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Articles of 2005

Jimmy Young: How He Exposed 'The Greatest'

Frank Lotierzo

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The 1976 heavyweight title bout between champion Muhammad Ali (50-2) and challenger Jimmy Young (17-4-2) is most remembered for the decision rendered by the referee and two judges scoring the fight. Ali won a 15-round unanimous decision over Young to retain his undisputed heavyweight title. Saying Ali's decision victory over Young is controversial is an understatement. Young forced the champ to fight the type of fight that he was least effective fighting. There were times during the 15 rounds that Ali more resembled a fish out of water flopping on the beach than he did “The Greatest.”

Even passionate Ali fans, blinded by their bias, must accept that although he was a great fighter, he was technically flawed. In the years since the fight, Ali's lack of conditioning has been used to justify his poor showing against Young. What has been disregarded is that it was Young's style that nullified Ali's strengths. The simple fact is Ali had no strategic clue how to fight Young.

The most telling thing that took place in the Ali-Young fight has been completely overlooked by too many boxing historians, writers and fans. This is due to an overwhelming percentage of boxing observers who saw the fight and believe Young won. From the time the decision favoring Ali was announced, it's been the focal point of all conversation whenever the fight is discussed. Instead of remembering Jimmy Young for losing the decision, boxing history should remember him as the fighter who strategically plucked the wings from the butterfly, and took the sting from the bee.

Eighteen months after regaining the title from George Foreman, Ali made his sixth defense, this time against Philly heavyweight Jimmy Young. Young was in his seventh year fighting as a pro, and incidentally did his training at Joe Frazier's gym on Broad Street in North Philadelphia. By the end of 1975, Young was ranked ninth among Ring Magazine's top ten heavyweights.

At this point in his career, Ali took two things for granted when he went into the ring. It was only after his fight with Young that it became obvious those two things actually worked against him. With Ali having survived the assault of Sonny Liston twice, Joe Frazier three times, George Foreman, and Ron Lyle, he had so much confidence in his chin, the possibility of him being knocked out didn't exist in his mind. The downside of that mind set sometimes led him to cut corners while training. This resulted in him not being in top condition for many of his post 1975 title defenses. For his title defense against Jimmy Young, Ali weighed a career high 230-pounds.

There was something else Ali assumed when he fought. In his 52 previous fights, he was never forced to fight as the aggressor, especially for an entire fight. He took it for granted that every opponent he faced would bring the fight to him. When Ali's opponents came to him, he was in complete control. Only in his three fights with “Smokin” Joe Frazier did that pattern make the fight harder for him. Frazier's unrelenting pressure forced Ali to fight, not allowing him to pick his spots to flurry with three and four punch combinations. This made Frazier the fighter controlling the tempo and ring geography. As long as the fighter coming at Ali wasn't Frazier, Ali had his way and was in control.

Maybe because Jimmy Young trained in Philadelphia, a city known for grooming aggressive fighters, the Ali camp didn't do enough homework on him. Since Young wasn't a knockout puncher, Ali's cast-iron chin was irrelevant. On top of that, Jimmy Young was the antithesis of a typical Philly fighter. He waited on his opponents and never took the fight to them. This was the key to Young's success against Ali. It was more a case of Young's style exposing Ali's lack of boxing basics 101, then it was of Young being a boxing genius.

The bout between Ali and Young started slow. By the end of the fifth round, Ali still hadn't landed a noteworthy punch. It wasn't that he was getting worked over, or hurt, but the only clean punches of the fight were scored by Jimmy Young. What made this fight so different from any other Ali fight was seeing him moving forward and following Young around the ring. By forcing Ali to carry the fight, Young reversed Ali's role in it. With Ali trying to track down Young, he knew where Ali was, and where Ali was going to be. Being forced to fight like George Foreman was not Ali's forte, and something he never had to do before.

For a majority of the 15 rounds of the fight, Jimmy Young made Ali look like an amateur, causing him to lunge and miss with many of his punches. Not only was Ali finding mostly air when he let his hands go, Young countered Ali's missed shots with two and three punch flurries that found their mark, resulting in Ali suffering a broken ear drum.

Throughout his career Muhammad Ali was taken to task by critics for never punching to the body, despite it never costing him in a fight until he fought Young. In Young, Ali faced a fighter who, like him, was hard to hit cleanly to the head, especially with lead punches. However, Young was vulnerable to a body attack. Because Ali ignored his opponent's body his entire career, he cut his scoring territory in half. Against Young, Ali needed that other half that he never needed before.

Ali's style was predicated on him moving back and away, circling to his left. This forced his opponents to stalk him. It was paramount for his opponent to cut the ring off.  If they could take away his space, it would be easier for them to force his back to the ropes or into a corner.

With Young moving away from Ali, coupled with the champ's non-existent body attack, Ali had nothing in his arsenal to solve Young's style. Ali's offense was reduced to throwing quick one-twos while he lumbered forward, every once in a while trying to sneak in a right lead. With Young stepping back or moving to the side, one of Ali's best punches, the lead right, was nullified.

What worked against the aggression of Liston, Frazier, Quarry, Foreman and Lyle was offset by Young's non-aggression. Young was also aided by his good hand speed. He didn't have Ali or Patterson-type hand speed, but his hands were pretty quick. For the first time Ali couldn't rely on his instincts to pull a fight out. He was forced to think about what he needed to do. This enabled Young to get off quick flurries during Ali's periods of indecision. On top of that, because Ali never learned to slip, block, or parry incoming punches, it was easier for Young to hit him flush. Ali's only true defense was pulling away and leaning back from punches thrown at him. By him moving forward, his effectiveness pulling back was severely comprised.

In this fight, Ali confronted a boxer who was susceptible to all the basics he never thought he needed or bothered to learn. In 17 world championship fights, Ali never needed to go to the body to win. What separated Young from Ali's previous opponents was Ali had to fight as the predator. Ali was used to being pursued, which made it easy for him to catch his opponents as they tried to get inside his jab. That's why Ali never had to rely on leading with his hook, because the counter hook was there against fighters pressuring him.

It wasn't until April 30, 1976 that Ali's lack of boxing basics and fundamental defense became so obvious. For 15 rounds, Young forced Ali to fight as the predator instead of the prey. The problem was Ali only knew how to fight as the prey. When fighting in the role as the fighter being hunted, Ali had all of his physical skills at his disposal. However, when forced to carry the fight, he was out of his comfort zone and no longer “The Greatest.”

Jimmy Young should have won the decision in his fight versus Ali. He was the fighter who exhibited superior ring generalship, landed the cleaner punches, and his defense was brilliant, with him rarely getting hit in 45 minutes in the same ring with Ali. What hurt Young was that he stuck his body outside the ropes four different times while Ali had him pinned against them. This gave the impression he didn't want to engage Ali, which made it hard to justify giving the champion's title to the challenger. The challenger has to take the title.

Jimmy Young should be remembered as the fighter who showed the boxing world all the boxing basics Muhammad Ali never learned as a fighter. Because Ali didn't think he needed to. For 52 fights he was right. Until he fought Jimmy Young.

(This is part two of a three part feature on Jimmy Young.)

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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