Friday, August 31, 2007

Prospective Unfortunate Side Effects Of A Loaded Late-Year Fight Schedule

This weekend and next, two potentially nice scraps will go untelevised, and it's likely because HBO and Showtime have tapped their budgets and filled their available dates. Strange as it sounds for a sport that was left for dead when I began following it, this fall and winter's bounty of quality match-ups is so overflowing that what would have been decent mid-level attractions a year ago suddenly can't find a home on the small screen. In an entertaining interview at, Paulie Malignaggi -- the crowd-pleasingest boxer you'll ever see who has the punching power of a little girl, what with his strange penchant for making action fights -- speculates that the loaded schedule is the main thing keeping him off TV this fall. One has to imagine other quality fights are on hold for the same reason. It's a shame of a by-product, if so, but certainly falls under the category of "good problems to have."

Both the neglected fights of which I speak are in Paulie's junior welterweight division, at 140 lbs. Two years ago, it looked like boxing's glamour division, but a number of fighters outgrew it and moved up to full-fledged welterweights at 147 lbs. But with these two fights, plus Paulie's presence and the chance that a number of vets of lower weights like Joel Casamayor are thinking about switching to 140, there's some nice new blood here, and they're all fighting each other. Some of them, I confess, I've barely gotten glimpses of. First up, this weekend, is Ricardo Torres versus Kendall Holt. I've only seen Torres in his eye-poppingly good brawl against Miguel Cotto two years ago, when one or the other of them was down in nearly every round before Cotto pulled out the win. Torres has all kinds of power, but looks shaky in the departments of technique and whiskers. I've watched Holt in a couple showcase-type bouts, when he was in against OK competition, but showcase he did, demonstrating speed, footwork and enough pop to make him eminently watchable. I like Holt here by mid to late round TKO. Next weekend, Junior Witter takes on Vivian Harris, and I have no prediction here. I like and have seen my fair share of Harris' ring game, even if he is inconsistent. He's got good skills and very good power for a 140-pounder. I've never seen Witter, not once, but word is he's a tough an out as there is in boxing. It's too bad I won't see him in this clash of two of the division's consensus best.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

To Maintain One's Hip-Hop Credibility, May I Suggest The Cha Cha?

Two thoughts, to be filed under the category of "Huh? Really?"
  • So the sport's most gifted performer, welterweight (147lbs) Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who has worked hard at becoming a reviled caricature of hip-hop braggadocio and street thug bluster, is joining the cast of "Dancing With The Stars." That is, the show where various celebrities perform the cha cha. There's always been some cognitive dissonance going on with Mayweather, whose perfect smile, occasional charity work and obvious desire to be a beloved superstar contradict his default act as a foul-mouthed jewelry-and-car-accumulating jackass. On the cusp of wider public exposure in 2005, he spent weeks decrying the genuinely beloved Arturo Gatti as a "club fighter;" then he cried in the ring and thanked God after winning his title, apologizing to Gatti along the way for his pre-fight antics and attributing them to a desire to hype the fight. The last time the general non-boxing public saw Mayweather, he was trash-talking the also-genuinely beloved Oscar De La Hoya in the acclaimed, much-watched documentary series "De La Hoya/Mayweather 24/7" as 50 Cent surreally scooted around the room on a Segway. When next the general public sees him, presumably it'll be getting a look at Mayweather's "good guy" alter ego in post-foxtrot interviews. Yes, boxing and dancing do go together -- witness Muhammad Ali, for instance, or even Evander Holyfield's participation in the show. And I'm all for boxing getting more public exposure. But I do wish that the sport's biggest potential superstar could decide on a persona, so that non-boxing people could rally around a charming Sugar Ray Leonard-type or at least tune in to the next Mayweather fight in droves with hopes of seeing him getting his face rearranged.
  • During a recent news conference, Fernando Vargas detailed his problems gaining and losing weight between fights, revealing that he had once shed pounds on a diet of hard boiled egg whites and NyQuil. Yikes. It's not terribly surprising, therefore, that his body is torn half to hell (with persistent blows to the head probably not helping much) and that his September showdown with Ricardo Mayorga is postponed. Vargas is reportedly suffering from anemia and stomach ulcers. I don't know if robbing himself of iron was key to his latest weight loss plan, which called for him to drop more than 100 lbs. en route to the contracted maximum day-before weight of 162 lbs. But man alive, what a rough career it's been for Vargas, and what a debilitating effect it has had on his physical being. Even as he has won stardom for his heart and ferocity in the ring, he has suffered a frightening beatdown at the hands of Tito Trinidad, indulged in steroids to increase his chances of winning his fight against hated rival De La Hoya (at least, that's what the blood tests said; Vargas lost, by the way) and wrecked his insides preparing for his career finale. At this point, about the healthiest thing "El Feroz" could do is help himself to as many of his cherished enchiladas as he can eat, no matter how much he blimps up from it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Fall And Winter Bumper Crop Of Fights -- Best In A Decade? -- Ranked

Having danced around the subject of this fall and winter's stellar lineup of fights -- the aforementioned lineup so good it's slated to make 2007 the best year in boxing in perhaps a decade, according to veteran boxing commentators -- it's long overdue that I go right to the heart of the matter.

If you're not a regular fan of the sport, what fights are the ones you most need to see, and why? And if you are a regular fan of the sport, how about we start a discussion about what fights YOU most want to see, and why?

Here are mine, using a subjective formula mixing potential fireworks with importance. (Full disclosure: This post is partially inspired by a similar list posted here, but the author didn't rank them as explicitly as I have.) Clearly, I'm most excited about the first fight, which I think has the chance to be truly special, but several of them have similar potential to rise above "really great" to "instant classic."


#1 Shane Mosley v. Miguel Cotto
Cotto and Mosley are two of the very best in boxing's finest division, the welterweights (147 lbs.), and most think they are two of the 10 best fighters in any division regardless of weight. Style-wise, there isn't a more compelling match-up on the planet.
"Sugar" Shane Mosley is one of the handful of active fighters that the general public might have heard of, and with good reason. Mosley is not only an all-around gifted athlete -- possessing of a lethal mix of speed and power -- but he has relished every opportunity to fight the most feared guys around. He made his name toppling Oscar De La Hoya twice, both times about 20 lbs. north of the 135-pound weight class at which Mosley had become a favorite of hardcore fans. But Mosley's four losses said just as much about what he was made of as his wins. He took on Vernon Forrest, who had troubled him as an amateur, and when the style difficulties proved just as tough to surmount in the pros and Forrest penetrated Mosley's air of invincibility, he didn't hesitate to take a rematch. Not long after, Mosley opted to fight Winky Wright, not yet a superstar but notorious at this point for being avoided by everyone due to his well-named "tortoise-shell" defense that made him all but impossible to hit cleanly and almost certain to damage his opponent's marketability. He lost, but went after the rematch yet again. In both rematches, Mosley lost, but fought better. Four losses in six fights usually seals a fighter's doom in the public eye, and Mosley's career took a hit for his bravery. Since, he has climbed back into boxing's upper ranks with back-to-back knockouts of the much larger Fernando Vargas, and in a return to the welterweight division that is far more suited to his frame, he challenged and defeated a crafty southpaw named Luis Collazo. Collazo was exactly the kind of guy Mosley maybe should have avoided from a career standpoint, and yet he looked sensational in that win and in the two wins over Vargas.
Most may not have heard of Miguel Cotto, but he is on the brink of breakthrough superstardom. His last fight, against Zab Judah this summer, sold out Madison Square Garden, and beforehand, he threw out the first pitch at a Yankees game. Each maneuver suggested crossover mainstream appeal looms. Like Mosley, his popularity is deserved. His battle with Judah was a pure slugfest, with a major helping of skill, and was one of the 2007's best. Judah, once on the brink of superstardom himself before a series of misadventures inside and outside the ring, fought the best fight of his life, creating some difficult moments for Cotto. Cotto, in turn, never stopped grinding and attacking, and by the end of the battle, he had battered the faster, perhaps more powerful Judah into submission, securing Cotto an 11th round technical knockout victory. In his biggest win to date, Cotto yet again burnished his reputation as having earned one of boxing fandom's highest compliments: "Never in a bad fight." No matter how hard Cotto gets hit, no matter how many times Cotto appears on the verge of being knocked out, no matter how much they run away from him, Cotto hunts down his man and nails him with those punishing left hooks to the body.
Mosley hits fast and hard, with a decent defense and great footwork but a zeal for combat. Cotto hits harder but not as fast, with his own zeal for combat written into his strategy to thump his opponent into a pulp -- no matter his own very real risk of getting knocked out. Bouts between guys like Mosley who are boxer-punchers and guys like Cotto who are punchers with skill almost never fail to deliver excitement and strategic intrigue. Cotto is a young gun encountering his most difficult challenge for the shot at a legacy-making win; Mosley is a veteran with nothing left to prove but would like a couple more career-defining victories before retirement. For the winner? Potentially even bigger fights. (See #5.)
When and where: Nov. 10, HBO pay-per-view. I'll be buying.

