Sunday, July 29, 2007

Praise Be Low Expectations

HBO this weekend re-aired the light heavyweight title fight between ancient, savvy, mostly-boring veterans Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright, pairing it with a junior middleweight bout pitting aging, damaged Vernon Forrest against slow-footed, light-hitting Carlos Baldomir. Both exceeded my exceptionally low expectations, although Forrest-Baldomir was legitimately exciting and Hopkins-Wright was better than horrible, maybe even better than mediocre.


I contend that Hopkins won the fight, albeit not by much, using guile, excellent foot movement for a 42-year-old, size, harder punching and a head butt. Wright landed more punches in most of the rounds, but mostly his patented jab. When one guy hits harder than the other guy, and the other guy mostly jabs, my feeling is that the jabber better land a ton more jabs than the power puncher lands power punches. Granted, Wright's jab is a nastier jab than most -- whereas most boxers use the jab to establish distance, throw an opponent off-rhythm or set up another punch, it is Winky's main weapon. It's just that Hopkins landed plenty of big shots, enough to overcome what Wright was dishing out.

This might have been a significantly better fight if not for Hopkins' excessive clinching, unpunished by the referee. Again, no one should ever be surprised that Hopkins, an ex-con who prides himself in the skills he learned surviving on the street, would win ugly by breaking the rules. Hopkins tied up Wright after every series of punches he landed, making it difficult for Winky to establish his jab quite as well, a tactic Hopkins enhanced with tricky footwork. That said, it certainly would have moved from better-than-mediocre all the way to good had Hopkins opted to fight straight up. He probably still would have won, making the dynamic all the more lamentable.

Next for the winner: Having conquered the light heavyweight division (169-175 lbs.), Hopkins is now looking to take on the king of a lower weight class, super middleweight (161-168 lbs.) champ Joe Calzaghe. I don't know who I would pick to win that fight. Whenever I have sided against Hopkins, he has won. Whenever I have sided against Great Britain's Calzaghe, he has won. Calzaghe is faster and more powerful than Wright and throws awkward-angled combinations in bunches, but Hopkins has an answer for most everyone. The catch is that Calzaghe first has to get by Mikkel Kessler, a Dane of tremendous skill, in what could be a fight of the year candidate. That means Hopkins will be waiting a while and the fight's buzz could fizzle if Calzaghe is defeated. That would leave Hopkins with few options, since match-ups with some younger bulls like Chad Dawson would not capture enough public attention for Hopkins at this stage in his career. Kudos to him, though, if he's willing to take such fights.
Next for the loser: Wright wants De La Hoya, but who doesn't? And De La Hoya wants little part of a fighter who has a tendency to make his opponent look bad, win or lose. Wright's style is so difficult that you don't get to land many punches against him and he can really embarrass you with his jab. I don't see many big-name options for Wright left, so the choice seems between retirement or bouts with second-tier veterans like the below-mentioned Vernon Forrest or a dangerous younger fighter like Kelly Pavlik.


This, clearly, was the Vernon Forrest who upset Shane Mosley a few years ago, the one who stung Sugar with a rangy jab and hard, fast combinations as he danced and managed his distance perfectly on the way to becoming Ring magazine's fighter of the year. It was not the Vernon Forrest who last year slung an injured arm at Ike Quartey in such a manner as to somehow convince the judges he won their fight, although the lusty boos at the decision betrayed their error. I prefer the first version of Vernon Forrest, a.k.a. the new version of Vernon Forrest, the one who fought brilliantly on his way to an in-reality convincing victory over the hard-nosed and hard-headed Carlos Baldomir.

Baldomir's noggin must be made of adamantium. He took one knockout punch after another and never stopped coming after the man delivering them. I figure he won three or four rounds on sheer willpower. He might have knocked out Forrest in the ninth round, but for Forrest's seemingly intentional low blow to bail himself out, the only tarnish on what was a rousing slugfest between two courageous combatants.

