Still, they're hoping this fight somehow lives up to its top billing, praying a slugfest breaks out instead of 12 rounds of elevator music.
IBF champ Winky Wright (46-3, 25 K0s), versus WBA and WBC champ Shane Mosley (39-2, 35 K0s) for the undisputed junior-middleweight (or, depending on your mood, super-welterweight) championship of the world.
It has a nice, long-overdue ring to it, a kind of "it's about damn time," feel to it.
If you want to give credit to the right people for getting this fight done, you can start with Cory Spinks, an unlikely hero now known as the undisputed welterweight champ of the world.
If Spinks hadn't beaten Ricardo Mayorga on Dec. 13, Wright could have spent January and February snagging some sun on a St. Petersburg beach. That's because Mayorga was expected to walk through Spinks on his way to a lucrative fight with Mosley in March.
But somehow, Spinks found a way to beat Mayorga and suddenly, Mosley no longer had a March opponent and everything appeared to be ruined. Plans were shattered, promises broken, money was lost. The wife cried, the dog howled and the kids were sent to bed early.
How can this happen?
Then an idea occurred to someone important.
Hey, what about Ronald "Winky" Wright? I don't think he's got any big plans for March.
Winky, who was free in March, owes Cory a friendly slap on the back.
So what does the March 13 fight between Mosley and Wright (on HBO) at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas mean?
Just about everything if you weigh 154 and hold a world title belt.
It means Winky finally gets the big-money, big-name fight that could define his career, the fight he's been chasing since his controversial majority-decision loss to Fernando Vargas in 1999.
It means Gary Shaw, Mosley's promoter, also deserves a little pat on the back for somehow putting this fight together.
It means for the first time in 29 years, you'll only have to know one name when the bar talk turns to who the best junior-middleweight fighter in the world is.
It means Mosley better arrive at the gym early and leave late. He's not fighting the awkward banger he'd be facing in Mayorga. While Mayorga knows how to slug, Wright knows how to box.
It means Wright doesn't have to pack his passport the day he leaves for the fight. He won't have to hire an interpreter, change his currency, drive on the left side or learn how to eat and pronounce strange food. Of Wright's 49 fights, 20 have required extra paperwork and extra-long plane rides. He's fought in eight different countries and on four different continents.
No wonder no one over here knows who Winky Wright is.
Finally, this fight means that with the right money and for the right reasons, two guys in the same weight class holding different world titles, can come to an understanding that meeting inside the ring to decide who is the real champion makes all the sense in the world.
The sad thing is, it took an upset by another fighter in a different weight class - Spinks - to finally make it happen.
In a recent Associated Press wire story, McCain was described as "an avid critic of spending for lawmakers' pet projects."
One of the great curiosities of McCain's campaign to slip through Congress his own pet project, the expensive ($36 million over five years), ineffectual, and perhaps unconstitutional Professional Boxing Amendments Act (to federalize control of boxing) has been his outright refusal to include television entities - by far the most powerful and influential forces in the sport - among those which would fall under regulatory jurisdiction.
Critics have cried foul - and they've had a point. If networks are going to control the balance of power, define the major 'players', put fighters under contract, and in some cases actually assume the 'de facto' role of a promoter, they are receiving unequal and unfair protection vis-a-vis the promoters in boxing who are actually required to be licensed and regulated.
However, McCain has been resolute about maintaining this protection, avoiding all opportunities to adjust or amend the bill to accommodate the reality of the industry, not to mention Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who had previously introduced legislation that would provide some oversight of networks when they play a promotional role. McCain has been nothing short of combative on occasion, "calling out" Reid in press conferences, and in correspondence he has leaked to the public.
Why is McCain so stubborn? Part of the reason lies in a mode of political operation that has become imbedded in the man itself, despite countless "spins" to the contrary.
What is common knowledge inside the Beltway, but not necessarily among average boxing fans, is that while McCain has carefully crafted an image as a reformer railing against special interests, he has developed a talent that is much more acute, as one of the very best in the business at feeding from the corporate trough.
He has been slick enough to parlay his coziness with corporate interests into political capital, resulting in lots of money coming his way for campaigns. And his public relations apparatus, which has included many highly-cooperative writers, both in and out of sports, has enabled him to avoid having to discuss the considerable influence special interest groups have had on the drafting and development of McCain's boxing bill - the same types of groups he would purport to be thwarting in the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (otherwise known as McCain-Feingold), which, at the end of the day, amounts to little more than a rather brazen attempt to protect his own incumbency and that of other elected officials.
Campaign finance records available through the website OpenSecrets.org indicate that, for example, during 1999, the third-highest contributor to what, at the time, was McCain's insurgent run at the Republican presidential nomination was Viacom ($47,750), which controls a number of TV outlets, including Showtime, which has a major investment in boxing.
The top eight corporate contributors to McCain's "Straight Talk America" political action committee from 1997-2002 included three companies that would be affected, one way or another, by the way McCain's bill was shaped - Viacom, AT&T (which controlled cable outlets and sold pay-per-view boxing events), and AOL Time Warner (which owns HBO, boxing's most powerful single entity).
And as for McCain's last U.S. Senate campaign, waged in 1998, the list of his top fifty corporate donors is replete with entities who have a substantial stake in boxing, and which have a "special interest" in avoiding the regulatory blanket - Viacom (3rd - $55,250), AT&T (4th - $51,563), NBC/General Electric (20th - $19,500), Fox/News Corp. (22nd - $19,050), Time Warner (T43rd - $12,000), and Univision (T43rd - $12,000), not to mention Anheuser-Busch (5th -$51,563), a company in which McCain has considerable financial interests, both individually (he has reported at least a half-million dollars in debentures) and through his family (which controls the largest distributorship in Arizona), and which over the past two decades has been boxing most prominent sponsor, with nearly all of that advertising delivered through television.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which McCain chairs and under whose domain the boxing bill falls, is heavily courted by companies with interests in the sport. For the six-year cycle between 1995-2000, the top committee-related contributors to committee members include: AT&T ($369,960), Time-Warner ($249,585), Viacom ($167,654), the Walt Disney Company, which owns ESPN ($147,758), and the National Cable Television Association ($129,101).
