Although Figueroa had never boxed before, he was a sensational athlete who had excelled at wrestling in high school. When a friend suggested that he had the natural tools to become a boxer, the then 22-year-old Figueroa made his way to the nearby Morris Park Gym, where he trained with a wise old sage named Andy Martinez, who Figueroa described as looking “exactly like Mickey in Rocky.”
Nine months later he won the 147 pound novice New York City Golden Gloves title. He also picked up the nickname “El Gato,” which means “The Cat” in Spanish. Figueroa was the only fighter quick enough to catch the gym’s mascot. Martinez christened him with his new nickname after explaining, “In order to catch a cat, you have to be a cat.”
After just two-and-a-half years as an amateur, Figueroa had won a slew of titles and tournaments but, citing the politics of the game, opted to turn pro.
Although he is generally regarded as a hot prospect with a 12-2 (10 KOs) record, the now 27-year-old Figueroa says he still has to endure the cruel nature of boxing politics.
“As a pro, your success is more about politics than your skills,” said Figueroa, who manages himself but is promoted by the Rochester, New York-based Ron Resnick.
Figueroa was scheduled to fight at the Amazura Ballroom in Queens on December 29th, but the fight fell out two days prior. However, he is too solid of a pro to dwell on the disappointment of it all.
“I just minimize the disappointment,” he said. “I was born with a positive outlook. All I have to do is keep doing what I’m doing, and good things will come.”
While Figueroa, who was born in Spanish Harlem and raised in the Northeast Bronx, says he was born with a positive outlook, his eternal optimism was honed in the small town of Troy, Vermont, where he spent 11 summers – from the ages of 6 to 17 – when he was young.
Sent there through the Fresh Air Fund, he was hosted every one of those summers by the Morrissette family, who taught him more about life than he could have ever imagined.
“I learned moral structure, proper English, became an altar boy, and was taught how to work for my money,” said Figueroa. “I can’t thank the Fresh Air Fund, the Morrissette family, or my mother enough. I am so grateful to my mother for loving me enough to send me there. It changed my life for the better.”
“You can’t help but believe in Gato, because he truly believes in himself,” Resnick said. “This kid is ready for television. He is made for television. There are so many good bouts for him out there, but nobody is willing to fight him.”
“Right now I’d take anyone from the Top-6 to the Top-20,” said Figueroa, who also works as a personal trainer at the Printing House Gym in downtown Manhattan. He then listed four of the more well-known prospects in his red-hot division.
“Mike Arnaoutis: I’ve heard good and bad about him, but have never seen him fight. I’d take him (a fight with him) in a minute.”
“[Dmitriy] Salita: He’s big in New York, but not big nationally. If he still has a belt, any belt, I’d take him, too.” Salita currently wears an NABA belt.
“Paulie [Malignaggi]: He’s a good friend, but he tires out at the end of the rounds. I’d love to fight him.”
“[Jeffrey] Resto: I’d love to fight him, too. He’s got big balls. I admire his balls. He’s a real fighter.”
Amazingly, Figueroa doesn’t sound the least bit arrogant when talking about his place in the division. The way he sees it, he earned the right to be supremely confident. In his toughest fight to date, he got off the canvas twice in the tenth and final round to last the distance with hard-punching Francisco Rincon, then 8-1 (4 KOs), in Poughkeepsie, New York, in November 2004.
“Nobody else was willing to fight a guy like that,” said El Gato. “That loss taught me that when you get stunned, don’t act like a bully. If you need to put on the track suit, put on the track suit. Boy, did that guy hit hard! Whoo-wee.”
Figueroa calls his other loss, a four-round decision to Troy Wilson in Atlanta in August 2003, an outright robbery.
“I don’t even count that as a loss,” he said. “Anyone who saw the fight would agree.”
Figueroa is next scheduled to lace them up in February, probably in Rochester where he has already fought twice. After that, he hopes he gets the opportunity to show the world that he is a force to be reckoned with in what is arguably boxing’s most talent-laden division.
“Once people see me fight, the doors will open,” he said. “Once the doors open, I won’t be able to be ignored.”
Siraphop Ratanasuban took time out from his hectic schedule to answer a few questions.
TSS: Hello Khun (Mr.) Siraphop, how is everything going?
Siraphop: Very good, thank you.
