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RASKIN’S RANTS: From Unwarranted DQs To Unwarranted Blurcles

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VazquezMarquezIV_Hogan11Vazquez-Arce does seem like a fine scrap on paper. TSS-EM thinks Rafael is a step closer to the end of the line than is Arce. What say you, TSS Universe? (Hogan)

As a lifelong Philly sports fan, I suppose I have to open this week’s column by commenting on the almost embarrassing bounties reaped by my football and baseball franchises this weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles, behind a dog-killing ex-con quarterback and more blockbuster free agent signings than the rest of the NFL combined, become one of the top four teams America loves to hate this year (joining the Cowboys, Patriots, and Steelers). But if they finally win a Super Bowl, that’s fine by me. Meanwhile, the Phillies managed to add another All-Star bat on Friday without giving up a single major leaguer and then swept the Pirates (not even requiring any help from the umps, it should be noted). According to one website I just checked (in other words, I did research, but only the bare minimum), the Phils currently have the shortest odds to win the World Series (+230, just ahead of the Red Sox at +240).

On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see my teams spending money that is not mine and possibly swindling other GMs. On the other hand, with the Eagles in particular, there will be so many new faces that I can’t deny I’m really just “rooting for laundry,” to borrow the famous Jerry Seinfeld line. So be it. As long as some guy wearing my preferred laundry hoists the Lombardi Trophy, all other details are incidental.

Unless you’re from Philly, you’ve probably tuned out by now, so let’s move along to boxing, the sport where we all have the same rooting interest: We just want to see a good fight. This week’s reader email suggests one that definitely qualifies as such.

Hi Eric,

I have an interesting matchup in mind. It seems Rafael Marquez’s next fight may be against top 122-pounder Toshiaki Nishioka, but since many people are of the opinion that the fight may not be so competitive, how about scrapping the idea in favor of this one: Rafael Marquez versus Jorge Arce. What’s not to love about this matchup!? Two popular Mexican warriors who make for exciting fights; both faded enough that they’ll both get hit plenty but neither so faded that fans would feel guilty about enjoying it; and there would even be a meaningless alphabet belt on the line, if either guy cares about that kind of thing. And there’s already the perfect slot for this fight—the undercard to Pacquiao-Marquez III! Both Marquez bros on the same card is never a bad thing and the appearance of Arce might entice casual fans who shelled out for the Pacquiao-Mosley snoozefest and remember how much fun his fight with Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. was. It might even persuade those boxing fans who view Pacquiao-Marquez as a mismatch.

What do you think?

—Joe T.

Joe,

I think you’re making entirely too much sense for your idea to ever become a reality. This is boxing, after all, the sport that puts a 5,000-ticket fight in a 90,000-seat stadium outside Detroit, the sport that is allowing Antonio Margarito to make more money after getting caught loading his gloves than he could when we thought he was legit, the sport that couldn’t give us Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones II between 1997 and 2004 but did give it to us in 2010. So let’s not discuss your idea in any realistic terms involving when and where. There’s little room in the boxing business for logic. Marquez-Nishioka is happening, which means Marquez-Arce won’t be happening on the November 12 pay-per-view undercard, no matter how perfect it would be in that slot. So let’s discuss your idea purely as a fantasy fight, because that’s all it is for now.

No question, Marquez vs. Arce is a sensational matchup, and I have to give you credit, Joe, because I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else. Both fighters are indeed faded to perfection, which is to say that both are still viable competitors but neither has the option of relying on razor-sharp reflexes and outboxing the other guy. Marquez-Arce can only be a bloody, brutal brawl. So many of the greatest fights in boxing history have come when both guys are either at the tail end of their primes or just beyond that, in the early stages of decline. Think the Gatti-Ward trilogy, Ali-Frazier III, Corrales-Castillo, and even the Vazquez-Marquez fights. Nobody in any of those fights was “shot” (except maybe Ward by the third Gatti fight and Vazquez in the fourth Marquez fight). But nobody was at their absolute physical peak either. That’s what we have with Arce and Marquez: faded but not shot, skilled but easy to hit, able to turn a fight with one punch, and willing to dig deep to win. Plus they’re both huge names for 122-pounders. As you wrote, what’s not to love?