Noted boxing promoters like Don King, Bob Arum, Cedric Kushner, Main Events, Duva Boxing, Gary Shaw or DiBella Entertainment do not appear on that list; apparently there was not enough in the way of donations to rise in McCain's pecking order.
Despite his well-cultivated "reformer" image, McCain has time and again demonstrated that he is a creature of corporate America and a bedfellow of corporate lobbyists. His leveraging efforts have been particularly remarkable, and he's utilized his position on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - first as the ranking Republican and now as chair - to extract hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporations he has regulatory power over.
McCain, who through his campaign finance measure is regarded by many First Amendment advocates as no friend of free speech, is notorious for freezing out consumer groups who would like to present their cases to his committee but who have not lavished him with campaign donations. According to a February 2000 story in the New York Press, representatives of corporations - the lion's share of which are directly tied to McCain's campaign war chests - out-number such consumer-interest groups by a 10-to-1 margin when it comes to appearances at committee hearings.
The causative links between campaign donations and special favors have become a McCain trademark. In 1999, after McCain-authored legislation to allow satellite TV companies to carry local programming in each market, which had previously been prohibited, was approved by his committee, one of the players who stood to experience a resulting windfall - EchoStar Communications - held a huge fund-raiser for McCain's presidential campaign.
During the 2000 primary season, as word came down that McCain was pressuring the Federal Communications Commission to act on a license transfer in favor of Paxson Communications, a company that had, to that date, "coordinated" $20,000 in contributions for his run at the nomination and treated him to many free flights on its corporate jet, his then-opponent, George W. Bush, was moved to remark, "I think somebody who makes campaign financing an issue has got to be consistent and walk the walk."
Of course, one understands McCain's pattern of behavior more vividly upon an examination into his central role in the infamous "Keating Five" scandal, one of history's most naked examples of politicians exerting special levels of influence for the sake of large campaign contributors.
Charles Keating Jr., who owned the Lincoln Savings & Loan Association and was a major presence in Arizona, was under investigation by authorities - specifically the Federal Home Loan Bank Board - for making investments of such a speculative nature that they put at risk the government-insured money of depositors. Keating took issue with the premise of the investigation, and wanted the regulators off his back. He had, between 1982 and 1987, stuffed the campaign coffers of five United States Senators - John Glenn of Ohio, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, Alan Cranston of California, Don Riegle of Michigan, and McCain - to the tune of $1.4 million.
At the same time, McCain family members, including his wife and father-in-law, were the chief investors in the Fountain Square Shopping Center, controlled and managed by Keating, with a stake estimated at $359,000. McCain and his family were also frequent vacation guests of Keating - traveling at Keating's expense on Keating's private jet to the resort Keating owned at Cat Cay in the Bahamas - at least nine times in all. Surely there were interests to protect on more than one front.
Although he later claimed to be very reluctant in doing so, McCain nonetheless couldn't resist in joining with his four Senate colleagues in April of 1987 to pressure regulators to end their investigation of Keating, which had been ongoing for two years. The regulators later testified that they felt intimidated by McCain's group, which was tagged the "Keating Five".
To illustrate the justification of the investigation, the S&L controlled by McCain's friend Keating busted out, ruining thousands of investors and costing taxpayers $3.4 billion in bailouts, the worst hit in the entire saving and loan scandal.
There was also more than one call within his home state of Arizona for McCain to resign.
During this particular period in his career, McCain was hardly interested in raising the issue of campaign finance reform. In fact, quite the contrary - he resisted it at every turn and resisted others who made an effort in that direction. According to a December 8, 1987 story in the Phoenix Gazette
, "So why has Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., gone to unprecedented lengths to block reform of the Senate campaign finance system? Why does he oppose letting this important matter even come to a vote? Perhaps it's because he is a prime beneficiary of the special interest funding of congressional elections. McCain raised over $2.5 million for his 1986 election . . . more than $760,000 of his campaign funds came from political action committee (PACs) . . . especially disturbing are the contributions to McCain's campaign coffers from PACs outside of Arizona."
And McCain simply embarrassed himself when his family's investment deals with Keating were uncovered. In September of 1989, as he was questioned about them by the Arizona Republic, he called the reporter "a liar" and denounced his efforts as "irresponsible journalism". When pressed later, he told the same reporter, "That's the spouse's involvement, you idiot."
In ultimately protecting one of their own, the Senate Select Committee on Ethics asserted McCain broke no laws, but did say this about the man who is now the self-professed "champion of campaign finance reform":
"Mr. Keating, his associates, and his friends contributed $56,000 for Senator McCain's two House races in 1982 and 1984, and $54,000 for his 1986 Senate race. Mr. Keating also provided his corporate plane and/or arranged for payment for the use of commercial or private aircraft on several occasions for travel by Senator McCain and his family, for which Senator McCain ultimately provided reimbursement when called upon to do so. Mr. Keating also allowed Senator McCain and his family to vacation with Mr. Keating and his family, at a home provided by Mr. Keating in the Bahamas, in each of the calendar years 1983 through 1986........"
According to a Time magazine story in December of 1999, " He (McCain) denounces big-spending special interests and yet accepts flights on corporate jets; he puts the speaker of the Arizona house of representatives on his campaign payroll despite a flurry of ethics charges around him; he neglects to recuse himself from debates about measures that would affect his family beer business."
Yet the writers, Nancy Gibbs and John F. Dickerson, insist, "But a funny thing happened on the way to his deathbed conversion (to campaign reformer): he really reformed."
McCain's posture toward television interests in the process of crafting the boxing bill would strongly suggest otherwise.
On a personal note, as I reviewed some of the material for this story, my mind regressed to a couple of years ago, as I was compiling the investigative report "A Commission Run Amok", which dealt with the Florida State Athletic Commission.
At the time, Mike Scionti, the commission's former executive director, was awaiting a hearing on ethics charges. He had been embroiled in a firestorm of controversy that eventually led to his firing by Governor Jeb Bush, over what was considered to be highly improper conduct while in office. A non-profit organization - a charity for youth - that the commission had established and Scionti had spearheaded, accepted a large donation from promoter Don King, after which Scionti had sought to change a commission regulation about promotional contracts that would have benefited King.