#2 Joe Calzaghe v. Mikkel Kessler
Unless you live in Europe or follow boxing closely, the names "Calzaghe" and "Kessler" mean nothing to you. But they are the two best super-middleweights (168 lbs.) by a wide stretch, with Calzaghe on the verge of a history-making title defense reign. Standing in his way is Kessler, ranked lower on the subjective, so-called "pound for pound" lists of the best active fighters, but still knocking on the door of greatness. ESPN's magazine has dubbed him a potential crossover star.
Joe Calzaghe, of Wales, has a bewildering offense; he throws combinations of punches from odd angles that look like they're delivered improperly, almost similar to slaps. His 20 straight title defenses amount to the best current streak, but it was not until his 2006 meeting with Jeff Lacy, touted as a smaller heir to Mike Tyson for his fabled knockout power, that Calzaghe proved his streak was legitimate. Prone to looking vulnerable in fights against so-so competition, Calzaghe rose to the occasion against the highly-regarded Lacy, pummeling him so thoroughly that spectators feared Lacy would never be the same again.
Like Calzaghe, Mikkel Kessler had, until recently, had the aura of "protected champion" -- a fighter who has a belt but defended it against nobodies. But the Dane unified that title with a convincing knockout win over fellow belt-holder Markus Beyer, then won a brilliant, near-shutout victory over highly-ranked contender Librado Andrade. Kessler looked, in that performance, like a perfect fighting machine. He showed great offensive versatility, good defense, hard punches and everything else you could want.
Again, styles make fights, and this is a beautiful style match-up. Both men are fast, both are strong, both throw tons of combinations. It's hard to imagine this one not producing loads of action. And it is always a cause for celebration when the two best fighters in a division meet; this is regarded as the most important fight between super-middleweights since 1994. And, again, the winner here could go on to another major fight (see #3).
When and where: Nov. 3, HBO.

#3 Jermain Taylor v. Kelly Pavlik
I covered this one in my last post, so I will scrimp here, but to summarize: Jermain Taylor is the undisputed middleweight (160 lbs.) king, a major athlete and Olympian who has heart in spades to compensate for his worrisome lapses in technique and who emerged with his unbeaten record unscathed in three meetings against two all-time greats, Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright. Kelly Pavlik is an offensive force who rolls forward without much regard to whether he gets clobbered, all in the name of landing his plentiful and hurtful blows, which worked to spectacular effect recently against fellow offensive-minded, power-punching contender Edison Miranda. Yes, I predicted Pavlik will blow out Taylor, but I'm in the minority. No matter if it is or isn't competitive, this is a fight pitting two young, talented fighters against one another -- the two best in their division -- and must be watched because of its significance and potential. Both are leaving the division after this fight, so the winner could get big names like Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins, or Roy Jones, Jr. next, or perhaps the winner of Calzaghe-Kessler, unless the winner of that fight snaps up the big names for themselves.
When and where: Sept. 29, HBO.

#4 Manny Pacquiao v. Marco Antonio Barrera II
This is a rematch of Pacquiao's 2003 star-making turn against Barrera -- one of the best Mexican fighters ever in a country that has a rich boxing history -- in which Barrera suffered his most crushing defeat. There are two schools of thought here. One is that Pacquiao, having already conquered Barrera when Pacquiao wasn't as good as he is now, will steamroll Barrera, who is getting long in the tooth. Another school of thought is that Pacquiao is more distracted than ever by his dramatic life in the Philippines, where he is a transcendent figure prone to numerous business, entertainment and even political side projects, while Barrera in 2003 was going through personal strife and opted foolishly to stand toe-to-toe with a fighter stepping up in weight and who was a lesser-known betting underdog. At any rate, these are two of the best 130-pounders (junior lightweights) around, both destined for the hall-of-fame and among the best, if not the best, their respective boxing-mad countries have to offer.
Pacquiao is like a little tornado. He swarms his opponents with punches that come hard and fast, and while he was once limited to a jab-straight left combination that looked indefensible, his draw with Juan Manuel Marquez and defeat at the hands of Erik Morales demonstrated that smart boxers who knew what to expect would eventually outmaneuver a guy who has only one idea, even if it's a really great idea. Having worked to develop a greater variety of punches, Pacquiao now brings the science. Just ask Morales, who in their rematch suffered his only real knockdowns -- and two straight knockouts -- courtesy of a much-improved Pacquiao. Bar-none, Pacquiao is the most exciting fighter there is today.
Barrera once opted only to brawl, but he, too turned into an in-ring scientist. His trilogy with Morales was a brutal ballet, one of the best three-fight series in boxing history. Now a classic boxer-puncher, Barrera can win either grueling slugfests (as he did last year against dangerous youngster Rocky Juarez) or employ his tremendous boxing skills en route to victory (as he did in a rematch against Juarez). He is the premier reigning warrior of boxing now that similarly-aged fighters have retired or moved on, a guy who is ready for war every time the bell rings. If Barrera can find the right concoction of savagery and technique, he can pull the upset. Did I mention that this fight also pits two of the so-called "pound for pound" best regardless of division against one another? Pacquiao is the consensus second-best around, with Barrera a little lower on the list these days.
When and where: Oct. 6, HBO pay-per-view.

#5 Floyd Mayweather, Jr. v. Ricky Hatton
If Pacquiao is boxing's most exciting fighter, then Mayweather is its best. No one has his combination of intelligence, defense, speed, technique and reflexes, and when he decides to put on an offensive show instead of coasting to victory, it is awe-inspiring. He flaunts the diamonds he's purchased with his fight purses in a symbolic flashiness to match his boxing prowess. Hatton is another top 10 pound for pound guy, but he's on the opposite end of the scale. Hatton is a rock and roll drummer to Mayweather's virtuoso pianist. He is a man of the people in Great Britain, favoring its pubs when not training and when he's at his best in the ring, he wears people down with his energy, body punches and blue-collar work ethic.
Mayweather, who comes from a family of boxers, began his career at 130 lbs., where he won his first title at a prodigious 21 years of age. Since, he has hardly faced a moment of difficulty in the ring, usually winning every single round of every fight he's been in despite chronic hand injuries, often drawing ooos and ahhhhs from the crowd for his unique talents. (The title of this very blog comes from a remark once made about Mayweather by a boxing scribe -- "as easy as a Floyd Mayweather seven punch combo" -- referring to a repeated series of unanswered of blows Mayweather landed against Arturo Gatti that had to be seen in slow motion to appreciate the brilliance of it all. Trying to defend against the assault, Gatti was split seconds behind every punch Mayweather landed -- straight rights, left hooks, body punches, head punches, everything.) His biggest career win came this year against De La Hoya, and De La Hoya posed a rare challenge to him, perhaps in part because Mayweather was fighting at a less-than-ideal 154 lbs. (junior middleweight). Now he's back at a more comfortable 147 lbs (welterweight).
Hatton is the 140-pound (junior welterweight) king, where he made his name conquering one of the division's legends, Kostya Tszyu. Near the end of the fight, after being mauled and wrestled and crowded and shoved around by Hatton -- and also getting hit by him a whole lot -- Tszyu quit between rounds, and hasn't returned to the ring since. Hatton went on to become 2005 fighter of the year, according to Ring magazine and most everyone else, after defeating a second fellow-titleholder to secure the unofficial trophy. He has frequently looked very shaky beyond those glory days, though, with a step up to welterweight going poorly when Luis Collazo nearly defeated him. He stepped back down to 140 lbs. following that close call and finally delivered a nice performance earlier this year, knocking out a shopworn Jose Luis Castillo with a vicious body punch. Now he's about to return to welterweight for a big money battle with Mayweather.
Some expect a Mayweather blowout of Hatton, since Mayweather is prone to blanking crude guys like Hatton. I still expect Mayweather to win, but believe Hatton could give Mayweather all he can handle. After all, next to the De La Hoya fight, Mayweather's stiffest challenge came against a younger version of the Castillo that Hatton defeated, as Castillo crowded Mayweather and stayed busy against him, especially with punches to the body. That's exactly the kind of fighter Hatton is, if a somewhat less technically sound kind than Castillo was then. The winner could, or should, meet up with the winner of Mosley-Cotto. That would be a big, big fight no matter which fighter meets, given Mosley's well-known name, Cotto's ever-growing fan base, Mayweather's status as the best around and Hatton's rabid Great Britain following.
When and where: Dec. 8, HBO pay-per-view.