Okay, enough living in a dream world, here are this week’s Rants on real fights and real news from around the boxing scene:

• Fights are not won and lost during Face Off With Max Kellerman. But if they were, mark down Floyd Mayweather for a guaranteed manhandling of Victor Ortiz. Mayweather was well spoken and made strikingly intelligent points, while Ortiz didn’t know what approach he wanted to take, his inexperience on the grand stage showed, and nothing he said really felt pure and honest. But, again, fights are not won and lost during Face Off. (Though I should note that Bernard Hopkins out-talked Jean Pascal and then outfought him, and Wladimir Klitschko narrowly outpointed David Haye on the set before comprehensively outpointing him in the ring.)

• I’m as big a Pawel Wolak fan as anybody. But I have to point out: His media blitz that has included the signing of a new managerial contract, talk of an alphabet title shot, etc., is doing a fine job of masking the reality that he’s coming off a fortunate draw in a fight nearly every observer expected him to win.

• If there’s a good fight going on, the fans are enjoying it, both boxers are producing viable offense, and one boxer ends up getting disqualified for punches that weren’t malicious in intent or damaging in effect, well, that’s just weak refereeing. Yes, Vic Drakulich, I’m talking to you. You sodomized the pooch in the Yordanis Despaigne-Edison Miranda fight. But don’t take my criticism personally, Vic. Refereeing is a hard job. Not everyone has the right mental makeup for it. There’s no shame in admitting you’re among those who don’t.

• Just when you thought Drakulich’s night couldn’t get any worse, Kenny Bayless came out and worked the next two fights on the ESPN2 broadcast. Not a flattering point of comparison for my man Vic.

• As for the main event that Bayless officiated on Friday Night Fights, you have to give Lamont Peterson serious points for closing the show. You just never know what the judges might say if you let them get the last word.

• Regarding the staredown between Despaigne and Miranda at the weigh-in: Why do we still have to blurcle the middle finger? It’s 2011. I feel like Stone Cold Steve Austin has lost and the terrorists have won.

• Great news, everybody: Nonito Donaire, one of the five most talented fighters on the planet, is coming back in October, after only a nine-month layoff following a career-best HBO-televised win in which he sustained no damage at all! (Remember what I wrote earlier about logic rarely prevailing in boxing?)

• Just have to say, I agree wholeheartedly with The Ring’s decision to move Amir Khan ahead of Tim Bradley in the junior welterweight rankings. Their 140-pound resumes are comparable, but recent achievement has to warrant additional weight. In the last two years, Khan is 6-0 at junior welter, with three wins I’d call highly meaningful. In that same time span, Bradley has only fought three times in the division (and had to settle for a no-contest in one of those bouts). It’s a close call, but activity is the difference maker here.

• Guess what happened last week? Some sanctioning body stripped some guy of his belt for no reason and now two undeserving guys will fight for the vacant belt. And that’s all I’ll say about that, because if fans, journalists, broadcast networks, and everyone else would just stop citing these for-profit organizations’ rankings or telling us who their beltholders are—in either positive or negative terms—maybe someday a generation of fighters will come up that isn’t interested in paying for their belts.

• Actually, that “someday” might have started this past weekend. Thank you, Mike Alvarado, for breaking free of the sheep mentality. I’m starting a “303! 303!” chant in my living room right now.

• In fact, just for being so unusually awesome, Mr. Alvarado, I’m going to do something I never do for anyone: give you props for having a tattoo with a cool-looking design. (On the other end of the tat spectrum, may I present junior featherweight Shawn Nichol and the pair of red lips inked into the side of his neck?)

• Did everyone get a look at Kevin McBride’s love handles and jiggling gut in his knockout loss to Marius Wach? Jeez, I’ve seen guys on press row with better physiques than that. Hey, Kevin, James Toney called; he wants his workout tapes back.

• I received a press release last week that began with the words “Boxing Sensation Hector Camacho Jr.” I have no idea what the next word was.

• Check out a new episode of Ring Theory (http://ringtheory.podbean.com) this week (probably Wednesday), featuring a guest appearance from the always insightful Ring Editor-in-Chief Nigel Collins. We’ll talk Khan vs. Judah, Tarver vs. Green, Mares vs. Agbeko, and of course, with the “Quick Picks” competition suddenly heating up, Raskin vs. Dettloff.

Eric Raskin can be contacted at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin and listen to new episodes of his podcast, Ring Theory, at http://ringtheory.podbean.com.