TSS: I know you're quite busy. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions.
Siraphop: No problem. My family appreciates all the hard work and dedication fighters in the sport of boxing and it's because of them that we are what we are today.
TSS: Your family is quite well-known as promoters of Muay Thai and boxing here in Thailand. While Muay Thai has grown in popularity the last few years, it actually seems as if boxing has gained in popularity here in Thailand . Is this true and which sport has the bigger fan base in Thailand , Muay Thai or boxing?
Siraphop Ratanasuban: I could be wrong but I believe it's boxing.
TSS: What percentage of Muay Thai do you promote versus boxing?
Siraphop Ratanasuban: We promote Muay Thai six times per month and promote Pan Asian Boxing title fights such as ABCO / PABA once a month.
TSS: That brings me to my next question. What is the current state of boxing in Thailand and what do you think about where boxing stands worldwide? Some people think boxing is dying out and other sports like Muay Thai and MMA are surpassing it. What do you think?
Siraphop Ratanasuban: It's the second most popular sport Thais love to watch. Boxing is very popular in Thailand , just after soccer. It has remained very stable over time. It gains popularity as we have more world champions. Boxing and weightlifting are actually the only two sports that Thailand 's people expect to win any medals in at the Olympic Games. There are now over twelve boxing promoters in Thailand , and there are shows televised on Thai national TV once a week. So boxing is still very popular here in Thailand .
TSS: Thailand , Japan and the Philippines have a loyal fan base with excellent turnouts for fights. Why is boxing so popular in these countries versus others? Is it because many of the fights are free?
Siraphop Ratanasuban: Japanese, Thailand , Philippines have cultures that love fighting sports. They love their sports heroes. Thus, boxing brings fame to these three countries. Japanese is number one, Thailand is number two, and the Philippines are number three. Japanese and Philippine audiences pay money for gate fees; Thai audiences are spoiled because there are many promoters offering free bouts. Promoters often get their money from politicians and sponsors.
TSS: Who do you think is currently the best boxer from Thailand and why?
Siraphop Ratanasuban: Veeraphol Sahaprom. He is 38 years old, but very disciplined and well-behaved. He's married and takes good care of his family. He's fought in Japan many times, also in France , and done quite well.
TSS: Who do you think has the most potential for international stardom? Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym? Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo?
Siraphop Ratanasuban: Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo . We called him the Thai Marvin Hagler and he is undefeated in his twelve fights.
(Piriyapinyo impressively defended his ABCO title on December 5th against Jeffrey Onate of the Philippines )
TSS: Thai boxers don't fight in the US very often. Tell us about the difficulties in getting boxers to the US to fight.
Siraphop Ratanasuban: The US promoters are generally not willing to invite Thais because of the expense involved; airline tickets, lodging, training facilities, etc.
TSS: Many times, when Thai fighters go outside of Asia , they don't seem to do very well. Why is this and what do they need to do to win on a more consistent basis?
Siraphop Ratanasuban: Unfortunately, 99% of Thai boxers lose when they journey to the US . Thais need to stay in the U.S. for at least a month to get used to the overall different atmosphere in the US ; the weather, the culture, the food and the people. They also need to train hard with Cuban or US trainers.
TSS: While Thai fighters fight quite often compared to their western counterparts, they are often criticized for the weak level of their opposition. For example, many times a fighter with 50 fights will fight another fighter with only 5 or 10 fights. These fights are very clearly tune-up bouts, but this seems to be at least one of the reasons why they tend to not do as well when they fight outside of Thailand , don't you think?
Siraphop Ratanasuban: Yes, this is surely one reason. Some Thai promoters invite cheap boxers as opponents. They just try to keep their costs down. They did not think about the long-term and what it takes to make world champions.
TSS: In October of this year Golden Boy Promotions staged the Mexico vs. Thailand World Cup of boxing. This gave the Thai fighters much needed exposure in the US boxing market. What do you think about this team concept and do you have any plans to put on any formal event here in Thailand such as this?
Siraphop Ratanasuban: Mr. De La Hoya invited the Kokiet Group (another promoter) and we think it is a good idea. But if Mr. De La Hoya invited us, they would not win all of the bouts. I guarantee this.
TSS: I'm going to name a few names and I'd like you to tell me what you think of each of these fighters.