#6 Ricardo Mayorga v. Fernando Vargas
Two over-the-hill sluggers with nothing left to lose -- this is the ultra-popular Vargas' farewell bout, and Mayorga is boxing's premier villain -- are already indulging in fisticuffs and a profane-even-by-boxing standards war of words at news conferences in advance of their fight. It should be spirited when they finally get into the ring at the strange, agreed upon "catchweight" of 162 lbs. Sept. 8, Showtime pay-per-view.

#7 Juan Diaz v. Julio Diaz
Two of the 135-pound division's three belt-holding Diazes rumble in a hardcore fight fan delight to answer at least part of the question about who the best lightweight Diaz is. Young Juan is an all-action, all-the-time fighter who moonlights as a college student; Julio might be a little more of a boxer than a brawler but tends to get into brawls anyway. Oct. 13, HBO.

#8 Roy Jones, Jr. v. Felix Trinidad
Over the last decade or so, Jones and Trinidad have been two of the biggest names in boxing, and the fight that was supposed to happen about five or six years ago has finally arrived. Trinidad's coming out of retirement to meet Jones, on the comeback trail himself after a couple knockout defeats, at another "catchweight" fight at 170 lbs. Jan. 26, pay-per-view, likely Showtime.

#9 Jean-Marc Mormeck v. David Haye
Mormeck is the acknowledged cruiserweight (200 lbs.) champion, while Haye is a young contender. Both men have little to no interest in defense; both spend almost all their time trying to bludgeon their opponents. That usually makes for very entertaining fights, as long as they last. Nov. 10, MSG Network.

#10 Humberto Soto v. Joan Guzman
Soto and Guzman are both on the verge of moving into the upper echelon of the deep junior lightweight division (130 lbs.) inhabited by big names like Pacquiao, Barrera and others. Since they already are the kind of guys who like to stand in front of their man and trade blows, that incentive should add a little more sizzle. Nov. 13, HBO.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Blowout That I Seem Alone In Expecting

Far be it from me to criticize the two best fighters in a division from meeting up, which is exactly what is happening in late September when Jermain Taylor, the acknowledged middleweight (160 lbs.) king, is scheduled to rumble with Kelly Pavlik, the acknowledged top contender. That this match is happening is a tribute to boxing as it should be; it's a tribute to Taylor for taking on a guy who's very, very dangerous; and it's one of the marquee fights that is making this fall and winter full to the brim of important match-ups.

But I am alone, from what I can tell, in expecting this to be a mismatch.

Pavlik has always looked fearsome to me, but he looked downright nasty in his last fight, a knockout of heavily-hyped power puncher Edison Miranda. In Pavlik's first bout against a fellow major contender, Miranda got demolished. But Pavlik would pose style challenges for nearly anyone. He stalks people down, throwing volleys of hard, pinpoint blows along the way. Once he smothers them into a corner or against the ropes, he unloads every punch in his arsenal, especially those unholy straight rights, and, increasingly, jarring uppercuts. The result is that almost every one of his opponents goes to sleep, sometimes frighteningly. If anyone was going to dent Pavlik's chin and return the favor, it would have been Miranda. Instead, Pavlik proved he could take anything Miranda dished out, particularly because of Pavlik's punch volume. The strategy was to keep Miranda backing up under Pavlik's offensive onslaught, thus dulling his legendary power as he struggled to plant his feet for maximum destructiveness (Miranda's power is not an illusion -- Arthur Abraham's badly-broken jaw being one testament to Edison's mean punches).

So what case can one make for Taylor beating Pavlik? Certainly, his own power does not figure to be a factor. Taylor failed to knock out Cory Spinks in his last fight, quite an unimpressive feat since Spinks has been knocked out or nearly knocked out in two lower divisions (147 lbs. and 154 lbs.). He couldn't knock out Kassim Ouma, either, and Ouma was accustomed to a lower weight as well. Spinks is an evasive, slippery boxer, so maybe the failed knockout there can be written off. But while Ouma's a tough customer, Taylor hit him with a fusillade of punches, none of which seemed to cause the smaller man much trouble, so the combination of what happened versus Spinks and Ouma makes Taylor's power questionable. Can you make a case for Taylor's own boxing skill? Perhaps, but that is more dubious by the day. No upper-caliber fighter around has appeared to regress as much as Taylor has. He gets by on athleticism and heart more than his once piston-like jab, which has evaporated into thin air. For the last two years he has, quizzically, fought while backing up against nearly everyone, a bad recipe against someone like Pavlik, who showed that he can capitalize on that quite well. Taylor bested Pavlik when they were amateurs, but Pavlik's boxing skills have gotten sharper with every fight, and besides, winning in the amateurs wearing headgear and heavy gloves is a wholly different thing than winning in the pros; just ask Mohamad Abdulaev, who conquered Miguel Cotto in the Olympics only to get the stuffing knocked out of him in the pros by a harder-hitting, improved Cotto.

I think there are two indisputable advantages one could put in the Taylor column. First, Taylor is faster than Pavlik. I'm not sure by how much, but it might be enough to allow Taylor to hit-and-run his way to a favorable decision. On the other hand, the best neutralizer for speed is volume. Throwing a lot of punches is key to slowing down a faster opponent, and if nothing else, Pavlik has demonstrated he will throw a lot of punches every single time he steps between the ropes. Second, Taylor has fought far superior competition and has found a way to dig out a victory or draw every time. Pavlik has fought a few decent "gatekeeper" fighters where he proved his mettle, but only his win against Miranda counts as a serious, quality W. Taylor, by contrast, kept his unbeaten record intact against a pair of all-time greats in Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright in fights he could have easily lost but in which he summoned all his willpower to survive. Spinks and Ouma may be smaller and Taylor's performances versus them were unwatchably bad, but they are two very good fighters. And yet, Pavlik has demonstrated his own savvy and guts, putting together a smart game plan against Miranda and proving he would walk through any danger to win.

All of this doesn't even take into account my sense that Taylor has a decent chin, but not a world-class one. He almost hit the canvass a few times versus Hopkins, not as dangerous a puncher at the advanced age at which he fought Taylor as is Pavlik now, a young, power-puncher in his prime.

I want nothing more from Pavlik-Miranda than an action-packed, competitive and definitive showdown between the two top middleweights in the world. But I suspect very strongly that we will instead get the first two -- action-packed, definitive -- in lieu of the last -- competitive.

Kelly Pavlik, at left, no relation to my friend, Jim; Edison Miranda, at right, no relation to one's rights.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Two More Things To Get Rid Of, Of The Smaller Variety

These may be glorious days for the health of the sport, starting with the biggest fight of all time, money-wise, having just transpired this summer between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. What's more, this fall and winter will spotlight incredible fights pitting the best against the best, the highest-profile against the highest-profile, the most evenly-matched against the most evenly-matched. So glorious is the lineup for the rest of the year that when combined with what's already happened in 2007, veteran boxing commentators are calling it the best year for the sport in perhaps a decade.

Some of boxing's self-inflicted wounds have healed themselves in order to make 2007 what it is and will be, foremost among them the civil war between the sport's top two promotional companies, Golden Boy and Top Rank. But now is the time to be ever-more vigilant. Boxing needs to seize the day and rid itself of its other problems -- the endless number of belts, for instance, and all that silly hugging. I've recently raged about excessive holding, and perhaps I'll someday soon address some of those other, larger topics. But for now I'm advocating something like the "broken windows" theory of crime-fighting be applied to boxing. That is, as the founders of the theory wrote: "Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside." The theory -- disputed by many, I must admit -- holds that fixing those windows immediately is key to prevention of crime.