Next for the winner: Dominion over the barren wasteland that is the junior middleweight division (148-154 lbs.) or a risky move up to the more target-rich middleweight ranks (155-160 lbs.). The biggest name at junior middleweight is Cory Spinks, a draw in his hometown of St. Louis but not much anywhere else, owing to his feathery fists and concentration on defense. I wouldn't mind seeing them fight, I suppose, if only because they're probably the two best in their division and a St. Louis fight would give Forrest a shot at making some cash. A better style matchup -- one that I think would be a cracking good scrap -- would be with Kassim Ouma, once the diminutive non-stop puncher realizes he shouldn't be fighting at middleweight and returns to his more natural division. Forrest wants to avenge his two losses to Ricardo Mayorga, but the Mayorga who beat Forrest has since been ravaged by Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya and is clearly worse for the wear, so I'm not sure what that would prove.
Next for the loser: Retirement, it looks like, according to Baldomir himself. Sure, he could get a few more good fights and maybe even win a title at junior middleweight. I would watch him again, gladly. But there's not anyone he could make much money fighting in the division besides Forrest, and he's accomplished plenty in the last year and a half. He knocked off Zab Judah in 2006's upset of the year, becoming the recognized welterweight (141-147 lbs.) champion, not some random belt-holder. He then upset boxing folk hero Arturo Gatti. Despite getting blown out completely, he earned the respect of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in their bout, not an easy thing to earn from a guy who is contemptuous of pretty much everyone he battles. And he just pushed a rejuvenated Forrest to the brink of defeat in a nice action fight. Baldomir went from mop salesman in the streets of Argentina to millionaire and national icon in Argentina. Who could ask for more?

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Wild Man From Nicaragua And The Fine Art Of Hilariously Villainous Behavior

Boxing made a rare appearance on SportsCenter recently when Ricardo Mayorga and Fernando Vargas brawled at a press conference to hype their upcoming showdown, and the clucking of tongues predictably ensured from boxing types who believe this kind of behavior jeopardizes the dignity of the sport. It probably does. The difference between street fights and boxing is that the latter does have at least an air of propriety, rules and so forth. But my bias is toward trash-talking and hilarious antics, and so I have little but praise for the kind of circus Mayorga, appropriately oft-referred to as "the wild man from Nicaragua," brings to boxing. After reading of the brawl-free follow-up news conference this week to promote Vargas-Mayorga, it would be nice, I thought, for people to have one place to go to read about some of the more bizarrely villainous behavior of a limited but tough and strong fighter who has become the sport's premiere "opponent" -- dangerous enough to test most anyone, but safe enough for the best of the best and certainly loud enough to bolster pay-per-view buys.

Mayorga most famously drinks beer and smokes cigarettes after his victories, a thumb in the eye for a sport that demands more than any other that its athletes be in supreme shape if they have any hope of succeeding. The day before fights, he has on more than one occasion stepped onto the scale for the weigh-in while chomping on a slice of pizza, or helped himself to some fried chicken in a brazen show that he is in such exceptional combat shape that he does not fear coming in under the weight limit. He does some of his best work at news conferences, such as wearing a matador outfit, presenting a dress labeled "the Golden Girl" to Oscar De La Hoya prior to their fight to mock his "Golden Boy" nickname, attempting to backhand Vargas and thereby inciting their brawl or slapping the back of De La Hoya's head when he wasn't looking. He once attempted to start a fight with an opponent upon his entrance to the ring area. And when in the heat of battle, he is prone to jutting his chin out, daring his opponent to punch him, taking flush shots from murderous punchers like Tito Trinidad, then, after surviving the onslaught, flailing toward them like a windmill with swinging, looping, hard punches.