Pongsaklek Kratingdaenggym Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai Ratanachai Sor Vorapin Veeraphol Sahaprom Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym
Siraphop Ratanasuban: Sorry, I should not judge other people's boxers.
TSS: #2 ranked Sirimongkol Singwancha is scheduled to fight the winner of Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales. How do you think he will do and what does he need to do to win?
Siraphop Ratanasuban: It all depends on Sirimongkol's conditioning. If he trains well, he will win. But if he still thinks about his girlfriends and parties too much, he will lose by knockout.
TSS: Flyweight champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam was scheduled to face Jorce Arce of Mexico back in July of this year. What do you think will happen if the two do eventually meet and what does Pongsaklek need to do to defeat him?
Siraphop Ratanasuban: Pongsaklek needs to learn Jorce Arce's style. He needs to stay calm and not get nervous in his US debut. He can knockout Arce in the early rounds, but Arce will pressure him and there will be a lot of action.
TSS: What are one Songchai's plans for 2006? Any big fights or events planned?
Siraphop Ratanasuban: We have four events planned up until March and a few more tentatively planned in the months following. Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai, Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo, Yoddamrong Sithyodthong and Suddam, Kietyongyuth will all take part in these fights, as well as a few other of our fighters.
TSS: Well, Khun Siraphop, it looks like the boxing scene is still going strong here in Thailand.
Siraphop Ratanasuban: Yes, I think so
TSS: Thanks once again for taking the time to speak with us.
Today at TheSweetScience.com Bobby Cassidy Jr. bids farewell to Norman "Stoney" Stone, John Ruiz's erstwhile trainer/manager: He strikes me as the type of guy whom you love when heâ€™s on your side but despise when heâ€™s against you. In the end, this is what I know. You want a guy like Stone in your corner. I don't doubt it's true, but the WWF-like moments seemed, unfortunately, a little too commonplace when Norman Stone was in the vicinity.
More kudos to Corrales and Castillo as Dan Rafael selects the 10th frame from their first bout as The Round Of The Year. Rafael also lists some other scorchers as honorable mentions, including the 2nd round of Cotto-Torres and the 5th round of Morales-Pacquiao.
The Press Association in the UK looks at the fights the British fans want most for 2006 - and the true likelihood of them ever happening. Lacy v. Calzaghe tops the list as the fight is already made for March 4. The PA tips Lacy as a likely points victor. Hatton v. Mayweather also makes the list ... talk about a no-brainer. Also in the UK, young Amir Khan received a tremendous amount of press during 2005. A year that began with an uncertain future for Amir Khan is ending with the world at the feet of the Bolton boxer.
Sid Dorfman of the Star Ledger has a column - Fighting to recapture glory - on Dmitriy Salita, the Orthodox Jewish boxer from Brooklyn, by way of Ukraine. If he is successful in reinventing the glory days of his co-religionists in the damn bloody, anti-social sport, it just might inspire the Italians and Irish to reappear in some numbers. They also have been long missing. Interesting take by Dorfman that Salita is a throwback in that boxing once thrived mostly on cultural vanity.
On New Years eve Showtime presents SHOWTIME BOXING: Best Of 2005. Again, credit where credit is due, Showtime aired some memorable bouts during 2005: Corrales vs. Castillo and Hatton vs. Tszyu in particular stand out as defining moments during 2005 for the sweet science. Read more at the BLOG
Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.
Julio most recently decimated Hicklet Lau on November 30th, a fight stopped in the fourth round after Lau was dropped three times. Prior to that, Julio overwhelmingly impressed the 11,000 Chicagoland fight fans attending the 8 Count Productions/Main Events promoted Fernando Vargas/Javier Castillejo “Return to Battle” event at the Allstate Arena by knocking out perennial contender Christopher Henry also in the fourth round.
Kamya returns to the Windy City after his upset majority decision over Alex Bunema on August 13th of this year. The win is part of a modest three fight streak Kamya has put together which includes victories over Alex Quiroga and Anthony Osbourne earlier this year.
The co-main event of the evening features a terrific eight round bantamweight bout between hot prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez, 12-0 (9 KOs) of San Antonio, TX and Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1-1 (8 KOs) of Arjona, Columbia.