To return to my original metaphor, below are two of boxing's colds and hangnails, none of which can by themselves ruin the sport, but that must be eliminated for optimal health. Or maybe they're just pet peeves that I'm trying to elevate into something meaningful with some overheated rhetoric. Either way, they've got to go. I'll file these kind of things from now on under the label "cures":

Lennox Lewis as a commentator. I will defend his oft-lamented heavyweight title reign unto my death, but in the announcer's booth, he is nearly as grating as the NBA's Bill Walton. His praise of Andre Dirrell following what I saw as the single most detestable boxing performance I've ever viewed -- he nearly sprinted away from punches and landed only a few jabs a round en route to a horrid victory over Curtis Stevens -- is exhibit number one. Lennox actually said he wanted to see Dirrell again, and he has to be the only one. More recently, Lennox was completely flummoxed about how Daniel Ponce DeLeon knocked out Rey Bautista in one round, because Lennox somehow thought DeLeon was not a power puncher. In fact, a power puncher is all DeLeon really is, and he's very good at it. Had Lennox witnessed even a single DeLeon fight other than the highlights he'd seen of a very poor performance in his most recent prior bout, he would never have said any such thing. I don't belabor him too much his inability to pronounce anyone's name, because boxer-turned-commentator predecessors George Foreman and Roy Jones, Jr. were guilty of the same sin. But from the smallest mis-calls such as mispronunciations, to regular-sized mis-calls such as whether anything like what he's describing is happening in the ring, to the truly awful mis-calls like those of Dirrell and DeLeon, everything about Lennox as a ringside commentator works me into a frenzy.

Referee Laurence Cole. There is no worse referee alive who regularly gets high-profile assignments, but perhaps a zombie would do a better job. He is the beneficiary of flagrant nepotism, multiplied by conflicts of interest. And besides that, he sucks. Cole's father is one Dick Cole, who runs the Texas state department that regulates boxing, where his son regularly receives assignments. Dick also insures boxers; Laurence has more than once been accused of prematurely stopping fights when one combatant was losing, with the sub-allegation being that he did so so as to spare his father's company from having to pay out for any extra damage incurred. One of the strangest things I've seen a referee do was during the Juan Manuel Marquez-Jimrex Jaca bout. When Marquez suffered a nasty cut, Cole took him to a neutral corner and, with his hand over his microphone, uttered a bafflingly inappropriate series of messages. Cole informed Marquez that if the fight was stopped, rules-wise, it was in an advanced enough round that it would go to the scorecards. He told Marquez he was ahead on the scorecards and asked if he wanted to continue. In no way should Cole know whether Marquez was ahead on the scorecards; only the judges know that until the final results are announced. And if Cole didn't know, he was guessing, which is even worse, because he could have been wrong, and Marquez could have lost. And at any rate, Cole shouldn't be in the business of advising fighters -- he's a referee, supposedly impartial. He was fined and suspended in Texas, but only a few weeks later he'd received another nice assignment on TV, this time in Arkansas. Oh, and he blew a call during that fight, if I remember correctly. Type "Laurence Cole" and "controversy" into any search engine, and you'll find dozens of complaints about calls he's made during fights, the kind that have a tendency to influence the outcome. Perhaps aware of his reputation, he did next to nothing to put a halt to the foul-a-thon between Celistino Caballero and Jorge Lacierva that marred the undercard of the rematch between Israel Vasquez and Rafael Marquez. Someone, please, stop Laurence Cole. It wouldn't be premature.

If you see Lennox Lewis in a suit...

...or Laurence Cole refereeing a fight -- it's going to be a clumsy, embarrassing night for boxing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Trinidad's Back! (But, Um..)

I'm about as devoted a Felix "Tito" Trinidad fan as you will find outside of his home in Puerto Rico, and this despite my having arrived at the fight game well after he attained his career high marks. He was a ruinous puncher, with about as beautiful a left hook as anyone has ever had. He honed enough boxing skill to make those left hooks really, really dangerous. He fought the best boxers of his time. He was just generally great, and generally great to watch.

Trinidad had unfinished business with Roy Jones, Jr., which is why I suppose it makes sense for him to end his retirement for a January 2008 showdown with Jones. Several years ago, Jones was to be Trinidad's next opponent, just as soon as he finished mopping the floor with Bernard Hopkins in late 2001. Instead, Hopkins mopped the floor with Trinidad, and with this Felix's suspected fatal flaw -- the one that led him to the brink of defeat at the hands of Oscar De La Hoya only to be saved by some quirky ringside judges and De La Hoya's own bad decision to do nothing in the final few rounds on the thinking that he had easily won the early stanzas -- was flagrantly exposed. That is, Trinidad can't handle slick boxers, guys who have savvy and tip-top technique. Trinidad retired, un-retired for an entertaining brawl with Ricardo Mayorga, then retired again following a shutout at the hands of Winky Wright. Winky being a slick boxer. That brings us to now.

Jones is damaged goods after savage back-to-back knockouts courtesy Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, and while his career has continued on, no longer is Jones the breathtaking once-in-a-generation athlete who could play basketball the same day of a fight; who could knock a man out a split second after strutting around with his hands behind his back; who looked so much better than everyone else he fought that winning became a bore. But Jones still, even in his diminished state, is a slick boxer.

I'm all for fighters saying "To hell with it" in the face of a dire challenge and charging straight in to see what they're made of. It's one of the traits that made Trinidad great. Certainly, if Trinidad could connect with a few of those patented left hooks, Jones could crumple into a heap. But at this stage in his career, it might have been better had Trinidad chosen a fighter for his comeback who would stand and trade blows without a lot of fancy business.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Boxing Nicknames: The Final Frontier

Not long ago, I noticed basketball players didn't have as many nicknames as they once did, and that their overall quality has dipped. Dubbing Tracy McGrady "T-Mac" hardly accomplishes much by way of artistry, does it? Give me back Charles Barkley, aka "The Round Mound of Rebound." Boxing, for whatever faults I'm willing to concede it has in comparison to other sports, stands at the summit by itself in the category of nicknames.

Many are familiar and recycled. "Sugar," "Kid," and others are so commonplace they have lost some of their obvious appeal. While thinking about writing a post about great boxing nicknames, I noticed that others who have put together similar lists have favored either the menacing-sounding ("Iron" Mike Tyson) or the familiar (Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns, now a common nickname and not even Hearns' best nickname by my standard [That being "The Motor City Cobra"]).

For me, what makes a good nickname is creativity or strangeness. With that, I've assembled below -- in no particular order -- my 20 favorite boxing nicknames for active fighters, with commentary. The list might be better if it included fictional ones (Apollo Creed, "The Count of Monte Fisto," being the finest I stumbled across in perhaps all boxing history, real or imagined) or those affixed to former fighters (on ESPN's list, #4, Chuck "The Bayonne Bleeder" Wepner -- the real boxer Rocky Balboa is based upon -- is fantastic). But I think it's more relevant to stick to active boxers, because it proves my point: When it comes to nicknames, boxing is the sport where they truly thrive.
  • Andrew "Six Heads" Lewis: Apparently, a blurry-eyed, felled opponent in the amateurs was being inspected by a ring doctor, who asked him what he saw. Looking at Lewis, he remarked that he had six heads.
  • Vladimir Klitschko, "Dr. Steelhammer," and Vitali Klitschko, "Dr. Ironfist": Both brothers have doctorates, adding an awesome supervillain-like prefix to what would be pretty good nicknames in and of themselves.
  • Calvin Brock, "The Boxing Banker": Keeping with the tradition of the Klitschkos, Brock has a degree in finance, thus the not-very-intimidating-sounding "Boxing Banker." Vladimir knocked out Brock a few fights back. Better work on that doctorate, Calvin.
  • Darnell "Ding-A-Ling Man" Wilson: "Ding-A-Ling Man" is a favorite of both list-makers who prefer the wacky and those more serious-minded about their boxing nicknames.
  • Andrew Golota, "The Foul Pole": Maybe this wouldn't count in a more regimented list, since Andrew didn't name himself that. He earned it instead by having a tendency for low blows and by being Polish.
  • Nate Campbell, "The Galaxxy Warrior": Just plain science fiction silly, this one, but apparently related to a gym Nate boxed in that bore the double-X spelling of the word "galaxy."
  • DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley: Even if his punches "chop" people down, it's entertaining that his nickname doubles as a command to a servant.
  • Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao: Obviously he derives this from his last name, but I'm reminded of Marvelous Marvin Hagler hilariously telling HBO about his legendary fight with Hearns that he had decided he was going to gobble him up like Pac-Man. Hagler obliged in the interview by slowly opening his mouth wide then shutting it quickly and repeatedly while making an eating noise. I think Manny beat out "Pacman" Jones for this one, chronologically.
  • Friday "The 13th" Ahunanya: It's a good thing his first name is Friday, because by itself, "The 13th" is just a non sequitur. Together? Spooooooooky.
  • Owen "What The Heck?" Beck: This one has the combined advantage of rhyming and being a standalone sentence.
  • Acelino "Popo" Freitas: His mother gave him the nickname as a newborn, mimicking the sound that Brazilians identify as a baby sucking on a bottle -- "popo." Fittingly, he quit his two most recent big fights because he didn't like they way they were going.
  • Juan Lazcano, "The Hispanic Causing Panic": Ethnic-based nicknames are common, and vary from the good -- here, again, rhyming is a real asset -- to the awful.
  • Sergio Mora, "The Latin Snake": This is not near as good as "The Hispanic Causing Panic," but the imagery is interesting.
  • Brian Viloria, "The Hawaiian Punch": He's from Hawaii, and he punches for a living, so "The Hawaiian Punch" is a natural.
  • Kingsley "Sharp Knuckle" Ikeke: Ouch.
  • Andre Ward, "The All-Terrain Fighter": I've read that he's abandoned this one. Sad, because I enjoy picturing him fighting in quicksand, say, or on hot coals.
  • Oliver McCall, "The Atomic Bull": McCall, an otherwise dangerous heavyweight, made his name with his strange in-ring breakdown against Lennox Lewis where he decided to stop fighting but refused to quit all together, instead turning his back on Lennox and crying between rounds. So "The Atomic Bull" would be good for its comic book quality, but it's all the better for the fitting match it evokes of out-of-control power.
  • DaVarryl "Touch of Sleep" Williamson: When his fists touch you, you go to sleep, get it? That this somehow sounds so delicate an encounter adds a nice contrast.
  • Marco Antonio Barrera, "The Baby-Faced Assassin": Baby-faced assassins are absolutely the worst kind.
I'm open to improving this list -- "The Latin Snake" will be the first to go -- so if you stumble across something better, please do inform.