But he saves his finest material for his verbal assaults. By "fine," I do not mean anything remotely approaching "good." I mean "fine" by the standard of a villain, in which case the nastier equals the better. His news conference pronouncements range from profane to funny to some combination of both. Among the best, keeping in mind those definitional caveats:
  • He promised "to deliver" Cory Spinks to his mother, recently deceased.
  • "You better start injecting steroids again, cause you are going to need it against me," he told Vargas, referring to the most shameful incident of Vargas' career -- his positive steroid test after a loss to De La Hoya.
  • "I'm going to detach his retina or stop his heart," speaking of De La Hoya, one of his many repeated retina-detaching warnings toward "The Golden Boy."
  • He frequently threatens to have sex with the wives and other family members of his opponents, with his quip to Vargas that "I'm not going to lay down. You're going to lay your wife down to me" being his most recent.
  • Perhaps his funniest threat was to Vernon Forrest: "Not even Forrest's dog is going to recognize him when he goes home." Because after all, isn't a man's dog the creature on Earth most likely to recognize him? I can imagine Forrest's mutt, cocking his head sideways as he tries to discern Forrest behind this new stranger's misshapen face.
  • He often wants to make himself the "daddy" of his opponent or his opponent's family. As he said of Forrest, "I am upset because he did not call me for Father's Day. I am going to give him a whipping because I did not get my present." He volunteered to be the "step-dad" to Vargas' "kids" after their fight.
  • When in doubt, he just resorts to name-calling, with "faggot" being his favorite, employed against Vargas and Forrest (elaborated upon with a "Tell Forrest whether he runs, stops or bends over, whatever he does, I will knock him out in two rounds"). "Fatty" was a slightly more creative one, leveled at Vargas, who is notorious for blowing up to more than 200 lbs. before squeezing down into the 154 to 160-pound range. Playing on the notion that De La Hoya was over the hill, he remarked, "You remind me of an old lady that's past her prime that should be sitting home in a rocking chair doing nothing."
  • Two rounds seems to be about the most generous length of time he's willing to give his opponent to stay conscious, unless it's for exhibition. "I will knock out Forrest in two rounds whether I have a cigarette or not. I know a lot of people want to see me fight more rounds. So, if HBO wants, they can pick two sparring partners for me to fight after I knock out Forrest. That way, the audience can see me fight 12 rounds."
And so it goes, on and on, a non-stop parade of filth and hijinks. It is not clear, as many wondered with Mike Tyson for some time, whether Mayorga is just straight crazy or if he knows his flamboyance sells tickets. He seems to have an erratic side (practically begging De La Hoya just prior to the fight for more money, after slandering him and his family endlessly), a good side (his family adores him as a provider and he donates money back home to the needy) and an evil side (unless there's a word besides "evil" that prompts a man to mock another's dead mother). I'd prefer not to solve the puzzle, and just enjoy the show instead. Don King summed it up best when flustered by Mayorga's threat to pull out of the De La Hoya bout: "He doesn't change his mind. He ain't got no mind. What are you talking about? Change what mind? I don't know what goes through a man like that."

Mayorga, resplendid in matador gear, strikes a pose that the most cartoonish movie bad guys would envy. (from

UPDATE: Dan Rafael's Friday column at has a Mayorga gem from this week's news conference that other boxing writers apparently failed to translate or think of as quote-worthy. "I had a dream last night that I threw a rotten orange at Fernando Vargas and hit him in the chin and he went down, and he didn't get back up. He's ready to go. He's like a rotten piece of fruit," he said. The internal logic is lacking (does one throw rotten fruit AT rotten fruit, Ricardo?) but the comedy value is there.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Boxing's Biggest Story

The welterweight division is now the biggest story in boxing, and its depth offers such a startling variety of intriguing match-ups that this one weight class -- by itself -- has the potential to push the fight game back into the public eye more consistently than in years. It is said, from time to time, that boxing is only as healthy as its heavyweight division, and that without dominant big men, boxing suffers. That's historically accurate, but only up to a point. After all, the welterweights captured the public's attention in the late 70s and 80s when the legendary likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and others roamed the weight class, between 140-147 lbs.

The group currently battling there is probably the best since then. Forget their fight's one-time publicity injection one division higher at junior middleweight: Oscar De La Hoya's decision to return to welterweight and Floyd Mayweather's own return to the weight means boxing's two biggest stars now reside there for any number of fights that could seize the masses' attention. De La Hoya is a rock star who transcends boxing, although he does that pretty well, too; Mayweather is the hip-hop fighter, all flash and skill, his generation's most gifted practitioner. Just below them in the welterweight stratosphere are "Sugar" Shane Mosley, the big-name veteran who toppled De La Hoya twice with speed, power and guts yet nonetheless has never quite won the following he deserved, and Miguel Cotto, the fastest-rising celebrity in the sport who stalks and crushes his opponents with flagrant disregard for what kind of punishment he has to endure to do so. Near that same level is Ricky Hatton, Great Britain's national hero, a frenzied mauler who incites soccer-style chants and whose signature victory over hall of fame-bound Kostya Tszyu is considered by many Brits their country's greatest boxing victory ever. He might move up from the junior welterweight limit of 140 pounds to take on either Mayweather or De La Hoya. Scratching their way to the top are Paul Williams and Kermit Cintron, each of whom earned the adoration of hardcore fight fans in their recent wins -- Cintron with a nasty knockout, Williams with his breathtaking volume of punches, bravery and the coordination he exhibited despite being freakishly tall -- and could break through to the rest of the world with another marquee victory.