Earlier this month Martinez destroyed Sheldon Wile with a first round KO. Earlier this year “The Cobra” made his first visit to Chicago, knocking out Miguel Martinez on September 16th of this year, a bout internationally televised on SOLO BOXEO. Ledesma is currently riding a nine bout winning streak, five of which have come by knockout. This will be the first time he has fought in the United States.
Also featured on the undercard is Chicago middleweight “MACHO” Miguel Hernandez, 17-3 (9 KOs) in a scheduled eight rounder against Butch Hajicek, 4-4 (2 KOs) of Grand Ford, ND. Hernandez is coming off a unanimous decision over Jeremiah Torres on October 14th of this year while Hajicek won the Minnesota State Middleweight Title with a sixth round stoppage of Christopher Holt three weeks ago.
Hot lightweight prospect Mike Gonzalez, 4-0 (4 KOs) of Milwaukee, WI returns to Chicago taking on Tony Kinney of Cincinnati, OH in a scheduled four rounder. Gonzalez’s last bout in Chicago was a second round knockout over Antoine Hicks in October at Cicero Stadium. The heavy-handed Gonzalez also knocked out previously unbeaten prospect Tommy Pyle on July 15th at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom in a four round bout.
A special attraction featherweight bout features fan favorite Omar “Little Bull” Reyes, in a scheduled five rounder against Luis Navarro, 0-1. Reyes is coming off his first pro win, a terrific six round battle over Barbaro Zepeda on November 11th at the Aragon Ballroom.
A six round light heavyweight bout will feature “Next Great Champ” finalist David Pareja, 6-1 (1 KO) of Chicago, IL facing Derek Andrews, 3-1, of Lewisville, TX.
Rounding out the card is the pro debut of Chicago middleweight Reynaldo Reyes
in a four round bout against Ricardo Swift of Jackson, TN.
Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.
To view the poster for this event and details on tickets, please visit the 8 Count Productions’ website at www.8countproductions.com. The open to the public weigh-in will be held on Thursday, January 5th at 7pm at Aquarius Club, 2459 N. Pulaski, one block north of the intersection of Pulaski and Fullerton.
As the footage drew to a close, Stone was nailed with a punch.
My thought was, he probably had that coming.
Then, a few days later, came the press release announcing that Stone has retired from managing fighters.
My thought was, I can live with that.
Then I thought some more.
That's when I realized that boxing is going to miss one Norman Stone. Perhaps not his antics or his diatribes or his temper, but the sport will certainly miss his passion, his loyalty and his dedication. These are traits not routinely found in this game of ours.
I came up old school. My father, Bobby Cassidy, boxed from 1963 to 1980. Over that span he engaged in 80 pro fights and was ranked from junior middleweight to light heavyweight. He later trained Lonnie Bradley and Donny Lalonde when they were champions.
And this is what I learned from the old man. Respect. Respect your opponent and respect the game. When my father fought for his fighters, he did it away from the spotlight.
Too often, I felt that Stone grabbed the spotlight from his fighter and failed to respect his sport.
I understand that things can change in the heat of battle. Was my pop beneath driving home a low blow to prove a point? Nope. But 80 pro fights and he never climbed on top of the ring ropes. Not even after winning main events at the Garden. He never taunted an opponent. When I was a kid playing high school football he instructed me to just hand the ball to the referee and walk away after scoring a touchdown. So that’s what I did.
So, you can see how Norman "Stoney" Stone would bother me.
In the press release, Stone said: "I'm done. I'm tired of boxing and last week's bad decision was the last straw. I'm going to relax with my family and spend a lot of time with my two little grandchildren. I'll always support Johnny (Ruiz). Even in retirement I'll be covering his back. I'm sorry if my actions sometimes upset people, but I always had John's best interests at heart. It was a great ride."
That second to last sentence crystallizes all of it. First, he apologized, which already makes him better than Pete Rose, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmiero and Mike Tyson, men who won’t take responsibility for their actions. And I truly believe that he always had Ruiz’s best interests at heart. Their story is well documented. Their relationship dates back to the fighter’s days as an amateur and Stone stuck with the kid when no one else did.
They reached the pinnacle of their sport together – the heavyweight championship of the world. And while Ruiz was often criticized for his performance, one would be hard-pressed to criticize his effort. Known as “The Quietman,” Ruiz often let the criticism roll off his back. But Stone isn’t built that way. He fired right back, whether it was an opponent, a rival trainer or a referee.