Andrew "Six Heads" Lewis was just one head shy of being nicknamed "The Hydra." Not too shabby, but I'm glad he didn't knock the guy out that bad. (from

Friday, August 10, 2007

Boxing News Of The Weird And So Forth

Stick to the fists, O'Neil. And come back soon. We miss you. (from

  • Random. Oh, O'Neil Bell. The most recent cruiserweight (200 lbs.) champion to unify all the belts of the various organizations that give out belts missed his ESPN date Wednesday because, according to the Associated Press, he "was dropped from the card when officials with the show's promoter, Warriors Boxing, were unable to locate him the past two weeks." Prior, in February, according to the Associated Press, "Bell was arrested over the weekend after a sparring partner claimed he heaved a hatchet at him during a training run through the woods, authorities said." Bell, whose nickname is "Give 'Em Hell," should consider changing his moniker to a version of the nickname granted to Owen "What The Heck" Beck: "What The Hell?"
  • Random. While perusing a rulebook for my recent post on excessive hugging in boxing, I stumbled across this quizzical rule: "If a boxer attempts to foul his opponent while exerting any type of unsportsmanlike conduct or unorthodox move and he injures himself, the Referee will treat the injury as if a legal blow caused it." I've never seen this rule applied, but if it is in any forthcoming fight, REMEMBER WHERE YOU HEARD IT FIRST!
  • Wrap-up. It's an interesting anomaly that Showtime pointed out prior to Marquez-Vasquez II: Three of Ring Magazine's last seven "fight of the year" awardees came at bantamweight (118 lbs.) and super-bantamweight (122 lbs.). Marquez-Vasquez II has an excellent chance of making it four of eight. Or is it an anomaly? Anyone who only pays attention to the higher weight classes -- nobody higher than 140 lbs. has won "fight of the year" awards from Ring Magazine since 1996 -- well, The Ring's William Dettloff said it best after the latest fight of the year candidate: "I almost feel sorry for the non-boxing fans out there. They have no idea what they’re missing. " God bless Comcast On-Demand: HBO just re-aired Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera I, the 2000 fight of the year at 122 lbs., and yes, I now have on tape that fight, one of the best ever, back-to-back with Marquez-Vasquez II.
  • Wrap-up. Speaking of Marquez-Vasquez II, fellow 122-pound titlist Daniel Ponce DeLeon told "I thought Marquez did not prepare fully. He took (Vazquez) too lightly and ran out of gas. Vazquez looked in much better shape than was the case last time out and the result showed. This time he was able to get on the inside on a consistent basis and do his damage, zapping Marquez’s energy with the fight turning out the way it did.” I have no idea if DeLeon is right, but something seemed off about Marquez to me. Confidence? Conditioning? I can't rule out the possibility that I got suckered by the pre-fight talk of better preparation by Marquez, thus driving me back into the cave of "never trust a fighter who says he's in the best shape of his life."
  • Preview. I haven't seen enough of this weekend's star Boxing After Dark combatants at (you guessed it) 122 lbs. to make predictions with any confidence, but I know enough about them to bet it's going to be an incredible double-header. The aforementioned DeLeon is all kinds of wild knockout power, and he's taking on the younger, also-powerful, more technical, but less granite-chinned Rey Bautista. I'm tempted to favor DeLeon here, but only because I've seen more of him and Bautista got dropped in the one bout of his I've witnessed. Also, Jhonny Gonzalez, whose sweet science is fierce, battles Gary Penalosa, the man who nearly upset DeLeon in their last fight. Weight class? 118 lbs.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Forthcoming __ael __quez Trilogy

Yes, this was the best I've seen in 2007, the re-airing of this weekend's affair featuring Rafael Marquez and Israel Vasquez.

Both men have tremendous offensive arsenals. Both, no matter how often they've hit the mat in their careers, can really, really take a punch; lesser fighters would still be unconscious after the kind of heavy blows that landed three or four times each per round. Both demonstrate no fear whatsoever. Each have a preponderance of "aels" and "quezs" in their names, as a friend pointed out. The combination led to breathtaking displays of skill, power and bravery, especially in the unbelievable third round, where Marquez nearly turned to jelly early on before rallying to land some punches that twisted Vasquez' neck in every direction. The constant seesawing that followed would leave both men returning to their corners looking like badgers or wolverines had gotten a hold of their faces.

What ultimately made the difference in this struggle for super bantamweight (122 lbs.) supremacy was what Al Bernstein, Showtime color man, identified as Marquez' inability to dodge Vasquez' killer left hook. It shuddered his legs several times, finally leading to his knockdown in round six. It's a shame, really, that it came down to a strategic mistake. Marquez blocked plenty of left hooks by moving his right glove up just a few inches higher than it was when he got floored. Marquez made a few other mistakes, too, such as not dancing in between jabs to avoid getting backed up and cornered by Vazquez, a superior inside fighter as I warned here. But the last left hook was the beginning of the end.

A final note. The decision by the referee to end the fight has been controversial, but I'm in favor of it. In the immediate aftermath of getting to his feet from the round six knockdown, Marquez was punching back and he was defending himself, two important reasons for a referee to let him continue. But Marquez was glassy-eyed and clearly in grave danger. That he had any wits about him at all speaks well of him, but it's no reason to risk the rest of his life. The referee then stepped in to stop the fight, appropriately. Marquez will have another day to prove himself, because the future holds...

Next for the winner and loser: A conclusive third fight. It will be early next year, giving each boxer more time than before the rematch to rest and recuperate. Fantastic idea. I might even be in favor of a longer layoff. Boxing regularly showcases feats that are stunning to behold for their apparent impossibility, but rushing these two back to the ring and expecting a fight anywhere near as good as the first two would be futile and reckless.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Pound For Pound

The United States Congress kept me from viewing Saturday night's clash between Rafael Marquez and Israel Vasquez, and wouldn't you know it -- it turned out to be the NEW consensus fight of the year. It's re-airing Tuesday night on Showtime, so I thought I'd preoccupy myself with something else...