And that's just the top seven. From there, the division's borderline top-10 guys are a murderer's row. Antonio Margarito, hyped as the most feared man in boxing before his loss to Williams for thumping young contenders into tears or the hospital, is still dangerous. Zab Judah, despite his recent defeats, looked better than ever against Cotto, demonstrating the speed and power that made him such a sensational phenom before his struggles inside and outside the ring. Joshua Clottey, with his sturdy defense, rock-solid chin and diverse attack, is a tough night for anyone in the division. Luis Collazo, with his difficult counter-punching southpaw style, scared Hatton back down to 140, however briefly, in Hatton's first flirtation with the higher weight class. What's more, the division has potential stars in prospects Andre Berto (knockout artist), Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (son of Mexico's all-time best) and Alfonso Gomez (contestant on the TV show The Contender). Even its dregs would be threats to take over if they switched to a neighboring division, guys like Carlos Quintana, David Estrada, Mark Suarez and Walter Matthysse. Then there are other boxers who could join the weight class soon or come back for a good money fight, such as veteran Ike Quartey, who tested a young De La Hoya like he had never been tested before, or Joel Julio, ESPN's 2005 prospect of the year. Now, let's make it pan out. When some of these same fellows and a few other greats lived at 140 pounds, any number of the best fights never happened. There's too much talent here to do anything but have all of them face off against each other.

Giving The Devil His Due And Two Other Thoughts

  • Wrap-up. I'll comment more once I (reluctantly) view the fight on replay, but all accounts suggest Bernard Hopkins-Winky Wright was slightly better than the worst big fight of all time, as I feared it might be. Some are discounting Hopkins' win, arguing that Hopkins essentially defeated a smaller guy, and not very convincingly, who was moving from the middleweight limit of 160 lbs. to fight Hopkins at 170 lbs, thereby proving nothing. True, true, in part. But let's not forget who this little guy is: One of the most flummoxing, avoided defensive fighters of the last couple decades. Humiliator of all-time greats Shane Mosley and Tito Trinidad, and on some scorecards, conqueror of fan favorite Fernando Vargas and Jermain Taylor, the latter being the one who dethroned Hopkins' long middleweight reign. A man who hasn't been beaten in more than seven years. Pound for pound, no worse than the third best active fighter around on most unofficial lists. And a hall-of-famer. Yes, I'd rather endure waterboarding than watch Hopkins in action. But I don't know how this doesn't rise to the level of a significant accomplishment by a 42-year-old man. That he did this in part with a -- perhaps -- intentional headbutt is not surprising; the essence of Hopkins is that he finds a way. It doesn't make me like him any more, but how he did it matters less than that he did.
  • Preview. In its beneficence, HBO has deigned to broadcast the Wright-Hopkins replay with another event that no one asked for, Carlos Baldomir versus Vernon Forrest, live. There's a lot to like about Baldomir, no relation to anyone from Middle Earth. He used to sell mops in the streets of Argentina to get by, and as a massive underdog, he upset Zab Judah, along the way nearly knocking him out and making him do that hilarious little dance he does when he gets staggered by a good punch... the one that resembles a puppet getting its strings entangled. And Forrest is praised for his devotion to charity work. But Baldomir is not the world's most exciting fighter -- he's an all-out plodder with little knockout power. And Forrest looks like he has never recovered from the shoulder problems that sidelined him for so long. I'm going to pick Baldomir to out-hustle Forrest on the way to a decision, although I could see Forrest keeping his distance and out-boxing him from the perimeter.
  • Update. My pick accuracy is abysmal so far, such that readers might not know of my amazing precognitive powers in predicting things like, for example, Ricky Hatton easily defeating a shot Jose Luis Castillo recently in anything but a candidate for fight of the year, as it was hyped. However, I've synced nicely at times with far more experienced boxing writers. Just today, MaxBoxing's Doug Fischer wrote, in response to a reader's description of Hopkins that was a near-carbon copy of mine, "Regarding Hopkins, I think this line sums it up best: "Now, all Bernard can do is make just enough contact to win rounds, and enough rounds to win a fight." Last week, the New York Post's George Willis, hot now off his NBA referee scandal scoop, noted that Paul Williams would have a rougher time with Miguel Cotto than he did Antonio Margarito, for the same reasons I cited -- although many writers believe everyone will avoid Williams now. Unless Margarito gets a rematch with Williams or the Cotto fight he would have earned by beating Williams, it looks like I'll be in good company with Yahoo's Kevin Iole, formerly of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and one of the better-regarded boxing writers around, who wrote, "He couldn't get the big names in the ring when he had a world title, and he's certainly not going to get them now." Williams' championship heart, one of my central points in the post-fight wrap-up, got headline status the Orange County Register: "Williams shows plenty of heart." ESPN's Dan Rafael remarked, as I did, that Alfonso Gomez scrapping with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. would make some decent dough. Most every expert would like to see Williams rumble with Kermit Cintron, if neither can get a bigger fight. And while I was off in my predictions, I've proven astute in explaining the reasons why I might end up wrong. Williams' fresher legs against Margarito, Arturo Gatti's size deficit against Gomez and Wright moving up in weight too swiftly to take on Hopkins all were major factors in the outcome of their respective bouts.