"I'm sorry to see him go," Ruiz said in the same statement. "We've been together for 20 years and it was an up-and-down, roller coaster ride. It's going to be tough moving on without him."
In 2002, Stone was named co-manager of the year by the Boxing Writers Association of America. It was an honor that was well deserved. He shared the distinction that year with Klaus Peter-Kohl, who managed the Klitschkos. True to form, Stoney ruffled some feathers during his reception speech. A veteran of the Vietnam War, he asked the audience to support our troops in Iraq, which wasn’t popular then and far less popular now. He threw his support to Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to unseat President George W. Bush and he challenged Kohl to put either of the Klitschkos in the ring with his fighter.
Some people gasped. Some people cringed. I laughed.
I met Stone later at a public workout Ruiz held while preparing to put his heavyweight title on the line against James Toney. The media was waiting and Stone walked in and shook hands with every member of the press. He may or may not have known who was there to rip him and his fighter and who wasn’t. It didn’t matter. He was accessible to all.
Since I am from New Yawk and I root for the Yankees (not the Red Sox) and wasn't particularly keen on any senator from Massachusetts, we didn't have much in common.
And a few friends. One guy – a former colleague at Newsday who writes for another boxing website – sang Stone's virtues to me. I listened. I absorbed it all – the good and the bad.
In Boston, they have come to tolerate the antics of outfielder Manny Ramirez as “Manny being Manny.” A World Series title and five straight years of 100-plus RBIs buys that kind of latitude. So in boxing, let’s chalk it up to “Stoney being Stoney.”
He strikes me as the type of guy whom you love when he’s on your side but despise when he’s against you.
In the end, this is what I know. You want a guy like Stone in your corner.
Of the two options, she went the path of most resistance. She trained, put off work and lived the hackneyed lifestyle of a struggling boxer. And after two years of working part-time and boxing the rest of it, Gaillard was one decision away from being the No. 1 female amateur in the United States earlier this year.
“I loved the training aspect of it,” the 27-year-old Atlanta resident said. “You always wanted to take it to the next level. You try to live a healthy lifestyle and everything is based on your performance. I didn’t even care what I looked like anymore – most females care about that.”
Gaillard knows her amateur days are limited as she progresses in age. And she’s not had that many to count anyway, since she started at 24 years old. The Florida native hadn’t even considered lacing a glove until she took an aerobics boxing class, and then resumed the class when she moved to Atlanta to work as a nurse.
Canadian Olympic bronze medallist Chris Johnson instructed the class. It was from him that Gaillard got her initial boost into the competitive realm.
“He’s like, ‘When are you going to start competing,’” Gaillard said. “I had no intentions of doing that. But within the first few months I started competing.”
Her first fights weren’t all that easy; she lost all of them.
“My first fight, I fought a girl that was a lot larger than me (10 or 12 pounds), and I fought at 119,” she said. “It was the fight of the night and most of the people thought I had won.”
Of course, experience made her a better fighter. She improved enough to have her mother Amelia watch a fight. Ironically, it was Gaillard who had reservations about Amelia’s first trip to ringside.
“I can remember being really worried,” Gaillard said. “The girl’s nose was bleeding … but every time I got hit I thought, ‘Oh, my mom saw that.’
“I don’t think she likes to watch, but I would say that she’s proud of me.”
Including her run at the U.S. Nationals, Gaillard holds a 6-4 amateur career record. It’s almost a mirror image of the professionals, who have very few contests to their name and are ranked among the top contenders or actually hold titles.
With a few wins under her belt in Georgia bouts and her youth melting away, Gaillard wanted to take a chance on the national level.
“I felt like I really had a chance,” she said. “I trained twice a day for three days a week. I was working overtime in the boxing gym, and, as far as my regular profession, I backed off on a lot of hours. I was living very poorly.”
She lived poorly, working 25 hours a week, and, if she was lucky, 30 hours a week. She picked up 16 hours a week in a pediatric emergency room at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital and scooped up a few more shifts at Egleston Hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit.
Earning money wouldn’t have been too much of a problem for her. The hospitals called constantly, asking for her to fill in shifts here and there. If she had the energy, she might have considered it.