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Remembering Leotis Martin who KOed Sonny Liston 50 Years Ago Today

Arne K. Lang

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On Dec. 6, 1969, 50 years ago today, former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston fought former sparring partner Leotis Martin on the stage of the showroom of the newly built International Hotel in Las Vegas, a property that subsequently took the name Las Vegas Hilton and is called the Westgate today. The Sunday afternoon fight was televised by ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” with Howard Cosell behind the mic. The match was slated for 12 rounds. The victor would be recognized as the heavyweight champion of the newly formed North American Boxing Federation.

Leotis Martin, who resided in Philadelphia, was a former national Golden Gloves and national AAU middleweight champion. As a pro, he was 30-5 with 18 knockouts. But he was given scant chance of defeating Sonny Liston (49-3, 38 KOs) who had won 14 in a row, 13 inside the distance, since his second defeat to Muhammad Ali. Although Liston had defeated no one of note during this run, he had yet re-established himself in the public mind as one of the hardest hitting punchers ever.

Martin had several other things working against him. He was a small heavyweight. Liston, who came in at 220, would out-weigh him by 21 pounds. And he wasn’t a full-time boxer. In Philadelphia, he was a machinist for the Budd Company, one of America’s leading manufacturers of metal components for automobiles and railroad cars.

Martin had helped Liston train for his matches with Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali. When a big name fighter is matched against a former sparring partner, there is always the suspicion that a gentleman’s agreement is in effect.

Liston vs Martin played out somewhat like the recent fight between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz although it lasted two rounds longer.

After eight frames, Liston was ahead by two points on one of the scorecards and by three points on the others on Nevada’s “five-point-must” system. A flash knockdown of Martin in round four contributed to the imbalance.

Martin could sense that Liston was tiring, but it wasn’t apparent to those in the audience – reportedly 1,800 paid – and that made the drama that was about to unfold all the more dramatic.

In round nine, Leotis landed three unanswered combinations, one right after the other. The third was the classic one-two: left to the body, right to the jaw. Sonny Liston pitched forward, landing face first to the canvas, dead to the world. The ref counted “10” over his prone body. “He could have counted to 300,” said Review-Journal ringside reporter Jimmy Cox.

Nevada’s ringside physician, Dr. Donald Romeo, came equipped with capsules of ammonia. The first one that he broke and waved under Sonny’s nose had no effect. The second capsule brought Liston out of his slumber.

Sonny Liston was reportedly 39 years old, but was widely considered to be somewhat older than his listed age. The brutal manner in which he succumbed to Leotis Martin seemingly indicated that he had reached the end of the line, but he wasn’t done quite yet. Six months later, at the Armory in Jersey City, he butchered Chuck Wepner, the “Bayonne Bleeder,” in a fight stopped by the ring doctor after nine rounds.

That would prove to be his final fight. On Jan. 5, 1971, Sonny’s wife Geraldine returned to their home in Las Vegas from a 12-day holiday trip to St. Louis, her hometown, and found her husband dead in their bedroom. Rigor mortis had already set in.  The coroner’s report said Liston died from congestive heart failure, but that didn’t explain what brought on the coronary and there’s strong circumstantial evidence that he was a victim of foul play.

Leotis Martin’s triumph elevated him to #1 in the heavyweight rankings of the WBA, the sport’s paramount sanctioning body. A fight with fellow Philadelphian Smokin’ Joe Frazier was his likely reward. But it wasn’t to be.

Martin emerged from his fight with Liston with a detached retina. Back in those days, retinal detachment surgery was a hit-and-miss proposition. The most famous boxer to have his retina repaired mid-career was Sugar Ray Leonard, but that didn’t happen until 1982 and it was a far more complicated procedure than what it is nowadays. Three ophthalmic surgeons attended Sugar Ray during his two-hour operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Leotis Martin basically had no choice but to retire. His signature win would be the final fight of his career.

Martin returned to Philadelphia and to his job in the foundry and lived out his days quietly in the city’s racially diverse Mount Airy neighborhood. In November of 1995 he passed away after suffering a stroke brought on by diabetes and hypertension. He was 56 years old.

By the way, Tim Dahlberg was one of the ringside reporters. This was his first prizefight. In time he would travel the globe as the National Sports Columnist for the Associated Press and he’s still going strong today.

Reminiscing about his first prizefight with Las Vegas sports columnist Ron Kantowski, Dahlberg recalled that there was a young heavyweight on the Liston-Martin undercard that looked pretty good.

The kid’s name was George Foreman.

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Downtown LA Fight Results From the Exchange

David A. Avila

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Downtown LA Fight Results From the Exchange

LOS ANGELES-Built in 1931 the Exchange was the former home of the stock market exchange for the West Coast. On Thursday night it was the home for professional boxing.