Carlos Baldomir has an, um, remarkable get-up that he wears into the ring... Oh, wait. that's Boromir from Lord of the Rings. (From

If you look closely, you can see Vernon Forrest hiding in the... Ahh, I now see the mistake I made here with this one. (From

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Somewhere Between The Worst Big Fight Ever And A Boxing Technician's Dream

It's remarkable, really, that Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright have the kind of names non-boxing fans might have heard. Their fight this weekend could sell pretty well because of it, but I won't be buying. I'm afraid of clawing my eyes out from boredom.

Hopkins, 42 and one of history's greatest middleweights, has made a living for the last several years patiently doing just enough to win just enough rounds to win his fights, or, in the case of his showdowns with Jermain Taylor, doing just enough to lose just enough rounds to questionably lose both bouts. He feints. He ducks. He clinches. He headbutts, hits low, holds while punching and other shady business. He periodically throws a nice right hand, the kind he used to knock people out with back when his output was less periodical, and when he wore his executioner's mask during his ring entrance more convincingly. Somehow, he did enough of what he does well to pick apart Antonio Tarver last year -- 15 pounds north of the weight class he so ably dominated -- to make for compelling entertainment. As someone who appreciates the craft of boxing in conjunction with power, speed, volume or some other multiplier, I confess to admiring Hopkins for the purity of his sweet science that night, despite finding his ring routine of late tiresome.

Wright, 35, has to his credit tried to make himself a more exciting showman than he once was. Still, he has to be the most unlikely boxer ever to win the love of the hip-hop community (you may have seen him in the video for the remix of Busta Rhymes' "Touch It," or as something of a villain and rival to Jamie Foxx for the love of a woman in the video for "DJ Play That Love Song," or even a 50 Cent video). What he does is very simple: He holds his long arms up in front of himself, with his elbows and forearms protecting his torso and his gloves protecting his face; since you can't find room between his mitts to slug him in the nose, and trying to hit his body gets you a fisftful of forearm, you have no choice but to throw looping punches around his defense; and when you do, that's when he beats you to the punch with a quick, stiff jab, followed by maybe a left cross or hook. In this way, he wins nearly every fight he's in by decision, because he has close to zero power. Doesn't sound like flashy hip-hop stuff, does it? Plus, his name is Winky! Still, as with Hopkins, it can be compelling entertainment at times. He humiliated one of my favorite all-time fighters, the much-feared Tito Trinidad, by jabbing the bejeebers out of him. Tito retired afterwards. And his decision to make himself more marketable by being less cautious led to his enjoyable, see-saw bout last year with the aforementioned Jermain Taylor, which was scored a draw.

The promoters are hyping this as a fight between the Bernard Hopkins who fought Antonio Tarver and the Winky Wright who fought Jermain Taylor. Let's hope! Otherwise, this will be the second fight this year featuring big names -- after the significantly bigger names of De La Hoya and Mayweather met -- that will fall something short of the expectations of anyone who equates both men's reputations with, well, fun television. Yet, the most fun this can get won't be terribly fun.