There was no evidence that any money went into Scionti's pocket directly, or that it went to furthering any personal agenda of Scionti's - public relations-related or otherwise. Meanwhile, McCain had gone to bat, more aggressively and, by all accounts, with a much heavier hand, on behalf of entities that plowed money into his election campaigns and to political action committees that were designed to promote McCain's political objectives - in many respects creating a higher public profile for the senator, which has in turn spawned media coverage, book sales, and even more political donations.
And I'm saying to myself, isn't what McCain has done more devoid of an ethical foundation than what Scionti did? And are there not 500 others engaged in the same ballgame as McCain - albeit not as skillfully - on Capitol Hill?
The stories you hear about boxing people pale by comparison. If state boxing regulators conducted business in the same manner as McCain has conducted his business in Congress, would I not have been able to write about twenty "Operation Cleanup" books by now?
And given those parameters, at what price would we be placing the sport into the hands of politicians like him?
As one writer put it, "The John McCain of old should be thankful that his political fate wasn't determined by John McCain the reformer."
I would suggest McCain's nothing more than an old dog who could care less about learning new tricks.
But before we go full speed ahead to 2004, let's look back on what we've witnessed the past 12 months in the game of boxing.
And what we've found out is that sometimes the sports highlights, were also it's lowlights. Oftentimes, they were one in the same.
HIGHLIGHT: Vitali Klitschko's valiant performance against Lennox Lewis.
Coming in as a late replacement for Kirk Johnson, Klitschko would give the heavyweight champion all he could handle for six rounds before the fight was halted because of a grotesque cut over his left eye. In fighting so well and bravely against Lewis, he not only changed the perception of himself, but off his whole fighting family. The Klitschko name had been redeemed.
LOWLIGHT: Lennox Lewis's behavior with HBO's Larry Merchant after that fight.
Lewis has been a very respectable and representative champion during his reign. But he acted like a downright brat in his post-fight interview with Larry Merchant on live television. When confronted with the truth, he tried to hijack the interview by yanking the microphone away from Merchant, who had to hold on for dear life. During the bout he looked like a fading fighter on a bad night. Afterwords, he looked like an infant in need of a timeout.
HIGHLIGHT: Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward complete their thrilling trilogy.
Gatti and Ward had a lot to live up to when they met for the third time this past June. And live up to it they did, in a fight with momentum shifts and a constantly changing ebb-and-flow. Gatti would overcome a damaged right hand to win a hard-fought ten round decision. It was a fitting conclusion to one of the games great rivalries and the career of Ward, who called it a day on a proud career.
LOWLIGHT: There will be no more Gatti-Ward in the future.
Which may actually be a good thing, because I'm not sure they could handle anymore of each other. But boxing will miss this rivalry.
HIGHLIGHT: Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley rematch.
It's always good for the business of boxing when 'the Golden Boy' engages in a mega-fight. The interest is high- even among the usually apathetic general media- boxing becomes the showcase event in the world of sports and everyone involved: from the fighters, to the promoters, the pay-per-view outlets and casino's make money.
LOWLIGHT: De La Hoya's and Arum's reaction to the decision in that fight.
It's one thing to think that you won a close fight, it's even acceptable to complain about the decision. But the manner in which both Oscar and his promoter cast aspersions on the judges and Nevada State Athletic Commission, were low blows of the Andrew Golota variety. Luckily for them, they were only given light slaps on the wrists for their irresponsible and incendiary comments.
But the bottom line is they both hurt the sport with their allegations and the fact that more than one media outlet ran with their quotes, further hurt boxing's reputation.
HIGHLIGHT: Roy Jones makes history
In defeating John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight belt, Jones became the first middleweight in over a hundred years to win a heavyweight crown. This fight also did very well, registering over 500,000 pay-per-view buys, which is always a good sign for the industry.
LOWLIGHT: Jones' indecisiveness after that win.
Jones had all the momentum in the world after his win over Ruiz, but instead of capitalizing on it, he tried to pinch pennies with Evander Holyfield, threw out astronomical numbers for a fight with Mike Tyson( which is a loooong ways from ever happening) and then had to settle for a rather non-descript fight back at light heavyweight against Antonio Tarver.
HIGHLIGHT- Toney turns the 'Lights Out' on Holyfield
James Toney had seemingly been in exile since his embarrassing loss to Roy Jones in 1994. But he came back strong in 2003 with wins over Vassiliy Jirov and then a stoppage of Evander Holyfield, which stamped his entrance into the heavyweight division. The game can always use a few good big men and who cares if that comes in the form of former middleweights like Toney and Jones.
LOWLIGHTS: Holyfield isn't retiring.
'The Real Deal' maintained that he wouldn't retire till he won the undisputed title or got his hat handed to him. Well, after this bout it was evident that the former wasn't happening and the latter did. But like most other great fighters, they are the last to know when it's time to call it a day.
HIGHLIGHT: 'Pac Man' gobbles up Barrera.
It's always shocking and uplifting when a fighter bursts onto the scene and elevates himself the way Manny Pacquiao did against Marco Antonio Barrera this past November. Barrera, had universal acclaim as one of the sports premiere pound-for-pound performers. Pacquiao, while a respected fighter, was thought to be just a notable opponent for Barrera.
Instead, Barrera would get blitzed by the all-out, frenetic attack of the Filipino. Barrera would be simply overwhelmed by the punches of Pacquiao and his corner would have to rescue him from the onslaught of the southpaw in the eleventh round.
LOWLIGHT: Murad Muhammad allegedly gobbles up Pacquiao.
This was mentioned prominently on the HBO broadcast that out of the $700,000 license fee given to Pacquiao's promoter, Murad Muhammad, only about $300,000 had gone to the fighter. And that was before the money was cut up in various ways.
Once source close to the situation tells me that after all was said and done, Pacquiao, wound up with about $80,000. It looks like he may have taken a worse beating than the one he gave out.
HIGHLIGHT: Johnny Tapia comes out of a coma in January.
You gotta hand it to Tapia, most guys take standing eight counts, this little guy takes mandatory flat lines, this is about the third or fourth time he's been close to dead only to come off the canvas. Once again after another relapse in drugs, he would be in an intensive care unit battling for his life. As friends, family and loved ones surrounded him, he would beat the odds once again to walk out of the hospital and fight again.