Jessy Martinez led a slew of prospects ready to showcase their fighting skills among the many business types at the Exchange located on the 600 block of Spring Street. He didn’t need more than one round to reveal his talent at the Bash Boxing show.

Martinez (14-0, 9 KOs) used the first minute or so to determine the incoming fire from Mexico’s Carlos Huerta (6-5-2), a fighter of similar height and speed. Once he learned the magnitude and strength of the punches coming his way, Martinez (pictured on the left) unfurled his own combination and saw his right cross visibly do damage.

A slow developing 12-punch combination by Martinez rocked Huerta who tried to evade the blows to no avail. Finally an overhand right dumped a bleeding Huerta into the ropes as referee Wayne Hedgpeth immediately waved the fight over at 2:26 of the first round.

It was a short but destructive win for Martinez who fights out of toney Woodland Hills, California.

“Hard work pays off,” said Martinez.

Another featured fight saw Compton featherweight Adan Ochoa (11-1, 4 KOs) slug it out with Chile’s Juan “La Maquina” Jimenez (8-9) for five destructive rounds. Though Ochoa had the height, speed and skill advantage, the Chilean fighter walked through every exchange and was cut in the first round because of his reckless charges.

But he fought hard.

Ochoa seemed to have Jimenez in trouble early with single power shots, but was unable to put the final touch. In the fifth round a clash of heads resulted in a gash above Jimenez’s forehead and blood came streaming down. The fight was stopped and due to the cut caused by an accidental clash of heads, the fight was stopped and Ochoa was deemed the winner by technical decision 50-45 twice and 49-46.

“He’s an Hispanic fighter and all Hispanic fighters are tough,” said Ochoa.

A welterweight fight saw Vlad Panin (7-0) use his physical superiority to defeat Mexico’s Daniel Perales (11-19-2) in a four round contest. Panin is a fighter of Belarus lineage and had solid support from his fans who saw him handily defeat Perales by unanimous decision.

Other Bouts

Five of the bouts featured four-round fights and the best of them all saw Orange County-based Victor Rodriguez make his pro debut. He looked very sharp for someone getting his baptism under fire.

Rodriguez (1-0) trains at Grampa’s Gym in Westminster and showed off a very sharp left jab that kept Osman Rivera (2-12-1) from penetrating into the fire zone. Both boxers had large followings and the crowds exchanged competitive cheers for their fighters throughout the four round match. Rodriguez was just a little too sharp for Rivera who was slightly frustrated. All three judges scored the fight 40-36 for Rodriguez.

Other results: Keehwan Kim (4-1) defeat Percy Peterson (3-16-3) by majority decision in a super featherweight contest that opened the show.

Isaac Lucero (1-0) won his debut by knockout in the first round over Anthony Zender (1-6) in a welterweight clash. Lucero floored Zender twice before the fight was stopped at 1:29 of the first round.

Austin Gudino (5-0) remained undefeated by decision after four rounds versus Nobelin Hernandez (0-4) in a super lightweight fight.

Moises Fuentes (4-1) slugged out a win over Sacramento’s tough Moris Rodriguez (8-16-1) after six rounds in a welterweight clash. Each round was hotly contested. The scores were 60-54 twice and 58-56.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Thomas Hauser Enters the Boxing Hall of Fame

Arne K. Lang

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There were 25 names on the Observer Category ballot sent out to those casting votes for the next round of inductions into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Voters could choose as many as five. The top two vote-getters would get in.

A range of disciplines are included in the Observer category: journalists and photo-journalists, TV executives, broadcasters, record-keepers, statisticians, cartoonists. Some of the 25 potential inductees are long dead such as Percy Dana the great photographer who was omnipresent back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the San Francisco Bay area was swarming with big fights. The majority of those on the ballot, however, are still active. They are contemporaries of the electors.

This reporter had a strong feeling that longtime boxing writer and current TSS mainstay Bernard Fernandez would make the cut. Induction into the IBHOF is by nature a lifetime achievement award and Fernandez certainly qualified on that count. Among those stumping for him was ESPN’s Dan Rafael who shares his picks with his readers. Rafael’s opinions circulate widely among his peers.

We guessed right with Fernandez and then had more reason to strut when the other top vote-getter turned out to be frequent TSS contributor Thomas Hauser.