MY PREDICTION: I'm going to call the upset and say Winky pulls off the decision. Why? Winky's jab is going to make Hopkins work. He doesn't like to do that much these days. And it's going to land, too, because it's accurate as hell. It won't be as accurate against the maddeningly slippery Hopkins -- just accurate enough to win just enough rounds to win the fight.
CONFIDENCE: 55%. Not very brave, but I'm wavering on this one because Winky will be 10 pounds north of a division that he was a little small for anyway, fighting at 170, five pounds south of Hopkins' last match when he looked less lethargic than he had in a long while. Also, Hopkins can punch. Winky can't.
ALLEGIANCE: I don't care much for either of these fighters, but Hopkins is particularly insufferable to me with his egomania, his rule-breaking, his safety-first style and his broken promise to his dead mother that he would stop boxing by now. Winky wins my "most attractive person in a line-up of uglies" award.

Slippery sumbitch, that Bernard Hopkins. (from

If I find out Winky will be packing semi-automatic heat, then it might be interesting enough to tune in. Also, maybe he'll have a better chance of hitting Hopkins with something.

UPDATE: Wright began July as the underdog; he has since become the betting favorite. Therefore, his win would not be an upset. Maybe bettors said, "Yes, Hopkins is bigger, but Wright is a sure hall-of-famer, too, and on the list of best active boxers at any weight, Wright ranks higher." Or in a fight that's close to an even pick, "Might as well throw money at the minor upset."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Gatti-Inspired, Broken Hand Boxing Blog

As I write this, my finger is in a splint. OK, the title is a bit misleading, but as my pinky nearly turned into a pretzel earlier today when it was dislocated and fractured, I figured I could pay no greater tribute to the day of Arturo Gatti's retirement than to soldier on the way he did so many times: broken bones and all. (wink)


Squirm, Margarito fanboys.

As good as Cotto-Judah was, this was a hell of a good fight that was more competitive than the prohibitive favorite for fight of the year. I'm not ready to nominate it -- Pavlik-Miranda and Marquez-Barrera are right up there, too, for me -- but it's definitely a contender. So many drama points. It featured unexpected dominance early from Williams; a fierce charge by Margarito in the second half; several pyrotechnic exchanges throughout; and a moment of truth for the new champion, the freshly-crowned Williams.

Margarito nearly won the fight on sheer ferocity in round 11. Williams was hampered by an unfair warning that he'd lose a point if he clinched again, so he had little choice but to take a beating. That he won the 12th after that was the most impressive moment of the fight for him -- sure, he looked great for the first six rounds, but we found out in the 12th that Williams has championship-level heart. Big fight. Big moment. The 6'1" (seemingly much taller) Williams came up big, which kind of makes sense, doesn't it?

I have to think nine out of 10 people who watched that fight would call it for Williams. It was a brave showing by Margarito, but he was too slow and Williams was too quick, too fresh and punched way too much -- 1,256 times! -- for the Tijuana Tornado. If Margarito's slavish devotees don't concede his defeat, they are charlatans several times over.

Next for the winner: I want Williams to get his wish -- A matchup with Cotto. After all, if Margarito was lined up to fight him conditional on a win, why doesn't Williams get to replace Margarito? As good as Williams looked tonight, I'd pick Cotto in a barnburner. Cotto is in his prime, unlike the seemingly aging Margarito, and has better fundamentals.
Next for the loser: Despite his respectable showing, it seems to me Margarito has to reestablish himself at an advanced age to get back into the upper eschelon of the welterweight division. Sounds daunting, especially since Margarito was ducked even when he had a belt. If he takes on another top 10 contender -- Luis Collazo, maybe, in a rare style matchup of pressure fighter vs. gifted counterpuncher? -- and wins convincingly, I don't see why he wouldn't have earned it. But this may be a big career setback unless he gets the Cotto fight anyway and wins it.


This was sad.

Gatti got beat up. He looked real, real slow. Too many wars and the weight limbo he aptly self-diagnosed -- too old to make his body squeeze into 140 pounds, too small to be powerful and absorb the punches of bigger men -- did him in. All his punches seemed short even when he connected, like he thought Gomez was a foot closer. He would have had a way better chance against the ghost man he seemed to be aiming at.

Gomez performed better than I expected, and my hunch about the size differential made a huge impact. But this was about Gatti not having anything left.