You'll notice I don't have a "pound for pound" list, a prerequisite for any and all boxing publications and websites that want to give you their take on who the best fighters are regardless of weight class, from the strawweights (105 lbs.!) to some of the gigantic heavyweights (300 lbs.!). I opted against this for several reasons. First off, admittedly, it's difficult to judge. Should one just imagine all the fighters shrunk or grown to one size -- say, 160 lbs. -- and evaluate who would win? That's hardly the best way, it seems to me, because certain world-class fighters may be vulnerable to certain styles. He may beat almost every other fighter around, but lose to a second-tier fighter who just presents a bad match-up. Sure, the best fighters overcome that, but it shouldn't be the only standard. What about quality of wins? This is very important, obviously. But what if a good fighter loses a decision that most everyone thinks he won? That, too, suggests compilers of pound-for-pound lists should only consider it as a factor. All this and more is why I instead have a list of my favorite fighters -- to me, that's more interesting anyway. Which boxers do I like to watch, regardless of whether they win or lose?

That said, I've finally summoned the cojones to prepare my own list, using factors such as wins, whether X fighter would beat all the others weight being equal and a few more. I think the top three on my list are actually very clearly the three best. The remainder are people who are great fighters but their records are mixed for some reason, because of recent losses or some other neutralizer I'll describe in each individual case.

Feel free to tell me how wrong I am, of course.

  1. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (welterweight, 147) I think Floyd defeats every fighter on this list, size being even, by virtue of his physical gifts, ring intelligence and underrated willpower. His career is riddled with wins against likely hall-of-famers, and although he has taken a press beating lately for making boring fights or not fighting the best fighters available every time he steps between the ropes, he staved off a challenge from the #2 person on my list by defeating the much bigger Oscar De La Hoya in a weight class about two too high, junior middleweight (154 lbs.). Oscar's not as good as the general public probably assumes he is, but he is a top 20 fighter and even in losses against the best has comported himself well. There may be guys who could trouble Floyd with size or a difficult style, but not many.
  2. Manny Pacquiao. (junior lightweight, 130) Manny has deployed his whirling dervish offense against several fighters who, at the time, were considered among the best pound-for-pound. It's paid off for him. He only lost once in the sequence, to all-time Mexican great Erik Morales, but avenged that one with two knockouts against a guy in Morales who'd never in his career suffered even a clean knockdown. In something of a pattern, he also mauled all-time great Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera like he never had been before, and flattened another all-time great Mexican in Juan Manuel Marquez three times in the first round en route to a draw. With ever-improving boxing skills to match his power and energy, Pacquiao beats most everyone on this list, but his quality of wins is through the roof.
  3. Bernard Hopkins. (light heavweight, 175) Yes, he's old as hell. Yes, he bores me to tears. But he simply finds a way to win, no matter if his opponent is an undersized superstar like Tito Trinidad or a bigger man like Antonio Tarver, the previous light heavyweight king. His last win was against a man rated higher at the time on most pound for pound lists, Winky Wright. Think hard before you decide he couldn't beat the younger, faster, perhaps stronger Joe Calzaghe. The crafty Hopkins simply out-thinks everyone he fights.
  4. Juan Manuel Marquez. (junior lightweight, 130) After years of questions about his willingness to get hit and what he would do if he finally got clocked, he got hit convincingly and frequently in his amazing showdown with Pacquiao in 2004. He proved he had heart by coming back from three knockdowns to score a draw. His only blip since is a questionable loss to Chris John, versus a major win over Marco Antonio Barrera. I'm pretty sure he'd lose to Pacquiao in a rematch, but that's about the worst you can say about him.
  5. Joe Calzaghe. (super middleweight, 168) His flawless win over mega-puncher Jeff Lacy proved that his streak of title defenses, now at 21, was no fluke. That said, he fights too often to the level of his competition, performing poorly against borderline fighters yet still pulling out the win. And I think Calzaghe's next opponent, the skilled Dane Mikkel Kessler, stands a strong chance of ending his streak.
  6. Winky Wright. (middleweight, 160) Set aside his recent close loss to Bernard Hopkins, because he was fighting at too high a compromise weight (170). Look instead at the quality wins and the fact that his style would make him nigh-impossible to beat whether he was a natural heavyweight or natural minimumweight. Yet it's clear he's getting old.
  7. Shane Mosley. (welterweight, 147) Sugar, too, is getting old, but he's looked refreshed after his rough stretch of four combined losses against Winky Wright and Vernon Forrest, and was fantastic in a return to a more favorable weight class, welterweight. His past accomplishments, and his willingness to take all comers, pushes him higher on this list than he is on similar pound-for-pound compilations.
  8. Ricky Hatton. (junior welterweight, 140) Ricky's performances of late have been rocky, but you can't say much bad about his signature victory against all-time great junior welterweight Kostya Tsyzu. And you can't really say much bad about the fact that he's found a way to win every fight he's been in, ugly or not, against reigning champions or game contenders of every style and ability level.
  9. Miguel Cotto. (welterweight, 147) Eventually, I think Cotto stands a chance to overtake a lot of people on this list, even if he loses to Mosley later this year. The only thing holding him back is that he does not yet own that victory over a truly great fighter, but like he does in the ring, Cotto will just keep stalking and stalking and stalking...
  10. Rafael Marquez. (junior featherweight, 122) Before this weekend, I would have had him as high as fourth. This may be too steep a drop, but it's hard for me to list him as a better fighter than his recent conqueror, Israel Vasquez, when they have split a pair of fights and Vazquez has an ever-growing legacy of his own that doesn't compare too badly. My eyes tell me nonetheless that Marquez is still a better fighter than Vazquez -- although I reserve the right to change my mind after Tuesday's re-airing of their second clash.

There are only a few other fighters I would consider for top-10 status, but you can make a case for all of the below squeezing some of the guys above out. In no particular order:
  • Jermain Taylor. He beat Hopkins twice and drew with Wright, yet there are some people who think he lost all three. He beat Cory Spinks, but some say he didn't win that either, all the more embarrassing because Spinks was clearly fighting at too high a weight. But at a certain point, don't you give a guy credit for fighting tough and somehow dragging out the win, even if it's questionable? To break through: Beat fearsome Kelly Pavlik convincingly in the fall.
  • Israel Vasquez. He just beat Marquez, cleaned out his division before he did that and along the way soundly beat up Jhonny Gonzalez, a threat from just south of his weight class. I'd throw him in the top ten except he looks vulnerable in every fight, albeit in that good, exciting way, the kind that produces drama, not in Jermain Taylor's awkward, frustrating way. To break through: Take the best two out of three against Marquez in the inevitable rematch.
  • Mikkel Kessler. He looked amazing blowing out Markus Beyer and overrated but tough contender Librado Andrade. To break through: Ending Calzaghe's streak would make a strong case for these two switching places.
  • Joel Casamayor. There are people who think Casamayor, a dirty-fighting Cuban, has won every fight no matter what his record says, and the case is not without merit. His list of victims, even without that hypothetical, is impressive. His nastiness probably biases some contenders against him for exercises such as these. To break through: Topple a young bulldog or two like Juan Diaz.
  • Marco Antonio Barerra. His resume is unbelievable. He's slowed, though, with age. Defeating up-and-coming Rocky Juarez despite that showed he had more left, and some think he actually won his last fight, against Juan Manuel Marquez. To break through: This fall, avenge his loss to Pacquiao, which would be all the more eye-popping because of how unlikely it sounds.

Glass Joe from the Nintendo game Mike Tyson's Punch-Out is noticeably absent from my list of the pound-for-pound best. (from

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Evander Holyfield: Like Don Quixote, But With A Storied C.V. And A Better Chance Of Defeating The Windmills

Bite his ear off, dislocate his shoulder, palpitate his heart, turn him in a 44-year-old man... nothing stops Holyfield, at least not for one more big fight. (from

I never experienced Evander Holyfield the way more veteran boxing fans did, in real-time, from his prime to his endless tragedies and resurrections when he was still one of, if not frequently the, best that the heavyweight division had to offer. Rather, I have experienced him as he was in the distant past via the wonders of old fight replays and as he has been for the last several years. The former is by far the preferable.

