Last weekend I spent a couple of days with the Mayweather camp talking boxing, dancing and the future of the sport, and of course, watching Barrera and Pacquiao.
First we arrived on Thursday afternoon to catch the Top Rank fight card that featured WBO junior bantamweight titleholder Fernando Montiel defend his belt against Colombia’s rugged Luis Melendez. We got more than we expected.
Ever since Montiel knocked out Pedro Alcazar, who ultimately died a day later from injuries to the brain sustained from that fight five years ago, the Los Mochis boxer-puncher seems to lack that extra oomph whenever he gets in the ring. He’s satisfied to simply deploy his speed and tactics to gain lackluster wins.
Melendez didn’t leave him any other path but the direct route. And that was hazardous.
The Mexican and Colombian engaged in one of the most brutal fights of the year that saw Montiel land hellacious bombs that finally dropped Melendez in a heap during the sixth round. It looked like it was over for Melendez. So much so that Montiel decided to walk his opponent back to the fighter’s own corner before returning to his own.
When round seven started you could see the smug confidence in Montiel’s face who began looking for an opportunity to land the final blow. During an exchange Montiel left his hands low and the Colombian fired a left hand that crunched Montiel and down he went. The look of surprise was priceless.
Montiel coolly gathered himself and instead of boxing and moving, he engaged in a battle of bombs that featured enough firepower to light up the darkest part of the desert. Every time Montiel hurt Melendez, the Colombian rallied back with at least one great punch in the final five rounds.
A right hand on the chin wobbled Melendez in the 11th but he survived the round. Then Montiel stepped up the pace even more for the finale and dropped the Colombian with a left hook to the body. He crumbled. Melendez beat the count but Montiel jumped right back on him and forced referee Kenny Bayless to halt the fight at 1:58 of the final round.
But what a war.
A day later Montiel looked like a team of Teamsters had taken a bat to his face. But the way he fought made it clear he’s ready for Cristian Mijares, Martin Castillo or Jose Navarro. Any of those three would be an epic.
On Friday photographer Paul Hernandez and myself drove over to one of the boxing gyms to speak to Roger Mayweather and cut man Rafael Garcia. The two corner people are among the best in the business and you can always get incredible boxing insight from speaking to the two veterans.
Roger Mayweather spoke about fighting guys like Pernell Whitaker, and how to prepare for some of the best fighters in the world.
“It’s not about speed. Just cause your fast don’t mean you’re going to win a fight,” said Mayweather in his corner office. “It’s about being smart.”
About his nephew Floyd Mayweather participating on Dancing With the Stars before his fight with Ricky Hatton on Dec. 8, Mayweather just waves it off.
“He can’t fight, he’s just a wrestler,” said Roger Mayweather about Hatton. “All he do is hold.”
Mayweather said Hatton’s only good win came against Kostya Tszyu but that it wasn’t fighting that took place that night, just holding and hitting.
“He got a win over Kostya Tszyu, that’s a good fighter,” Mayweather said. “But if he were fighting legitimate fighting he wouldn’t win. You can’t fight like that. You can’t hold and hit it violates the rules of boxing.”
Mayweather expects the judges to honor the rules when Hatton fights his nephew in Las Vegas in about two months.
“He beat Kostya Tszyu on the back of the head all night,” Mayweather said. “But the referee wasn’t going to do nothing in front of 35,000 fans.”
After about 90 minutes with Mayweather, we all separated. We agreed to meet at Floyd Mayweather’s gym later on, but first we drove over to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino to catch Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera being officially weighed. Both fighters hit 130 on the nose, but Pacman looked rather gaunt and feeble.
We jumped back in the car and headed to Mayweather’s gym and found a fleet of cars in the parking lot that easily cost more than $60,000 each. It was Mayweather territory alright.
Inside the gym we passed through a series of checkpoints with bodyguards big enough to play offensive line for the New England Patriots. Once inside there was Floyd, Roger, Leonard Ellerbe and several others including a television crew from ABC. It was Floyd’s first day back in the boxing gym.
Soon WBO lightweight titleholder Joan Guzman showed up with his relative. He’s training with Big Floyd who is using his son’s gym to train fighters too. Guzman comes up to me to say he is certain that Barrera will beat Pacquiao.
“A boxer knows when someone is too weak,” said Guzman. “Did you see his (Pacquiao) face?”
“Money” Mayweather is what he likes to be called now. Since cracking the $20 million plateau in his last fight with Oscar De La Hoya the name fits perfectly.
As he goes through the first session of training it’s amazing to see Mayweather doesn’t get tired. Plus, he’s talking the whole time. It got me tired to see him work that hard while talking. I figured he would tire out later, but it never happened.
Both Mayweathers put on the gloves and practiced on the mitts. Of course they showed speed like you’ve never seen, but Floyd continued talking while shooting lightning combinations and blocking. This went on for about six rounds.
“Watch this,” said Roger who leaned over to me. “I can train him with my eyes closed.”
When the buzzard went off both Mayweathers began their mitt work with their eyes closed. Not just Floyd, but Roger. And they never missed.
It reminded me of that Japanese Samurai movie character the blind swordsman “Zatoichi.” I still don’t know how they did it.
All the while Mayweather was working out he talked about how the future of boxing and the role he wants to play as a promoter. He also predicted that Sugar Shane Mosley is going to knock Miguel Cotto out when they meet in November.
“Shane is going to knock that boy out the first time he hits him,” said Mayweather.
As the training begins to wind down, Joan Guzman came back to talk to me again.
“I’m telling you, Pacquiao is going to lose to Barrera,” he said.