Next for the winner: What's good for Williams is what's good for Gomez. Gatti was going to take on Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. if he won, and Gomez wants it. We'd find out yet more about what both those fighters have, if so, and it would be good for the sport in a minor way because it would pit a popular TV fighter against the son of a legend, potentially drawing in a handful of non-traditional or lapsed fans.
Next for the loser: My hope -- A fat cigar. A cruise where he reflects upon a grand career. A long, happy life, the kind where people see him on the street and want to hug him instead of getting his autograph. Good night, Mr. Gatti. Boxing will long remember you.


What a knockout. You just don't find many punchers like Cintron these days. Williams TKOed Matthysse in 10; Cintron obliterated him in two. Despite the excellent action in round 1, the fight should've ended after the second knockdown, when Matthysse's legs were wobbly. It would've saved him from getting nearly decapitated by an uppercut, then getting his head crunched to a 45-degree angle by the next punch, which devastated him.

Cintron deserves to move into the top of the welterweight ranks with this win. The Margarito humiliation looks very distant now.

Next for the winner: Why not solve this boxing-UFC thing once and for all? Cintron, with his background as a collegiate wrestler and a willingness to get into the octagon, has a better shot than any boxer at defying the obvious -- a boxer in boxing rules wins against a mixed martial arts fighter, an MMA fighter beats a boxer in MMA rules. I admit I want this to happen because Cintron's strategic advantage would help boxing defeat this inferior sport. If not, I say give him Sugar Shane Mosley. Mosley-Mayweather would be better, but Mayweather's eyeing Ricky Hatton. Mosley backs down from no one, so I bet he'd do it. And if Cotto doesn't end up fighting Williams or Mosley, Cintron-Williams has the potential to be sensational.
Next for the loser: As Monty Python once observed, the key to not being seen is to not stand up. Likewise, the key to not being brutally knocked out is, when you're nearly unconscious, don't stand up. Cheers for the guts, but ouch for the brain. I'd find a better trainer, one who would've thrown the towel in sooner, and maybe one to sand down Matthysse's rough edges. He's got power, an untrainable commodity. For a model of what finding an excellent trainer will do for a power puncher, may I recommend... Kermit Cintron?

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Guy Named Kermit; A Freak; An Ear-Ripper; And A Human Highlight Reel

Coming up Saturday is a triple-header in boxing's most talent-rich division, the welterweights.
Anywhere from one to three of them are going to be good.

--The one with the most potential features the man billed as the most avoided in boxing: Antonio Margarito. He's often compared to Marvin Hagler -- a fighter who is as tough as they come, who puts relentless pressure on you and will make your life a living hell as long as you are still standing, but hasn't gotten a chance to make it to the big stage because people are scared half to death of him. My personal belief is that he's not as big a badass as everyone makes him out to be -- he's a bit slow, has questionable technique, seems to have an occasionally vulnerable chin, is getting old and nearly lost his last fight -- but I can tell you why I wouldn't want to fight him in an anecdote that is not for the faint of heart... In a bout a few years ago that I recently saw on ESPN Classic, he was doing what he does best. That is, indulge in competitive fights where for the first few rounds he looks like he may lose, then start destroying his opponent with pressure, volume, strength and reach. Ever heard the phrase "he boxed his ears off?" Well, Margarito did that. Literally. In as gross a thing as you will ever see in the ring, he hit his opponent with such vicious, ripping punches that his ear began to tear off. The fight was stopped and the opponent was taken to the emergency room, where, I'm happy to say, his ear was sewn back on and he's in fine health today.
His opponent on the 14th is a guy who has all the tools to become a star, albeit a freakish one: Paul Williams. When I say "freakish," I mean freakish. He fights at welterweight, 147 lbs, but stands 6'1" and has -- get this -- an 82-inch reach. That, my friends, is longer than Muhammad Ali, who fought around 50 lbs. heavier. Since Williams looks like a beanpole, you'd never think he'd hit hard, but oh, he does. He is, in many ways, very much like Margarito -- a powerful, tall welterweight who punches non-stop and would rather brawl than keep his opponent at a distance. Williams is faster, younger and seems to have a lot of advantages, but Margarito has a huge experience edge and his toughness is a proven commodity. Williams has fought some good fighters, but nobody like what Margarito is going to bring him. This fight could be excellent and the winner likely gets to take on Miguel Cotto, who recently defeated Zab Judah in the consensus fight of the year so far. A number of experts think the Margarito-Williams match up has a chance to surpass it.

