereafter” the surgeon, Dr. Sepideh Amin-Hanjani said to the L.A. Times.  “Let’s expedite the care, get the fighter out of there, get him to the hospital, get him checked,” Figueroa told the Chicago Tribune.  The use of sensors could alert medical staff immediately after a blow of potentially damaging force has landed and physicians could tend to the fighter on the spot rather than wait until a fighter has collapsed or has headaches so severe that they can’t even sign for their check, which is what happened to Rita Figueroa.

“I was already on the stretcher when the doctor came back” she said later.  The doctor was ringside for the next bout when Rita was in back unable to sign for her check.  To make matters worse, the EMS workers were told not to bring her to the hospital just yet because the next bout had started and no fights can take place without an ambulance present.  Her handlers insisted, saving her life in the process.  She was fortunate there was an ambulance there.  Jacquie Richardson says she and Alex Ramos attended a fight card where the promoter told her that the ambulance was there for the fans—that a limo was provided to take any injured boxer to the hospital.

Thankfully, the majority of matches take place under the best possible medical supervision.  They are staffed with ringside physicians and personnel who have prevented and done all that they could to prevent many serious injuries.  Dr. Gambrell states, “ We currently monitor the effect of the head blows by having experienced observers, physicians at ringside and the referee, who have the power to stop the fight at anytime the athlete appears to be impaired.”  Unfortunately a fighter may be impaired and not look it.  Francisco “Paco” Rodriguez died last November of brain injuries suffered during a match with Teon Kennedy in Philadelphia.  Rodriguez was “wobbled twice and on the verge of not making it” past the first round according to the Philadelphia Daily News.  He was given a standing eight count by the referee in the first round and appeared to recover, lasting until 1:52 of the tenth round.  The paper reported that ringside physician Jonathan Levyn checked in on Rodriguez “several times” and saw “no evidence that the fighter was in particular distress.”  Dr. Levyn was quoted as saying, “I've replayed it over and over in my mind – the fight itself, the time between rounds.  He was coherent. He answered all my questions – simple questions like, 'Where are you? What's your name?' And his eyes were reactive. It seemed like he was OK.” The British Medical Association maintains that the equipment present at boxing matches simply isn’t enough.  In the case of Michael Watson, who suffered damage during a 1991 match with Chris Eubank, the boxer had to be ventilated and was administered drugs to reduce the swelling.  “This kind of life support treatment is the province of anesthetists, a specialty in which ringside doctors often lack specialist training,” the BMA concluded.

If we can’t provide increased life support, then perhaps the use of sensors or even the implementation of a punch count could help. Johnny Bos says if referees, corner men, and ringside physicians do their jobs, that should be enough.  “When a fighter has lost his competitive edge and is being hammered with clean shots, the fight should be stopped,” he said. But Bos doesn’t dismiss the idea of sensors or a punch count because he acknowledges a shortage of experienced professionals in the sport.  “It’s a trickledown effect,” he says.  “In 2009 we had about 600 shows in America.”  Compare that amount to the nearly 2000 shows held during 1950, according to the website boxrec.com.  “Not only are there fewer shows but most of the fights are just showcase fights,” continues Bos, “where one guy is clobbering the other, and no one learns a thing.  The winner doesn’t learn a thing, the corner men don’t learn a thing, and the judges and referees don’t learn a thing because they’re not watching real fights.  They’re watching mismatches.”

It’s a trend others see too.  Elbaum laments that “there are a lot of trainers around today but few teachers.”  Craft and strategy is disappearing, agrees Bos, wondering how many trainers today can teach a fighter how to roll with a punch.  This could be because fewer and fewer trainers are able to make a living off of training.  The Brazilian sport Luta Livre, which was one of the most popular forms of wrestling in Brazil until recently, is believed by many to have dwindled in popularity for precisely that reason.  Contributing to the problem is the lack of job security for many.  A lot of trainers are afraid of getting fired.  So they sometimes become “yes men,” says Bos.  “But at least they’re under contract to get paid.  Do you know that many cut men, booking agents, and matchmakers are working without the protection of a contract?  Managers, promoters, trainers, their contracts are on file with the commission.  At least they can sue if they don’t get paid.  What about the others?”

Elbaum says if there is a bailout it should go to promoters: “Medicals and safety reforms are all very important.  But before you give any money to the doctors or scientists, it should go to the promoters.  Boxing needs more matches.  Without fights there is no boxing.”  Elbaum, who has been promoting boxing since black and white television, says it “should go to the promoters to keep the small club shows going.  If you could designate 10 cites and fund six to eight shows per year for two years, well, that would go a long way toward developing talent.”  If cities like Detroit, where the unemployment rate is just under 30 percent, were to have a steady influx of promotions, it could boost both their local economy and help create jobs, as well as develop the careers of boxing professionals.

A Bailout for Brawlers would help set the wheels in motion and then some of the other areas could be addressed.  With more shows comes more practice.  Then, maybe, referees would all count at the same speed.  Then, maybe, there would be less nights where judges scored a different fight than the ones almost everyone else saw.  Then, maybe, we can implement instant replay.  Then, maybe, we can have better drug testing and no one would have to wonder if anyone is cheating or not. Then, maybe, testing can be done not just for steroids but for human growth hormones too, tests like the one used to catch rugby player Terry Newton.  Then, maybe, all the accusations would finally stop—like Tommy Hearns accusing Ray Leonard of being “on steroids or something” twenty years ago and today, other fighters being accused of similar things.  Then, maybe, big fights like Floyd Mayweather Jr. versus Manny Pacquiao can take place.  Then, maybe, promoters can start promoting boxing-not boxers.  Then, maybe, promoters can find new and imaginative ways to promote the sport rather than depend on network television, especially since, according to Time magazine, the amount of viewers tuning in to network TV has dropped from 43% to 27% since 1995.  Then, maybe, we can have better undercard bouts on the pay per views we order.  With the increased amount of fights, we can tack on that extra dollar to every ticket and pay per view and use the extra revenue to establish a national pension, one that boxers and boxing professionals can contribute to as well.  Then again, if we tacked on that dollar now, maybe we won’t need a bailout.

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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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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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PacquiaoClottey_Booth_6

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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