It did not take long for me to recognize from fight tapes why "The Real Deal" was so beloved. The cruiserweight version of Holyfield may have been the best, but no one ever pays much attention to the cruiserweights; the division, now limited to boxers below 200 lbs., has always been a temporary stop-over for the visibility of fighting the biggest of the big at heavyweight. The cruiserweight Holyfield had it all. He was faster than most everyone, and certainly more powerful. He put together flashy, destructive combinations then nimbly bounced around on the way to throwing more beautiful, devastating flurries. Holyfield eventually succumbed to the temptation of becoming a heavyweight, where his speed still mattered but his power mattered less. It is here where Holyfield became a living legend. Routinely smaller than his gigantic opposition, he fought with such pure guts that he became the people's champion -- the small guy who could step into the ring against a monster like Riddick Bowe and soak up such punishment that it was impossible not to root for him when he stormed back into the fight, as he did in the classic 11th round of their first scrap. By the time he got his long-sought match with Mike Tyson, he'd been through so many vicious wars that people feared he would very likely die should Iron Mike connect with one clean punch. But whereas Buster Douglas' victory over Tyson looked like a fluke in so many ways, Holyfield more than anyone punctured the invincibility of Tyson. In every other fight I've seen of Holyfield's from his glory years -- even those down times when he lost and was suffering from heart conditions and shoulder injuries -- what stood out more than anything is that just when it appeared he was about to lose, he would find a way to reverse it all. The fifth round rally against George Foreman, the knockdown of Bowe in their rubber match... there were so many amazing moments.

The latter way I've experienced Holyfield is as a shell of his former self. When his boxing license was pulled in New York after his listless loss with Larry Donald in 2004, I couldn't have agreed more. All the signs of a magnificent boxing career coming to an end were there: He'd been defeated by a never-was; he looked bad losing, not like he was always clawing toward victory as he was in his defeats of old; and he'd won a total of two fights in five years, losing five and drawing once. Someone needed to pull the plug for Evander, because he wasn't going to do it for himself.

Holyfield insisted, upon his most recent comeback via the states that were willing to license him, that he was merely injured, not shot, and that now he had recovered. He insisted, once again, that he would win the heavyweight title. Even when he clobbered Jeremy Bates in his first two rounds back in the ring in nearly two years, no one was convinced. Bates was an insurance salesman who moonlighted as a boxer, although one who was very good at getting hammered around by better fighters and delivering the occasional dangerous-looking punch. Some of Holyfield's more recent competition was slightly more accomplished, but not a threat to even a B-level heavyweight. The pleas continued. We beg you, Evander, stop fighting. If you think you're going to win a title, you're delusional, and you need to stop getting hit in the head.

Having only moments ago viewed his
defeat of Bates for the first time, I can vouch that he looked infinitely better than in his previous unflattering showings, but Bates, by virtue of walking directly into his punches, certainly helped on that account. With each successive win, though, boxing writers have warmed more and more to the idea that the now-44-year-old Holyfield was only injured after all, and that there are heavyweight champions Holyfield might stand a chance to beat in an era of heavyweights among history's worst.

And now he has just that heavyweight: Sultan Ibragimov. Ibragimov is probably the most vulnerable of the four men wearing a championship belt, and once a unification bout fell through with another vulnerable champion, Ruslan Chagaev, Sultan picked Holyfield as a replacement for Oct. 13. Unlike with Mexican warrior Erik Morales, a subject of a recent post, I am going to give Holyfield the benefit of the doubt. I am going to say I believe he will win this fight.

There is a type of athlete unique to boxing that simultaneously provokes thrills and anxiety. He takes unbelievable punishment and soldiers on still. He suffers career depths that are all but insurmountable and somehow surmounts them. He switches from victim to superhuman from round to round, fight to fight, year to year. You grow to love him because of this, but you fear for his life for the same reason. They are the Marco Antonio Barreras, the Aruto Gattis, and yes, the Evander Holyfields. I don't know for sure that Holyfield has more than one big fight in him, if that. But he's proven he has at least a little something left. May he summon it all for the conclusion to his latest, and hopefully last, resurrection.

Friday, August 3, 2007

As Good As It Gets

Now that I've tackled some of the worst boxing has to offer, I'll tackle the best.

Saturday comes a rematch between super-bantamweights (122 lbs.) Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez. Marquez is one-half of the best boxer/brother combination ever. Ever. Like his brother Juan Manuel, Rafael has skill for days, although less so than his bigger sibling. Juan Manuel can punch hard, but his brother is on a whole other plane. Rafael is the consensus hardest puncher in the sport, and as high as third best overall on some pound-for-pound lists. In the first round of their first scintillating fight (highlights here) just a few months ago, Marquez crushed Vasquez' nose and had him on unsteady legs with a straight right. The crushed nose would prove Vasquez' eventual undoing, as he quit after round seven because of an inability to breath through the blood and cartilage.

That Vasquez bounced back from that cataclysmic first round to deck Marquez in the third tells you two things you need to know about Israel. One, he too, can punch like hell. Two, he only gets better as the fight goes deeper. He did it to the very tough Jhonny Gonzalez, and he was building a head of steam before he quit against Marquez. He's most boxing fans' kind of fighter -- the kind that never backs up and trusts his power and his chin to outlast the other guy.

The first fight was building into an instant classic before its anti-climatic ending. There was the brilliant first round for Marquez. The comeback and knockdown for Vasquez. The technical mastery of Marquez' jab and counterpunches followed by Vazquez' technical mastery of fighting in close. The numerous times both men just stood and traded massive shots. Why not do it again?

MY PREDICTION: Marquez by middle rounds knockout. Marquez has advantages in power, speed and technique. Vasquez has a brittle nose, given that it was probably broken in the Gonzalez fight, too, and he is coming back to the ring a little quickly for a guy who's been in a few rough slogs of late. Plus, Marquez says he has had more time to train, while Vazquez has pinballed around to various trainers. I usually don't buy into that "I'm in the best shape of my life!" talk from fighters, but Marquez hasn't claimed that -- only that he is better prepared.
CONFIDENCE: 65%. Vazquez proved he can change the tide with one punch in the first fight. He also figured out a way around Marquez' jab as the fight progressed and got inside, where he has the one skill advantage. And Marquez, for all his skill, disregards defense. Vazquez could very well score a knockout or decision win.
ALLEGIANCE: I like both fighters, but Marquez is a personal favorite. I will cheer him on. More, though, I will cheer for a good fight. Not that these two need my help making that.

Nothing snarky to say here. Marquez, left, and Vasquez just freaking bring it. (from

Knock Off All That Cuddling, Professional Face-Punchers

On the long list of reasons a great many of my friends don't follow boxing is... All. That. Hugging. I don't mean after fights, when it never fails to pleasantly surprise me how two men can spend nearly an hour punching each other in the face, then embrace like old friends. No, the scourge I speak of is what in boxing terms is called a "clinch." It's when one fighter grabs the other and holds him, for reasons that vary from strategic advantage to salvation from a knockout punch for a boxer on the verge of hitting the canvas. Performed excessively, it is illegal, cause for having points docked for judging purposes or even disqualification. And yet, if anything, more -- not fewer -- big-name boxers appear to be relying on excessive holding as a tactic. It must stop.

The heavyweight division has, and always will be, marked by clinching. As this informative HBO article describes, even one of the most aesthetically appealing ring stylists, Muhammad Ali, held. All the time, in fact. It's the only thing about "The Greatest" that irritates me when I catch old Ali fights on ESPN Classic. Some of this is merely a question of size and space. Often, two giant men in a tiny ring will throw their punches and get entangled by accident. They have the option of trying to work their way out of this clinch or holding on until the referee separates them. Usually, alas, they take the latter option.

This heavyweight entanglement is in some ways understandable, but it also is one of the reasons I have never cared much for the heavyweights. Another kind of clinch is even more understandable: the aforementioned hold to avoid being knocked out. No one trying to maintain a grasp of his consciousness should be penalized for holding on for dear life. Sometimes it works and the fighter regains his senses, and the hold suddenly seems almost noble. On woozy legs, stars around his head, a fighter who manages to avoid the KO has done something dramatic. Especially since, quite often, the fighter on the verge of knocking out his man succeeds in wriggling free and putting him to sleep.

No, it is the strategic deployment of the hug that is a plague upon boxing. In the days of Mike Tyson, this strategic hold was more a matter of fright at being crushed by a sledgehammer uppercut. Tyson's victims entered the ring thinking survival, not victory. Fast forward to the 1990s: The most adept modern practitioner of holding is former heavyweight champion John Ruiz, and by my reckoning, he is to blame for the spread of clinching. Ruiz was an up-and-coming heavyweight before he was obliterated by David Tua. For anyone who saw Ruiz' fights with Evander Holyfield, notice in the Tua fight how willing he is to trade heavy blows compared to how he behaved against "The Real Deal." Ruiz realized after Tua that he could not compete in the heavyweight division on the strength of his punch alone, and began his patented "hit and hold" strategy. He would see his opportunity to land a blow, then let his forward momentum carry him into a clinch with his opponent. After the referee broke up the clinch, he would get into position to repeat this hit/hug cycle. If he did this often enough, and his opponent failed to hit him often enough, he would pile up points and win.