Of course we know that Barrera lost a 12-round decision. But Guzman is a solid bet himself to take Pacquiao to another level if they tangle. But that’s another story. First Guzman has to beat Mexico’s Humberto Soto. That won’t be easy.
“Whoever wins between me and Soto will be big,” says Guzman. “The winner gets bigger.”
In the morning I jumped out and drove back to the Mandalay for Rich Marotta’s radio show. On this morning he had a panel discussion about the biggest topics in boxing. If you like to hear about “our beautiful sport” as Barrera says, listen to Marotta every Saturday morning in Los Angeles. It’s the best boxing show there is nationwide. Marotta has been covering the sport for two decades now.
Also on the Marotta radio show was Kieran Mulvaney who writes for Reuters and ESPN.com. He’s originally from Great Britain and now makes the States his home. A very passionate writer for the sport and extremely knowledgeable. The other guest panelist was Robert Morales of the Los Angeles Daily News. He’s a fellow Chicano brother from Southern California who has roots in East Los Angeles. Morales has been covering the sport since I began covering the sport in the early 90s. He’s another passionate writer who prefers slugging to boxing. That’s his style.
After the show Joel Casamayor dropped by the pressroom to talk about signing with Golden Boy Promotions. He’s waiting to see what happens with the Diazes in Chicago this weekend.
He also gave homage to Diego Corrales “My friend and a warrior.”
Antonio Margarito was also in the pressroom. He’s going to be on the Nov. 10 fight card in Madison Square Garden.
“I don’t want to stay inactive,” Margarito said. “We’re waiting for the winner of Mosley and Cotto.”
After the mini press conference, a few journalists hopped in a rented limousine to catch Mayweather practice with his Dancing With the Stars partner Karina Smirnoff at a dance studio in the Westside of Las Vegas.
Inside the studio Mayweather had been memorizing the steps with the beautiful Smirnoff. As we walked in Smirnoff tapped my press credential badge and asked me who I felt would win the Pacquiao-Barrera fight. I told her Pacquiao and she frowned.
Mayweather and Smirnoff performed their routine for the dancing style called “Jive” and they looked pretty comfortable. But it was obvious that they barely learned the routine. The steps were extremely complicated.
“Sometimes he misses practice,” said Smirnoff with her playful anger.
Karina Smirnoff motioned to me to come dance with her so she could show me the steps. I tried but she had these crazy leg movements that bend the leg this way and that way. My knee just doesn’t respond any more. I injured my left knee stealing third base 10 years ago. It never recovered completely. I can walk but I can’t dance anything complicated any more. But Karina was understanding.
After all of the talking was done, we walked outside to return to the limousines but they were gone. I walked back into the studio and saw Floyd. I told him our predicament and “Money Mayweather” came through.
“No problem, take my truck and take them back,” said Floyd to Ellerbe.
“I owe you Floyd,” I told him.
We barely caught the fights in time at the Mandalay Bay.
And guess who I sat directly behind?
Mario Lopez, fiancé of Karina Smirnoff.
What a weekend.
Evander vs. Ibragimov for World Title
Evander Holyfield, 44, attempts to win a heavyweight world title for the fifth time when he faces WBO titleholder Sultan Ibragimov of Russia.
“I am one day closer to fulfilling the goal I set out to accomplish,” said Holyfield during a telephone press conference call. “My goal is to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and that’s it.”
Ibragimov, 32, captured the title last June against big Shannon Briggs by decision after 12 rounds. The fight takes place in Moscow, Russia on Saturday Oct. 13, and will be available on pay-per-view television. The heavyweight title fight will be televised live at 10 a.m. Pacific Times
“I don’t think it will be hard at all to become undisputed heavyweight champion of the world,” said Holyfield should he beat Ibragimov. “Because everyone will line up to fight me.”
Navarro Fights for Title in Moscow Too
Former 2000 U.S. Olympian Jose Navarro travels to Russia to face Dimitri Kirilov for the vacant IBF junior bantamweight title on Saturday Oct. 13. It will be the semi-main event and be televised on pay-per-view television.
Navarro has twice fought for world titles and lost by controversial split-decision to Japan’s Katsushige Kawashima in 2005 and by unanimous decision to Masamori Tokuyama in 2006.
“We have nothing to lose by taking this fight,” said Frank Rivera, who trains and manages Navarro in Los Angeles.
Kirilov also lost to previous title bids, one to Tokuyama in 2004 and to Nicaragua’s Luis Perez by split decision in 2006.
Alfonso Gomez Fight in LA Oct. 16
Popular Alfonso Gomez has been promised a crack at Mexico’s Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. next year on one condition: beat Ben Tackie at the Home Depot in Carson on Tuesday Oct. 16.
It’s a tall order for the former participant of the Contender reality television series. Tackie is one of the toughest junior welterweights to ever lace up boxing gloves and has faced Kostya Tszyu, Ricky Hatton and many other top fighters in the division. He’s never been stopped in the ring.
“We’re looking to match Alfonso Gomez with Chavez maybe in March,” said Bob Arum, of Top Rank. “We’re also hoping to put Martin Castillo against Jorge Arce on the same card.”
Also on the Carson fight card will be middleweight Sergio Mora of East L.A. facing Elvin Ayala of Maryland in a bout planned for 10 rounds.
For tickets or information call (213) 480-3232.
David Rodela Fights Thursday
Oxnard’s David Rodela faces Derrick Moon of Texas on Thursday Oct. 11, at the Oceanview Pavilion in Port Hueneme.
Rodela served as Manny Pacquiao’s primary sparring partner for the Filipino superstar’s fight this past Saturday in Las Vegas. The Oxnard fighter spent several weeks in the Philippines preparing Pacquiao for the fight he won against Marco Antonio Barrera.
For tickets or information call (805) 986-4818.