We didn’t see that coming. Yes, we thought that Hauser was more than qualified. Considering some of the “Observers” that were ushered into the Hall before him, his induction was long overdue. But much of Hauser’s work falls under the heading of investigative reporting and he has never been shy about airing his political views so we figured that he had alienated just enough voters to ensure that he would be kept waiting indefinitely.

We miscalculated.

Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser was born in New York City and grew up in Larchmont, an upper-middle-class village roughly 25 miles north of the city in Westchester County. His father was an attorney with a small general practice in the city and Hauser followed him into the practice of law, clerking for a federal judge and then working as a litigator for a Wall Street law firm after graduating from Columbia Law School.

When Hauser got bored with the life of a Wall Street lawyer, he thought he would give writing a try and then hit the jackpot with his very first book. “The Execution of Charles Horman” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, and the National Book Award.

Horman was a left-leaning journalist who was murdered while investigating the possible American masterminding of a military coup in Chile. The book spawned the movie “Missing” which earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Actress (Sissy Spacek) and an Adapted Screenplay Oscar for director Costa-Gavras.

The movie put a brighter spotlight on Hauser’s book which was re-titled “Missing” and sent him off on the lecture circuit. Here’s Hauser in 1982 as depicted in a Los Angeles Times story following his talk at UC Irvine.

hauser wong

Hauser went on to write so many books that the exact number is uncertain (but somewhere north of 50). That includes works of fiction, works of general non-fiction and, of course, non-fiction books about boxing of which, at last count, there are eighteen. The opus is “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times.” Harking in its design to the works of the great Chicago oral historian Studs Terkel, the book, released in 1991, won the William Hill Award for best sports book, a prestigious award in Great Britain.

Completing the book was an arduous task. Hauser interviewed approximately 200 people. He and Ali spent countless days at their respective homes and after the book was published the two went off on a book signing tour that spanned several continents.

Ali TH w book

Hauser had interviewed Ali long before they collaborated on the biography. It came when he was a 19-year-old undergraduate at Columbia hosting a weekly sports talk radio show on the student-run radio station. Ali was in town to fight Zora Folley at the old Madison Square Garden – Ali’s final fight before his exile – and Hauser wangled his way into Ali’s dressing room after Ali completed a public workout and taped an interview. It wouldn’t be the last time that he wangled his way into a fighter’s dressing room.

Four years later Hauser was at the newly reconstituted Madison Square Garden for the Fight of the Century, the first meeting between Ali and Joe Frazier. It was an epic confrontation, an event that Pete Hamill, writing for Harper’s Bazaar, called the most spectacular event in sports history. Hauser’s ticket bought him a seat in the last row of the mezzanine, as far away from the ring as one could be.

“Muhammad Ali” was actually Hauser’s second boxing book. “The Black Lights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing,” published in 1986, looks at all the machinations that led up to the Nov. 3, 1984 match between 140-pound title-holder Billy Costello and Saoul Mamby. Hauser’s portrait of Don King jumps off the page.

Hauser’s 2001 book, “A Beautiful Sickness: Reflections on the Sweet Science” is noteworthy because it was published by the University of Arkansas Press which has been publishing a Hauser anthology every year since. The books are compilations of Hauser’s favorite columns from the previous year.

The books invariably include at least one dressing room story as Hauser takes the reader into the dressing room of a fighter before a fight, giving us a peek at what happens during those pregnant moments before a fighter is summoned to the ring. In the fraternity of boxing journalists, Hauser is the consummate fly-on-the-wall.

Another hat he wears is that of a reformer. Boxing has become a niche sport, he laments, and it brought it upon itself, alienating the fans with too many champions and too many mismatches rather than the best fighting the best. “Having three heavyweight champions,” he says, “is like having three Kings of England.”

One of Hauser’s most admired people in boxing is Dr. Margaret Goodman, the Las Vegas neurologist who is the co-founder and the face of VADA, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency. “The most pressing issue facing boxing today,” says Hauser, “is the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs.” Hitting a baseball harder and further is one thing. Hitting a man in the head harder warrants greater reproach.

The new inductees will be formally enshrined in the Hall on Sunday, June 14, the climax of Hall of Fame weekend, a four-day event.

From our perspective here at The Sweet Science, it will be cool to see Thomas Hauser and Bernard Fernandez on the dais together in Canastota. I wonder if we could induce them to wear a “The Sweet Science.com” tee shirt?

Probably not.

Photo (c): Wojtek Urbanek

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