LOWLIGHTS: Tapia reportedly overdoses in December.
Tapia swears that he did not overdose, but rather took some cold medication that he had an allergic reaction to. Uh, ok, sure, whatever you guys say. But do they have to insult everyone's intelligence, here? Isn't it time that Tapia got some real help for his problems?
Obviously, both are over statements. Regardless of whether or not you like Tyson or Jones, or their fighting style, they must be given their due props. Tyson was a great heavyweight. Not one of the top ten of all time in my opinion, but none the less, he was a great heavyweight fighter. As far as Jones, he is not the greatest pound-for-pound fighter ever, but he is among them.
The same thing applies to Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko. I have found the reaction of some fans and writers is the same as it is with Tyson and Jones. When the Klitschko's are brought up and discussed, one of two themes evolves. Either they are both going to go down as two of the greatest and most dominant heavyweight champs in history. Or, they are both stiffs highlighting that Vitali is tough, but not skilled enough, and Wladimir is skilled, but doesn't have a sturdy chin. Again, both are over statements in my opinion.
There is no doubt that both Vitali and Wladimir are very formidable, and are forces to be reckoned with in today's heavyweight division. Most of the time when the Klitschko brothers are mentioned, it's their physical size that dominates the discussion? That's not how I see them. Yes, they are both big and strong, but I'm not from the school of thought that endorses the bigger is better myth. As far as I'm concerned, any true heavyweight is big enough to beat any of the so called big heavyweights currently fighting. And this has played itself out many times over. I actually believe that some of todays heavyweights are too big, and their size hinders and restricts their overall fighting ability.
One of the things I do love about both Klitschko's, but I never hear it mentioned, is their complete and total dedication to boxing and their willingness to learn and get better. Those are two traits that are sorely lacking in many of today's fighters, regardless of what weight division they campaign in. The Klitschko's are strictly business. They take boxing seriously and are well aware of its dangers. I'll bet their coaches and trainers can't recall the last time they missed a morning run, or had to be coaxed to go an extra round sparring or on the heavy bag.
That type of mind set puts them at a huge advantage over a majority of their heavyweight counterparts. It's quite obvious to me that these two guys really do eat, sleep, and drink boxing. They both have a goal, and that is to be heavyweight champion of the world. If it is never realized, it won't be due to a lack of effort on their part. These two guys don't squander any of their talent or abilities. What ever is in them, they get out.
This time last year it was wildly perceived that Wladimir was better than Vitali. Most felt this way because Wlad is the better boxer with quicker hands and better mobility. The perception of Wladimir being the better of the two fighters came crashing down on March 8th of this year.
When Corrie Sanders stopped Wladimir in the second round en-route to capturing his WBO title, The Wlad bandwagon lost its wheels. In the interim, older brother Vitali took the worlds best heavyweight, Lennox Lewis, to hell and back before being stopped in between the sixth and seventh rounds due to a severely cut eye. Since fighting Lewis for the title, Vitali has fought once. In that fight, he scored a devastating knockout over top contender Kirk Johnson in the second round. Since losing to Sanders, Wladimir has won two straight. Scoring knockouts over third tier heavyweights Fabio Moli and Dannell Nicholson.
As we enter the year 2004, Vitali is now viewed as the top heavyweight contender in the world and Wladimir is ranked somewhere between sixth and tenth. Great things are expected from both Vitali and Wladimir in the new year. The pressure is on both of them from their fans to at least win a piece of the heavyweight title. Some have even placed unwarranted pressure on them by making outlandish predictions declaring that they're both unbeatable, something we already know is not even close to being true or realistic. In fact, some have even gone as far as to say that they will both eclipse the accomplishments of Lennox Lewis. That I seriously doubt, but we'll see?
The Klitschko's do bring a lot to the ring, and it will take a damn good fighter to defeat either one of them in the new year. But don't think it can't happen. Wladimir is very skilled and he can hit. However, I still question his chin. I know in the heavyweight division that any fighter can get caught and stopped, but I can't get it out of my head totally that I'll never see him punched around the ring again like he was by Corrie Sanders. Even in his fight with Jamel McCline, Wladimir was only aggressive because McCline was just fighting enough to survive. But, I saw that when McCline did go on the offensive and got brave, Wladimir backed away. Some may say this is smart, but to me it's a mind set. A mind set that may suggest that he doesn't have the confidence needed to go to the next level. That being said, I believe Wladimir is a fighter that is more than good enough to win a piece of the title in today's heavyweight division. How much more than that can he accomplish, I'm not sure.
Vitali is an imposing fighter both physically and strategically. His huge size and strength will give most heavyweights a fit. On top of that he has shown to be extremely awkward and tough. His awkwardness and size alone will carry him past most of today's top heavyweights. His weakness is his lack of speed and that he can be out boxed. However, the boxer who can out box him must also posses strength and toughness, a combination that only Lennox Lewis seems to have. I see Vitali beating many of the worlds best heavies due to his size and how he utilizes it. Outside of Lewis, Vitali may very well be the most difficult fighter in the division to beat.
In 2004, I expect to see one of the Klitschko's capture a piece of the heavyweight title. Of the two brothers, I tend to think it will be Wladimir before Vitali. This is mainly due to my believing that we'll see Vitali fight a rematch with Lennox Lewis sometime in the first half of the new year. Since I think Lewis will beat Vitali and then retire, it would seem that Wladimir would get the next shot.
The Klitschko brothers are both outstanding heavyweight fighters and deserve to be ranked among the best heavyweights in the world at this time. However, they are not the saviours of boxing or the heavyweight division that some have tried to paint them as being. And they are certainly not unbeatable. Especially since they've both already been defeated and stopped.
Overall, I think they are good for the flagship division in boxing. I respect their dedication and desire. They respect boxing and take it serious which is commendable. They are definitely a threat to beat any active heavyweight on any given night. I do think it's quite possible that Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko have their best nights in the ring in front of them. They will hoist a heavyweight title belt over their head down the road. That I'm sure most boxing and Klitschko fans can agree on.