“They called almost every day, but I was completely dedicated (to boxing),” she said. “I was almost obsessive about it.”
Unfortunately for Gaillard, the hours she put in were not enough to pay for a trainer. Johnson, who trained Gaillard for free, had moved back to Canada to open his own gym.
With no money or full-time trainers, she had to train herself through the state, regional and into the national tournament.
To her credit, she fought well through the national in Colorado Springs, Colo. The championship match came down to her and the No. 1-rated amateur, Vanessa Juarez.
Juarez, an 18-year-old from San Antonio, had been boxing since 14. Her youth and experience were evident to Gaillard in their bout.
“She’s won every JO thing that you can win,” Gaillard said. “I felt like a grandma next to her, but at the same time I thought I had the ability to improve with a rematch with her.”
For all the dedication she put into boxing, and considering the poor lifestyle she lived outside of the gym, Gaillard never felt a compulsion to earn money for all the punches she took.
“My plans were not to go pro,” she said. “Being a nurse and knowing the risks of head injury, things like that, it kind of slows me down as far as being a pro.”
Instead, she shared the same dream as many female amateurs: the Olympics. Unfortunately for her and the many amateur women in the ring, the International Olympic Committee excluded women from boxing in the 2008 games.
Gaillard did not take the news so well.
“I think I shed a tear there,” she said. “I felt like I was on a time crunch to make it on the 2008 Games.
“It takes away a little motivation, considering that was my main goal. I’ll have to make a new goal as far as winning the national, which is a great opportunity.”
Since losing to Juarez last spring, Gaillard hasn’t ducked under the ropes to face another opponent. Along with recuperating her financial losses, she’s trying to let a nagging ankle injury heal.
There are still a few more years of fight left in Gaillard, but she wants it out of the way before she starts a family. But it doesn’t stop her from thinking about other aspects of the fight game.
“I’d love to train people, even though I don’t have a lot of experience,” she said. “I just like to fix people. When I see them hitting a bag, I’m like, ‘Here do it like this.’
“It’s funny,” she added after a long pause, “some people start and they can’t stop.”
“Eddie Argenio was a guy who knew how to shakedown the crowd,” he said as smiles broke out across a few dozen frigid faces.
He tightened his grip on the microphone, his knuckles turning white.
“Remembering the champions of life. It’s how you keep their spirit alive!”
A bottle of champagne was smashed against a humble building, which will serve as a food pantry in a derelict section of Staten Island, Mariners Harbor. Atlas’ charity—the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation (named for his late father)—has dedicated the pantry to the memory of Argenio. He was the charity’s hammer, a fundraiser nobody could refuse.
“Eddie’d work the room at our annual dinner,” Atlas said. “Then he’d tap me on the shoulder and hand over a fat envelope with $30,000.”
He spoke with a fervor reminiscent of April 22,1994, when he was the cornerman for the new heavyweight champ Michael Moorer—a night he captured the public’s imagination more than the combatants. Whether he’s talking about Argenio, or his father’s unflagging dedication to the sick and needy, or the mental obstacles far outweighing the physical in boxing, it’s just a variation of what he famously said to Moorer when they beat Evander Holyfield. No matter the topic, he presents the zeal of a missionary man.
Every face was tear-streaked by the time he handed the mic over to a priest who led a prayer. In truth, the cold played as big a factor as Atlas’ words. If the bruising wind bothered him, he didn’t let on.
Adjacent to the pantry, inside a heated parish, a warm buffet awaited us. The priest cut his prayer short. The crowd inched towards shelter.
Atlas asked for the mic to talk more about the pantry, the luxury of food and shelter. As if the audience were a discouraged fighter, the trainer held their eyes, disregarding their silent pleading. What’s another few minutes of discomfort?
Once everyone was fed and defrosted, a tour of the pantry was given. While there, Atlas met a worker with a cleft palette, and no means of paying for costly surgery. He promised they’d find top surgeons affiliated with the foundation to do it pro bono. He put his arms around two local councilmen who were there partly as a photo-op, and walked them over to his new cause. With reporters in tow, he got their assurance they would be partners in this mission.