Lennox Lewis is the biggest-name fighter since to employ a similar holding-based strategy, but because Lewis had real power, it was never quite as boring as when Ruiz did it -- although it was boring enough to make Lewis an unpopular "baddest man in the world," as the heavyweight champ is sometimes known. For a very, very tall heavyweight, this strategy allows him to stay on the outside, jabbing his opponent at will and mixing in the occasional power punch; when he gets rushed by the smaller man, he grabs him, and that gives the bigger heavyweight a chance to reestablish his favorite distance. His successor as the clear-best heavyweight in the world, Vladimir Klitschko, has now adopted this holding style. That their trainer is the savvy Emmanuel Steward suggests a method to the madness.

But two big-name non-heavyweights now make holding a key to their strategy. Recently, all-time great Bernard Hopkins Ruized his way to victory over fellow future hall-of-famer Winky Wright, not the first time he has Ruized. Ricky Hatton, Great Britain's charismatic little Tazmanian devil, has hit and held his way to several frustrating-to-watch wins. Decades ago, Ali brought a little man's sweet science -- speed mixed with power -- into the heavyweight division and elevated the big man's game in the process. Why taint the little man's game with big man tactics?

This is not mere whining. My friends who dislike boxing are not alone in their disdain for holding. I've actually turned off fights when there was too much grappling. When a true fan of the sport can't stand all that wrestling, doesn't that suggest that this is a big problem? And excessive holding has arguably been the key to victory for several of the fighters I mentioned. Ruiz didn't have the talent to win against the best any other way. Lewis and Klitschko would still be excellent fighters without holding, but their opponents often didn't even get the chance to hit them because of all the copious hugging. Hatton nearly got knocked out by a body punch from borderline talent Juan Urango this year, forcing him to abandon a newly-adopted entertaining boxing style in favor of hit, fall in, hold. And Hopkins, 42, was able to keep Wright off-balance and prevent him from firing off his patented jab by hitting, falling in, then holding him. In these cases, cheating aided the winning, so the impact of clinching cannot be disputed.

The answer to this problem is a simple enough concept. Referees should enforce the rules. When a fighter is holding excessively, as the referee in Hopkins-Wright noted with repeated warnings to Hopkins, he should be docked points. This doesn't happen enough now. The referees need to get reacquainted with the rulebook, as the results suggest, but also as suggested by the HBO piece's quotes from referees. Richard Steele has always been a terrible ref, but his litany of excuses for why holding continues is laughable. Ruiz held and we let him get away with it, so he kept getting away with it, said Steele. Ali held, Steele said, but it was Ali and everyone liked him so he kept getting away with it. And sometimes, Steele said, he would let a hugger get away with it because the huggee was not struggling enough to get out of the hug! This rulebook makes no mention of the criteria proffered by Steele.

Given this, it looks like, barring a powerful public outcry, the best hope for ridding boxing of strategic huggers is individual vigilance. Light heavyweight great Roy Jones, Jr. defeated Ruiz despite a size disadvantage in part because the referee had been lobbied beforehand to be on the lookout for Ruiz' illegal tactics and warned him early and often. That nipped it in the bud. Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Jones successor as the most gifted boxer in the game, would be wise to mimic the Jones team's [;pu when he takes on Hatton later this year. Otherwise, Mayweather might have his perfect record hugged right out of him. And any of my friends I recruit to watch Mayweather-Hatton will say, "See? What's with all that hugging? I told you boxing sucked."

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Another Legend For The Beating; Welterweight Wish Fulfillment; Losing Faith Too Fast

  • Preview. It is with tremendous remorse that I anticipate Erik Morales' career will be executed this weekend in one of the worst possible ways. I never much cared for Morales, who is something of an insufferable egomaniac, but I respected him. His trilogy with Marco Antonio Barrera is historically great. It was a blazing action three-pack from the two best Mexican fighters at the time who passionately hated one another and merged their resulting brawling impulses with their incredible skill levels. His trilogy with Manny Pacquiao was plenty great, too, a non-stop offensive show for every single round. Morales is a sure hall-of-famer who embodied the word "warrior." He never said no to a challenge and he always stood and fought his foe toe-to-toe. He did so even when outgunned, as he was against Pacquiao by their third meeting; despite all the wear and tear he'd endured in the ring, he decided to go down guns blazing and risk getting knocked out to make a desperation bid at flattening Manilla's favorite son. Yet every warrior must realize when he gets too old to battle younger men, or else face inglorious defeat. Morales is, in the horribly descriptive terminology of boxing, "shot." He's only won one of his last five fights. Not a good sign. He looked awful in one of them, his first fight at lightweight (135 lbs.). His second fight at that weight is coming up Saturday. Not a good sign. Even though he mounted a heroic rally against Pacquiao in their final war, when he went down for the last time, he shook his head and decided not to try to get up. Not a good sign, especially since something similar happened with Arturo Gatti, another warrior whose willpower failed him in his next to last fight; it proved an omen for his final fight, a pitiable slaughter at the hands of a borderline opponent. When willpower goes from a warrior, the end is near. The guy he's fighting Saturday, David Diaz, does not sound like the most dangerous opponent he could have picked, so I suppose that's a good sign. But I don't like the looks of this fight, especially going up against Rafael Marquez-Israel Vasquez II airing on Showtime the same night. I could watch two truly amazing Mexican fighters in their prime in a rematch of their special first meeting... or shield my eyes as one formerly great Mexican fighter gets splattered by a pretty good Mexican-American fighter, plus fork money over to HBO Pay-Per-View for the privilege. I think I'll watch Marquez-Vasquez and hope I read the next day about Morales having tapped some Fountain of Regeneration, but I predict a Diaz mid-round KO or TKO, and a sad one.

Better to remember Morales, at right, as he was, not as he will soon be. (from

  • Random. So far, so good on the welterweights (147 lbs.) making the match-ups they should in a deep, deep division of superstars, unheralded talents and promising prospects. Floyd Mayweather, almost universally believed to be the best fighter around, has a deal in place for a December dance with Ricky Hatton, one of Great Britain's favorite all-time boxers and like Mayweather young and unbeaten. Mayweather is probably too unearthly-gifted for Hatton, but there's a chance Hatton, who crowds and wrestles his man into submission, could pose the difficult style challenge needed to press Mayweather. Still, when two of the best face one another, it is a thing to be praised. Even better, Puerto Rican battering ram Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley, one of his generation's finest, are on track for a November collision. This one is too puzzling for me to call yet, but style-wise, it's a better version of Mayweather-Hatton: Cotto and Hatton both chop you down with body punches and attrition, but Cotto is less one-dimensional, whereas Mayweather and Mosley both rely on blinding speed, but Mosley is more hittable and harder-hitting. Meeting between the winners for divisional supremacy, anyone?

Something spooky about Cotto's deep-set, dark eyes. (from
  • Wrap-up. There seem to be two schools of thought about what happened to welterweight prospect Andre Berto over the weekend, when he was knocked down and nearly out before recovering to win a decision over Cosme Rivera. One, advanced here by The Sweet Science's Michael Woods, suggests that maybe Berto isn't all he's cracked up to be if he nearly catches some zzz's courtesy a fringe contender like Rivera. The other, advanced here by ESPN's Dan Rafael and elsewhere, suggests that Berto was stepping up to the biggest challenge of his career and when he ran into adversity, he overcame it and will learn from it. I'm inclined to give Berto the benefit of the doubt and side with Rafael et al, and not just because I like bandwagons. Berto is 23 and was bound to face trouble once he graduated from destroying mismatched fighters. Rivera has made a living of late schooling youngsters like Berto -- not long ago he put prospect Joel Julio on his ass before Julio recovered to win. Woods draws attention to important flaws in Berto, such as his short arms and previously untested jaw. And the business with Berto's glove technicalities requiring a lengthy time to fix smacks of his team trying to give their golden goose time to clear the cobwebs in his head. Woods may prove right in the long term about the need to lower expectations for Berto, but credit Berto for going through with his next fight against an even tougher divisional gatekeeper, David Estrada. Let's see what he does then before we diminish Berto much for his close encounter with the Land of Nod.

Andre Berto: The Land of Nod is a wonderfully zany comic book, but I recommend avoiding it as a place to visit. (from