What I don't agree with is that either one of them will go down as all time great heavyweight champions. As skilled as they are, it is unlikely that they'll ever be mentioned in the same vain as the legendary champions of the past. In fact, I don't think either one of them will ever go on to accomplish what Lennox Lewis has from 1993-2003. They are both outstanding fighters and not the cumbersome clods that some have tried to pass them off as being. They also are not the second coming of Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali!
I tend to look at both brothers in the framework of themselves, and when you do it that way, there are some things to criticize. However, when you compare them with what's out there, they rate very high, and probably match up favorably with everybody except a fit and determined Lewis.
Last week Vargas took on, and dispatched, veteran Tony Marshall, 5 months after having had a bit of trouble with the very awkward Canadian Fitz Vanderpool. Versus Vanderpool, Vargas struggled with his timing and at times seemed unable to put his combinations together like he used to. While Marshall wasn't much of a step up from Vanderpool, in reality a step down coming in having lost 4 of 6 fights, Vargas still found himself on the receiving end of too many blows.
One thing that a lot of people forget about the Oxnard, California fighter is that he is only 25 years old. That is young. The two beatings Vargas took were to the two best fighters in his division, Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya. They were both incredibly entertaining bouts that had "El Feroz" taking on a bit more than he could chew. After being knocked down for the first time in his career in the very first round of the Trinidad bout, Vargas came back to drop Tito in 4th round. Eventually the punishing shots of Trinidad took their toll and Vargas was dropped, dropped and dropped again in the 12th and final round as ref Jay Nady finally stopped the bout. Vargas showed incredible will and determination to keep coming back and, in losing, gained even more admirers for the way he went down with all guns blazing.
After the fight he made some very intelligent comments to the effect that he was in the "hurt business" and that many great champions before him had lost and been knocked down, so why not him. Quite mature, and this was coming from a 22-year old boxer. Kinda makes you stop for a minute to digest: Fernando Vargas was 22 when he took on the best fighter in his division, a fighter among the best pound-for-pound in the world. Lesson learned, boys shouldn't run with the men.
In the fight with De La Hoya the two California boxers finally met after years of Vargas calling out Oscar as often as he could. De La Hoya came with the name, the money, and years of experience under his title belts. Vargas came with a chip on his shoulder and the Trinidad memory pushed to the back of his mind a mere two fights after that loss. Since the beating he took at the hands of Trinidad was exactly that - a beating - it just didn't make sense for Vargas to challenge the Golden Boy so soon, but it did make dollars and cents.
After a strong start by Vargas, De La Hoya eventually took control of the fight and dropped Fernando from an accumulation of punches. The fight was stopped again, this time by Joe Cortez, with Vargas on the ropes eating punches. Oscar was able to let his fists do the talking in the ring whereas Vargas ran his mouth before the fight. No shame in losing to Oscar De La Hoya, of course, but it was another lesson learned for Vargas. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
Having witnessed the past two fights on Vargas' resume it appears he still has a long way to go to make it to the top, if he ever does again. His combinations are not flowing like they used to, his menacing attitude a bit dented, and he is simply getting hit too often. In moving from Vanderpool to Marshall it appears that Fernando Vargas and his team have learned a valuable lesson, albeit the hard way. Slow and steady just may win the race, and the race is long.
Note: Have to give props to Vargas as he continues to give back. A week after the Marshall fight Vargas was back in Oxnard, California handing out 2,000 Christmas gifts to economically disadvantaged children, something he has done now for six straight years.
I was thinking about this a few days ago, I've gotten gifts for all my loved ones, family and friends( and I must admit, I did pick up a few things for myself), but what would I get for those in the game of boxing?
If I could play boxing's Kris Kringle, this is what I would put under the Christmas tree for those in boxing.
- Fernando Vargas: A good back. It's hard to imagine a guy who's supposed to be in his physical prime having back problems, but that's exactly the case with 'El Feroz', who just recently had to pull out of his February 21st date with Javier Castillejo.
While he may never be an elite fighter, like Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad or Shane Mosley, Vargas has always held his own with anyone he's ever fought. Love him or hate him, he makes for great theater and drama. The interest he has generated as an ant-hero has benefited the sport.
- Shane Mosley: The sense to take a 40-60 split with De La Hoya for a third bout. Mosley says that nothing less than an even split will be acceptable to him for another go-around with 'the Golden Boy' because of his two wins over him.
Sorry, but that's misguided. The bottom line is that Mosley still isn't the box-office draw that De La Hoya is- never will be, in fact- and another fight with De La Hoya still represents the most lucrative bout out there for him.
Bernard Hopkins: Some sanity. Now, I'm not saying he's gone totally insane or anything like that. To the contrary, his mind and mouth are among the sharpest in the game. But sometimes it seems that he out-thinks himself and doesn't know, what he doesn't know.
Which has led to him turning down multi-million dollar fights in exchange for making about three hundred grand against William Joppy. Leading folks to think that maybe he has lost his mind.
Vitaly Klitschko: A rematch with Lennox Lewis. Based on recent events and the mediocre nature of the heavyweight class, there's no doubt that Klitschko is the number one contender to Lewis title.
He was doing pretty well before his first bout with Lewis was halted due to a grotesque cut over his left eye in June. Coming off a two round blowout of Kirk Johnson a few weeks ago, he deserves a second crack at Lewis.
- Manny Pacquiao: A new promoter. The whispers keep growing louder and louder that Pacquiao, coming off his demolition of Marco Antonio Barrera, is being ripped off blind by Murad Muhammad. And it's not the first time these types of allegations have been levied against him regarding 'the Pac Man'.
No fighter, ever, ever, deserves to be skimmed off of.
- The Middleweight Division: Someone to challenge Bernard Hopkins. Right now, this tradition laden class begins and ends with one man- Bernard Hopkins. Who despite his advanced age could seemingly make 30 title defenses. And it's not only because of how good he is- he is among the all-time greats in that division- but also the reality is that this division is shallower than Paris Hilton.
Look at the rest of the contenders in this class: Howard Eastman, Robert Allen( who's already been stopped by Hopkins), Rodney Jones, Sergey Tatevosyan, Carl Daniels( who was also halted by 'the Executioner), Felix Strum, Kingsley Ikeke and William Joppy( the latest victim).
Where have you gone Wilford Scypion, Mustafa Hamsho and Juan Roldon?