MY PREDICTION: Margarito by TKO, late rounds. He's just too tough and just too experienced for the very green, sometimes-awkward Williams, and I'm guessing Margarito grinds down the beanpole the same way he has just about everyone.
CONFIDENCE: 70%. Margarito looked all-too-beatable against Josh Clottey before Clottey broke his hand. Williams punches harder than Clottey, plus he's younger and faster. This would not be a big upset at all.
MY ALLEGIANCE: Williams. Margarito's crude, wide-punching style, plus the misplaced near-worship of him over at, makes me want to see him get knocked down a notch.

Margarito crushes Cintron. Thank me for not showing you that ear-rip picture.

Guess which one is Williams.

--In another fight, Kermit Cintron takes on Walter Matthysse. Kermit, despite having a silly name, is one of the hardest punchers in boxing. A few years ago, in his big step up toward a belt and superstardom, none other than Margarito totally wrecked him. In fact, Cintron broke down in tears. Since, Cintron has righted his ship in part by hiring Emmanuel Steward, boxing's most accomplished active trainer, and has gone on to win a couple sizzling action bouts that were quite competitive. Matthysse, meanwhile, not that long ago met Paul Williams in a fight that was a huge step up for both, who were considered good, undefeated prospects but not contenders yet. Although Williams won, Matthysse gave him everything he could handle, and the unpolished, gritty Matthysse's status didn't drop much in esteem. This is Matthysse's chance to put himself in the welterweight rankings, and Cintron's biggest stage since the ruinous Margarito loss.

MY PREDICTION: Kermit by mid-round KO. I think Kermit's a better overall fighter than Williams, who KOed Matthysse in the 10th.
CONFIDENCE: 90%. Matthysse's KO percentage is impressive, and Kermit got wobbled a few times in the amazing Estrada fight. Matthysse is not some no-hope underdog, I just don't see anyone this unskilled beating Kermit.
MY ALLEGIANCE: Isn't it obvious? I'm rooting for the guy named Kermit. It helps that he's an exciting fighter.

Front of face, Cintron: See above, distorted by Margarito. I wish he'd go back to this "nationalistic flavored sno-cone" look.

Guess which one's Matthysse. (Hint: He's not Williams.)

--Also, Arturo Gatti battles Alfonso Gomez. I really wish Gatti would hang up the gloves. He's been in more ring wars than anyone, and his skills seem in decline. That aside, Gatti (aka "the human highlight reel") has never, ever, ever been in anything but the best fights. He's one of boxing's biggest attractions, and Atlantic City, where he's an adopted son, will be electric when it sees him again. If you've never seen Gatti-Ward I, do yourself a favor and check it out. It is certifiably one of the greatest fights of all time, and Gatti-Ward II and III round it out as one of the greatest fight trilogies of all time, maybe ever. I don't pretend to know much about Gomez; he was on "The Contender" TV show, and he was apparently liked, and he looked OK in the clips I saw, but this is a fight that gives Gatti a chance to show if he has anything left. He's lost a couple bouts lately where he got the tar beat out of him. If there's anyone who deserves a chance to keep fighting when it looks like he ought to quit, it's Gatti, since Arturo has fought entire fights with broken hands; come back from being knocked down and nearly out to win by KO in the same round; and so on.

MY PREDICTION: Gatti by decision. Gomez is stepping up big-time. My guess is Gatti's still got enough in the tank to pull this off in a potentially entertaining slugfest.
CONFIDENCE: 80%. Gatti's a small welterweight, and Gomez has been fighting in higher weight divisions. Says here that the guy who beat Gatti last was a big welterweight who couldn't punch very hard but still destroyed Arturo. What'll he do with an even bigger guy who doesn't punch very hard? I've not seen this remarked upon anywhere.
MY ALLEGIANCE: I can't possibly oppose Gatti, so I'll be cheering him. But in a way, I hope he loses albeit without suffering much. If he can't beat Gomez, surely even he has to know his amazing career is over.

sweeping the right hook here in a fight against Ward which looked more like those crazy simultaneous punchfests from Rocky than anything that's ever happened in real life. If you zoom in, you can see all the scar tissue around his eyes.

Gomez, straight from "The Contender" website. Probably taken during some heart-warming moment or the other, plus they likely put a microphone on the camera so you could hear an extra-loud "click."