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Articles of 2005

Extras at Taylor-Hopkins II

Phil Woolever

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LAS VEGAS– As the last mega-fight card of 2005, the Jermain Taylor-Bernard Hopkins II event held decisive action that impacted year-end rankings, and the early planning stages of 2006. Along the sidelines there was plenty of elite moving and shaking, and not just among the sweet VIP hostesses.

After Taylor squeaked past Hopkins, some immediate post-fight discussion held that the real middleweight winner had been Winky Wright. Based on Taylor’s less than scintillating victory, prominent observers lobbied that Wright could lay claim to being the top talent in the 160 pound division based on recent form and his dominant win over Felix Trinidad last June.

Hopkins was unjustly relegated toward that chunk of retirement village real estate known as Over the Hill.

Most predictions assumed Wright would slap Sam Soliman silly on the weekend following Taylor’s triumph. That pounding would increase pressure on Taylor to back up his responses indicating he would soon accept Wright’s challenge.

Some handicappers already had Taylor as a considerable underdog to Wright. That theory lasted about a week, or until Aussie Soliman made Wright look ineffective.

Wright showed that he too was susceptible to an off night. Soliman gave him the herky-jerky, made-you-look-bad type fight Wright was renowned for pulling on others.

After Solomon frustrated Wright, suddenly it wasn’t so hard for more folks to envision Taylor turning size and strength into very effective aggression against Winky.

So the Taylor-Hopkins rematch did sort things out atop the middleweight division. Taylor is hands down number one. Hopkins is still number two if he chooses to stay active.

There were many complaints about the lackluster contest, but at least it came off, without controversy, outrageous malice, or other negative trappings. Overall it was a good showcase for the sport, especially before the swarming conventions of mainstream USA at Mandalay Bay for the National Finals Rodeo and New Las Vegas Marathon.

Taylormay have actually gotten under the usually taunting Hopkins’ skin at the final press conference. By embracing the title, Taylor has rubbed it in, purposely or not. That afternoon, Taylor meant it. Taylor rolled tape of a crying baby (his year-old daughter), then produced a doll with Cry Baby X Hopkins on a pink shirt. Some veteran Hopkins observers felt Bernard was truly steamed.

There was no real bad blood, but Hopkins more than returned the head trip. His response may have put a little extra fire in Taylor when he warned Taylor about leaving his family behind through an implication of death.

“I’m going to hug my wife and daughter because there’s no guarantee Saturday,” said Hopkins. “I know what this business is. No disrespect, but there’s no guarantees, so I’d advise Jermain, hug your wife, hug your daughter. Because it’s on man, and you never know.”

“Is he saying he’s going to kill me?” mused Taylor to the gathering. “Isn’t he on probation? Where’s my lawyer?” Taylor sounded amused, but there was a strong indication he was very pissed.

“Damn. I didn’t know it was that serious,” said Taylor. “I want this man to go home to his family just like I want to be with my family. I wouldn’t even let that come out of my mouth. It just shows how stupid he really is.”

In terms of inflicted brutality during the contest, there turned out to be almost the same probability of somebody getting hurt by falling asleep and rolling out of the stands. If there was any rematch clause this time, nobody was talking about it.

Hopkins entered to a James Brown medley of “I Feel Good” and “It’s a Man’s World.” When Hopkins left it wasn’t his world any more, but at least he still felt all right. He’ll fight again.

It didn’t seem Hopkins missed Bouie Fisher. Whether Fisher’s absence was all about moolah, as Fisher claimed, or the 77-year-old trainer’s health, per Hopkins’s side of the story, never became clear.

Nazim Richardson, a Hopkins’s camp assistant for around nine years, did a solid job in the corner. Richardson is also the father of 2000 Olympian Rock Allen, 4-0 (4), who conked out Calvin Pitts, 3-5-1 (1), at the end of the second round when Pitts’s corner intervened.

It isn’t discussed much lately, but a Hopkins-Wright contest could get the New Year off with a bang. After Wright whipped Trinidad, there was much speculation he’d be Hopkins’s big final test. The scenario is unlikely now, but it could still be great boxing.

It’s still a big notch for Wright, and a winnable goodbye fight if Hopkins wants to erase doubts about his all-time great status.

In the meantime, team Taylor spoke of an Arkansas homecoming against easier opposition next. That could be a spring date.

As for this year, Taylor has a strong claim to Fighter of the Year honors.

Ike Quartey made a strong impression on the undercard. Quartey, now 37-2-1 (31), showed he can still be plenty slick as he pounded Carlos Bojorquez, 25-8-6 (21). Bojorquez absorbed plenty of punishment before Joe Cortez decided going the distance wasn’t as important as long-term health and waved it off at 2:12 of the tenth and final frame. Bojorquez managed to demonstrate that Quartey is vulnerable to pressure.

Also looking good was Israel Vasquez, who blasted out Oscar Larios in their high stakes tiebreaker. 4-1 underdog Vasquez, 39-3 (28), dropped Larios, 56-4-1 (36), in the first frame and never looked back. Larios had a better second round, and showed the skill that made him the first to stop Wayne McCullough, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Vasquez couldn’t really cut off the ring, but he did two-handed damage all along the way, until ref Tony Weeks had seen enough at 2:52 of the third.

B-Hop’s nephew, Demetrius Hopkins also showed progress. Hopkins, now 22-0-1 (9), scored a TKO over outgunned Jesse Feliciano, 13-5-2 (8), at 2:23 the fourth of a scheduled ten.

Throughout fight weekend, scenes from “Rocky Balboa” were filmed live during crowd-related events like the weigh-in and ring walk. Fans were welcome to sign up as extras. It definitely raised he energy level. It was amusing to watch usually stoic commission, promotional, and media characters ham it up once the camera was rolling.

There were ten bells for the recently departed George Horowitz of Everlast Inc., and The Sweet Science’s own master scribe Pat Putnam. They would have enjoyed the arena’s duked-out ambiance.

Pay-per-view numbers came in at around 440,000 buys. That’s respectable numbers at $49.95 a pop.

HBO executives repeated the new company line, after what was considered a weak year that saw rival Showtime usurp positive word of mouth. They conceded that too many mismatches aired during 2005 while premium events went directly to HBO PPV. The new plan for 2006, admirable if carried out, is to return premier fights to the primary Saturday night series. The number of broadcasts will increase. Boxing After Dark will undergo some tweaking.

A ready looking Hasim Rahman generated a subdued but strong presence as he settled into his role of designated WBC heavyweight champ with new promoter Top Rank. Rahman did a good PR job with many well-wishers who congratulated him but didn’t care to discus much about his future. Considering his recent rollercoaster ride regarding the Klitschko cancellations, bankruptcy, and lawsuits, a wait and see attitude is probably the wisest way to go.

Fight fans won’t have to wait long at all to see another series of top flight contests begin in early ‘06.

Winky will continue calling Taylor out, maybe because Wright recognizes that Taylor may keep improving. For his part, Taylor promises active championship defenses against the very best. Meeting Wright by late summer would be a great place for both men to start, by adding premier opponents to their resumes.

Spring hopes eternal. Cards like Taylor-Hopkins II make it seem like a Golden Age could come again, maybe soon.

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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

Phil Woolever

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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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