- David Tua: An ab machine and running shoes. He can say whatever he wants, but the 'Tuaman' was much more effective when his weight hovered around 225, but as his weight has creeped up north of 240, he's morphed into a one-dimensional, plodding and predictable heavyweight.
Just move six inches on him and you neutralize his vaunted left hook. Tua is susceptible to being out-boxed by anyone in the top 20.
- Ricardo Williams: Some discipline and maturity. From the day that Williams- a silver medalist in the 2000 Olympics- signed his $1.6 million dollar signing bonus, Williams has been anything but a pro.
His professional career has been marked by laziness, indifference and general apathy. Someone needs to get it through to him that the real work begins after signing a big promotional contract. The work is just beginning, but will he ever realize that?
- John Ruiz: An attractive retirement package. Not only for his benefit, but really for ours. I mean, c'mon, how many of you out there would mind if you never had to sit through one of 'the Quiet Man's' fights ever again?
Didn't think so.
- Derrick Gainer: Membership in the federal witness protection program. Again, this one's for us, too. But really for him. I mean after his pathetic showing against Juan Manuel Marquez in November, it would take a lot of gall to show himself in public ever again.
But I heard that he was at Roy Jones' fight against Antonio Tarver a week later. Geez, if he would've only shown that much guts against Marquez.
- Bob Arum: A gift decision on his behalf. Now, I don't usually want to bestow bad decisions on anyone, but I'm doing this so that Arum can stop crying foul every time a close verdict goes against him.
To see him call boxing a 'sewer sport' and totally denounce it after Mosley's second win over De La Hoya this past September, after all the success he's had in this game was disgraceful. Arum, has been a Hall-of-Famer promoter, his contributions to the game can not be discounted, but the allegations that he levied in the aftermath of Mosley-De La Hoya II was disturbing.
- Joel Casamayor: Recognition as the games best 130-pounder. Since beating Casamayor in a close bout in January of 2002, Acelino Freitas has taken on the likes of Daniel Attah, Juan Carlos Ramirez and Jorge Barrios- not exactly 'Murderer's Row' if you ask me. To top if off, 'Popo' has steadfastly stayed away from a rematch like a swinging bachelor shies away from commitment.
On the flip side, the crafty Cuban faced the likes of the unbeaten Nate Campbell and then the ever dangerous Diego Corrales in back to back fights, winning both. Now, Freitas is moving up to lightweight. Which makes this an easy call: Casamayor is the games best jr. lightweight.
- Floyd Mayweather: A new start. 'the Pretty Boy' was on the fast track for stardom just a few years. Armed with God-given talent, a bright smile and the promotional push of Top Rank, Mayweather looked to be the bookend superstar alongside De La Hoya.
But in late 1999, things took a change for the worse. Mayweather scoffed at a six fight- $12 million deal from HBO, calling them 'slave wages', he would then hook up with rap mogul James Prince, which caused a division with his father Floyd Sr. that exists to this day. In the meantime his relationship with Arum and his company became strained to say the least.
All the while his public perception plummeted and stories of run-ins with either the law or the public, became more and more commonplace. The star had risen, and now it was falling like Enron stock.
But as we look to 2004, gone is Prince from his professional career, and according to Arum so is his surly attitude of the past few years. Arum, hopes to be able to undue the damage that Mayweather had inflicted on his career.
Mayweather has all the talent in the world. His toughest opponent has been himself.
- To all boxing fans: Great fights and unforgettable memories in 2004. Fans are the life blood of any business. Lets hope the fans are treated to a year of fantastic match-ups and even better fights.
Undisputed middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins says Ronald "Winky" Wright is next on his dance card, though no one is printing up any tickets yet.
Following his recent 12-round thrashing of William Joppy, Hopkins said he hopes to fight Wright - the IBF junior-middleweight champ - some time before next summer.
He's kidding, right?
"Next year, Winky Wright is my top priority," Hopkins was quoted as saying by Fightnews. "His people can contact my people right now."
My people are having a hard time swallowing it.
"Winky is the only one calling Bernard Hopkins out," said Bernard Hopkins. "Winky is willing to step in and risk his career and status as a top fighter. That gives me respect for Winky."
Winky is also risking life and limb, but it's about time he had a big payday. That's what he's in this game for. You don't fight pro for its emotional rewards. If you're not in it for the money, you shouldn't be in it at all.
If Hopkins is true to his word, Wright would be paid handsomely for his foray into the raging world of "The Executioner." And it's about time Wright shared the bright lights and top billing with an icon. He's been banging on the door of big-name fighters - including Oscar De La Hoya - begging for a fight for about a year now, yet no one but Hopkins has actually said he'll throw the door open.
Still, you keep thinking it must be a mistake, a mean joke on the part of Hopkins. Fight Winky Wright? Sure, as soon as Mickey Mouse admits his coke addiction.
Why does it sound like a joke? Because Wright can't be that lucky. It'd be like the Cubs winning the Series, Screech marrying a beauty queen, Barney making Sheriff.
Wright has been riding this Rodney Dangerfield "I don't get no respect," train for so long, is he sure he wants to get off?
You bet he does.
And if Hopkins doesn't keep his word, what about Shane Mosley? There's a guy in dire need of a fist fight. He was supposed to face Ricardo Mayorga on March 13 on pay-per-view. Big money, big opportunity, big hoopla.
But Mayorga was also supposed to beat Cory Spinks last week. Funny isn't it, how the best laid plans of mice and,well, you know the spiel.
Wright would seem to be the ideal fight for Mosley because he holds the WBC and WBA junior-middleweight titles, and it would seem a natural for Mosley to want to snag that last fat belt for his trophy case. Besides, the title "undisputed junior-middleweight champion of the world," has a certain rare charm to it. Oscar never held that title.
So why are Mosley's people talking to Antonio Margarito's people? The WBO welterweight champ, Margarito is an excellent fighter, but his name isn't going to sell in Sheboygan. Besides that, he's scheduled to fight Hercules Kyvelos on Jan. 31. Suppose he loses? And even if he wins, how soon would he be ready to fight Mosley?
Meanwhile, Winky Wright has an open calendar. Call him collect.
Along with Mayorga, Shane Mosley was also a big loser as he was slated to face the wild Nicaraguan on March 13th on a big pay-per-view show. 'El Matador' lost two belts, Mosley lost a big fight and maybe some leverage in negotiations for a third bout with Oscar De La Hoya.
Now, not only is Shane without a fight on the immediate horizon, it could hinder him in negotiating a third bout. It was thought that a win over Mayorga could be used as a bargaining chip for Mosley and his camp. As for De La Hoya, he'll always have lucrative fights at his disposal.
" With De La Hoya, it doesn't effect him at all but with Mosley, he was looking to fight Mayorga, which was the biggest fight out there for him," said Bob Arum, who represents 'the Golden Boy'." And now, I don't know who he fights for an impact fight."
And Arum says that even if Mosley would have faced Mayorga and looked impressive, it may not have helped his cause financially.
" If he had fought Mayorga and had done incredible( pay-per-view) numbers, then it might have effected it or if it had done lousy numbers, that would have effected it," explained Arum, who makes it clear, the bottom line for any fighters market value has nothing to do with the quality of their performances." This is a business, this is a lot of non-sense about,' He looked great and therefore he's enhanced his value' That's not the case."
And while Team Mosley plots out another course of action, Oscar's only real decision is who, what, when and where he fights. But you know he'll be in a big fight against someone, somewhere. It's 'the Golden Rule' of boxing. The real question is when we'll see him again.
" We don't know yet," answered Arum, when asked of De La Hoya's return to the ring, which many people have speculated will not be till November of 2004." He's due back in right before Christmas and we'll be talking to him and we'll ascertain then exactly what his plans are. So I can't really fairly answer that question, where he will or he wont, because that's when it's scheduled to be discussed."
And with Oscar a multitude of options will always be available, from a Fernando Vargas, to a Bernard Hopkins, Winky Wright or even a Felix Trinidad( hey, you never know, rumors are beginning to come out), Oscar can pick and choose. Shane, simply doesn't have that luxury.
He needed a Mayorga victory about as badly as Mayorga did. With such a big fight at stake, why did Don King risk this payday for his fighter and himself by putting the raw Mayorga in with the tricky Spinks? Yeah, sure Mayorga beat Vernon Forrest twice, but Spinks is a dreaded, slick, stinky, southpaw that can make the most technically sound boxers look like rank amateurs. Remember, styles make fights, and this style was all wrong for Mayorga.
Spinks' father was the mercurial 'Neon' Leon and his uncle Michael was one of the all-time greats at light heavyweight. While Michael was nicknamed 'the Spinks Jinx' for his power, his nephew should be dubbed 'the Spinks Stynx' because that's exactly what he can do- stink out the joint if he pleases.
Sources say that King's veteran matchmaker Bobby Goodman was squarely against this match-up. Hell, Ray Charles could have seen that Mayorga was going to have difficulty with Spinks. Eventually, he would lose a majority decision to the native of St. Louis, who believe it or not, is now the undisputed welterweight champion of the world.
But back to Mosley, so what exactly is his next move?
Do they face the crafty Spinks? Doubt it, I don't think Mosley himself is in any mood to face a left-hander at this point.
How 'bout Vernon Forrest? Sorry like the Police Academy movies, we have a feeling that this series will get worse as they go on.
Winky Wright? Well, he turned down a million bucks to face Mosley a few years ago, will this fight be any easier to make now?
Then what about Fernando Vargas? Sorry, but it's clear that Main Events is positioning themselves for their own rematch with De La Hoya down the line.
Antonio Margarito? Not a bad choice, but Arum has plans to match him with Floyd Mayweather in 2004 and he is still a bit of an unknown commodity to boxing fans.
Bernard Hopkins, then? Sorry, but it says here that 'the Executioner', who butchered William Joppy this past weekend, is simply too big and strong for Mosley. Also, financially he may not bring in the type of dollars that justifies the risk they would be taking in facing the undisputed middleweight champion of the world.
Even though he hasn't fought yet, it seems that Mosley has already suffered his first loss of 2004.
Bernard Hopkins is the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. Hopkins is also a self managed free agent who is getting on in age for a world champion fighter. Hopkins believes now that he is a free agent, he will have more control over his career, and it will be easier to make a big fight involving him? I hope so, but I'm not so sure.
Unfortunately for Hopkins, he is caught in a Catch-22. He has totally cleaned out the middleweight division. There is no fighter currently fighting at 160 who wouldn't be a big underdog against Hopkins, including former Olympian Jermaine Taylor. Taylor has shown tremendous potential and may even be capable of staying with Hopkins, for a while. However, getting a win over Hopkins is quite a different story. I doubt that Taylor's management team wants to take a chance with Hopkins just yet.
I was ringside for Hopkins' fight versus both Felix Trinidad in September of 2001, and William Joppy in December of 2003. It's amazing how much of his ability that Hopkins has retained. He is no where close to a shot fighter, but he also is not quite the same fighter that took Trinidad apart back in 2001. That being said, he's still too dangerous for Jermaine Taylor. I'm sure the goal of Taylor and his management is to win the title, not just fight for it. They know Hopkins will not be around too much longer. All they have to do is bide their time and Taylor will get his shot to fight for and win the middleweight title.
What middleweight in the world when paired with Hopkins makes for a compelling fight, other than Taylor? And I'm not even sure that Taylor fits the bill? There are just no middleweights of note for Hopkins to fight. This is because of two factors. One, Hopkins is still a great all around fighter. Two, the middleweight division is at the same all-time low that the light heavyweight division is. This is a big problem for the self managed Hopkins. For him to get a big fight, he either has to challenge someone bigger than him, or lure a fighter lighter than him to move up in weight and fight for his title.
The two big names that have been mentioned as possible Hopkins opponents over the last couple years are Roy Jones and James Toney. The problem is they are just too big for Bernard. They are both greatly skilled fighters who are naturally bigger than him. Remember, Hopkins is conditioned so finely that he only has about 2-3% body fat. Bottom line, Jones and Toney are just too big for Hopkins, so forget about catch-weights. And the only way Bernard would even consider taking those fights is if he got purse parity, which will never happen. Why would Jones or Toney split the purse with Hopkins? It's not like they want to be the middleweight champ, something they've both already accomplished. Plus, there are plenty of other fights out there for both of them that would be worth more than a fight with Hopkins.
If Hopkins looks right above him at Super-Middleweight, there are three possible opponents. Joe Calzaghe 36-0, Sven Ottke 33-0, and Anthony Mundine 19-1, all current title holders. The problem with them is that neither of those fighters are household names, thus not being able to deliver Hopkins the Super-Fight that he so desperately covets. Although in reality, a fight with Calzaghe would generate some fan interest and should be considered a viable option. Calzaghe is undefeated and perceived to be possibly the best of the three 168 pound champs. And the Super-Middleweight title would only add to Hopkins legacy.
The two names that have been most recently thrown out as potential Hopkins foes are WBA junior middleweight champ Shane Mosley, and former champ Oscar De La Hoya. Hopkins has said that he'll put up his middleweight title and meet them at 156, two pounds above the junior middleweight limit. These fights make all the sense in the world for Mosley and De La Hoya. Both of them would be significant underdogs versus Hopkins and not expected to win. So if either Mosley or DeLaHoya beat Hopkins, it would be a monumental achievement for them. Where a loss wouldn't hurt them since they are both moving up in weight, again.
The only thing the names Mosley and De La Hoya could do for Hopkins is provide him a huge pay day. In a fight versus either one of them, does Hopkins have anything to gain other than money. If he won, which I haven't a single doubt that he would, it would be said over and over that he was supposed to. And if he lost, it would be said that he wasn't that great, and dominated a weak middleweight era?
Lets be realistic? Hopkins is too strong and good for De La Hoya. For De La Hoya to risk a shot at Hopkins, Hopkins must erode much more than he has. Mosley and his father know that Shane has nothing for Hopkins, and Mosley-Mayorga is still an intriguing fight. Trinidad says he's coming back, but he hasn't fought yet. Plus, he is too rusty to even consider a rematch with Hopkins anytime soon.
Saturday night I spoke to Tracy Byrd, manager of IBF heavyweight champ Chris Byrd. She said there has been some talk of Chris fighting Antonio Tarver in his next fight. So with fights versus the top junior middleweights and light heavyweight virtually not feasible, who does that leave? Just maybe Hopkins should consider challenging one of the Super-Middleweight champs.
Hopkins has to take a shot. He can't just sit around and fight mandatories every six months. I think Hopkins is a great fighter, and I'm not taking a shot at him. However, time is running out. He has to be willing to bend a little himself in order to put himself in a position to participate in a fight that will spark fan interest. At this time, it seems the only option is to challenge one of the Super-Middleweight Champs?
What makes Hopkins even more remarkable is that he hasn't really shown much erosion. The fact that he is not a heavyweight makes this even more amazing. Heavyweights, usually can fight into their later years more so than non-heavies because they don't have to make weight, and heavyweights don't burn themselves out like the lighter fighters do for all the obvious reasons. Boxing history is replete with many heavyweights who have fought well in their mid to late 30's, and some have done it into their 40's. Looking at boxing history regarding non-heavies, not many have been as successful as Hopkins after age 36. Yes, there are some, but not too many. At least to the degree of Hopkins.
Hopkins is now at the stage of his career, that every time he steps into the ring, many will cite his age as a determining factor as to whether or not he can win. When handicapping a Hopkins fight, the question must be asked, "Is This The Night?" Is this the night Hopkins shows up an empty package, and resembles Robinson in his fourth fight versus Gene Fullmer, or Holyfield in his last few fights? You just know that night looms out there, it's just when will it show up. You know that it will not be announced. In fact we won't even realize it until probably around the third or fourth round of a fight in which Hopkins can't get off and is constantly being beaten to the punch. At that time we'll all nod in acceptance and say to ourselves, it's not there anymore Hop, time to move on and get on to the next stage of your life. Which in the case of Hopkins, I have no doubt will be prosperous and rewarding.
All that being said, I'm here to tell you that night when Hopkins shows up an empty package is not December 13, 2003. That's right, Hopkins will defeat the not so young 33 year old William Joppy and reaffirm that he is still the King of the middleweights.
I don't mean any disrespect to William Joppy. He's been an outstanding fighter and has had an outstanding career, but Hopkins is one of the greats. The last two legendary middleweight champions where Carlos Monzon of the 1970's, and Marvin Hagler of the 1980's. Hopkins must be in the conversation when those names are mentioned. I'm not saying he is better than either of them, but I haven't a single doubt that he could have fought with them and held his own. And if he was defeated by them, it would've only been by decision.
Back to Hopkins and Joppy. I see where some fans and writers have picked Joppy to win. No doubt that it's more of a pick against Hopkins age than it is a pick on who's the better fighter. Lets not forget that Joppy is 33 and took a severe beating versus Trinidad, and hasn't looked the same since. I know Hopkins hasn't looked like Ray Robinson since Trinidad either, but I believe it's more because of him not being totally focused for fighters like Carl Daniels and Morrade Hakkar. Believe me, Joppy will have his full attention.
In trying to determine the winner of a fight, I look at what each fighter can do to offset the other in order to win the fight. Exactly what does Joppy do better than Hopkins? Absolutely nothing! Everything that Joppy does well, Hopkins does equally as well or better. Joppy can't beat Hopkins if they trade and the bout turns into a street fight. He can't out-punch Hopkins, and clearly doesn't have the chin to withstand an all out assault by Hopkins?
Hopkins also has the advantage in reach and experience, not to mention that he's the better boxer and more adaptable fighter. What strategy can Joppy employ? If he goes at Hopkins and fights him, he'll most likely get knocked out. If Joppy moves away from Hopkins and tries to out box him, he'll most likely lose every round and the decision. Joppy has to hope that he has the best night of his career, and Hopkins shows up totally shot?
When handicapping this fight, I just don't see how Joppy can pull it out. Hopkins holds every advantage that one fighter can hold over another. It must also be noted that Hopkins is as confident and mentally tough as any fighter in boxing today, regardless of weight class. When one fighter is superior to his opponent in every facet of boxing from A to Z, I don't see it as being very difficult to handicap. Joppy is a good fighter and deserves respect as a three time champ, but I think Hopkins still has some greatness left and wins by stoppage. On the Calender it would appear to be advantage Joppy, but in the ring I say it will be advantage Hopkins!