His colleague at the foundation, Kathy Zito, simultaneously rolled her eyes and smiled. She knew the disfigured man would indeed get his surgery now that Atlas had given his word. But this wasn’t on the agenda. To those who know the “Friday Night Fights” boxing analyst, his gesture was as unavoidable as Winky Wright’s jab. That’s what makes his outfit unique, if disorderly. In foregoing the usual bureaucratic red tape and waiting period, a recipient’s dignity isn’t compromised.
He left the food pantry in a sporty red Lexus, which was actually an old gift from Moorer after they won the title. The trunk was stuffed with toys. When Santa Claus’ sleigh breaks down on the Verrazano, he fills in.
On the drive home he talked about his father, Dr. Theodore A. Atlas, a workaholic Staten Island physician who only charged patients that could afford to pay. When making house calls, though, the doctor never turned down a pot of tea or a homemade sandwich. He was sensitive to a person’s pride. He knew how empowering giving and not just receiving can be.
Conversation turned to the pervasive corruption affecting boxing—indecent promoters, greedy sanctioning bodies, inept state commissions. It was like clicking on channel 29 on Friday night, except this time the animated Atlas jumped through the screen. He proceeded to rail against boxing’s dark forces for 80 blocks. However, one senses he knows corruption in boxing is like prostitution, drugs, or cockroaches: here to stay. Unlike the never-ending sleaze endemic to his sport, Teddy’s charity actually makes things right, gives him results he can see.
A few minutes from his comfortable home on Todt Hill, he lowered his window and flooded the car with icy air. It invigorated him, while the rest of us froze our vital parts off. No one complained. Atlas was at the controls.
It should be no surprise, then, that Dan Rafael of ESPN picks Corrales-Castillo I as his fight of the year. Could there have been any other choice? Rafael lists a number of other slugfests which get honorable mention - including Arce vs. Hussein, one that I particularly enjoyed myself. Hopefully we will see more of Jorge Arce during 2006. Showtime, HBO ... are you listening?
USA Today offers its 2005 picks of the year and picks as its fight of the year - you guessed it - the May 7 title unification fight between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. Amongst other awards, USA Today selects Jermain Taylor as its fighter of the year and Floyd Mayweather Jr. as number 1 in the pound for pound rankings.
Interesting take by the Australian Daily Telegraph which reports Zab Judah is dodging Kostya Tszyu. According to the headline at the Daily Telegraph, Judah does not want to face Tszyu again so he is fighting Floyd Mayweather instead. Obviously the editor resonsible for writing the headlines at the Daily Telegaph isn't a fight fan. Below the Judah-Tszyu lead in the same column at the Daily Telegraph is the tragic tale of former Tszyu sparring partner Leonard Townsend, who has been sentenced to 85 years in prison in Indiana. Townsend was found guilty of murder and attempted murder in October in a gun battle that started during a haircut. During a haircut?
If Joe Mesi is able to get licensed and he is willing, Vassiliy Jirov says he would fight Mesi again. "He has warning enough. He is ignoring this. If he wants to hurt himself, it's strange," said Jirov.
Not really boxing news per se, but on Christmas day we linked to a Jack Johnson restrospective on the TheSweetScience.com boxing news links page. Part 1 and Part 2 on Jack Johnson's visit to Vancouver, Canada are well worth the read.
Finally, Ricky Hatton has been given the all-clear for a quick return to the ring after making a remarkable recovery. Hatton's father and manager, Ray Hatton, says the unbeaten Mancunian will fight again in the United States in the spring.
The informative, fast-paced, entertaining 30-minute telecast is hosted by SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING’S blow-by-blow commentator, Steve Albert, and features Al Bernstein and Steve Farhood, the ringside analysts for SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING and “Shobox: The New Generation.” Joining the SHOWTIME talent are top boxing journalists Tim Smith of the New York Daily News, Kevin Iole of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, and Eric Raskin of THE RING magazine.
The “Best Of 2005” focuses on the exciting events that transpired during the ten live SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING telecasts and fifteen fight cards on “Shobox.” Classic, crowd-pleasing confrontations that will be highlighted include the Fight of the Year – Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo I – leading candidates for Upset of the Year – Ricky Hatton vs. Kostya Tszyu, Zab Judah vs. Cory Spinks, and Jean-Marc Mormeck vs. Wayne Braithwaite – as well as Jeff Lacy’s three title defenses (against Scott Pemberton, Robin Reid, and Rubin Williams). Kevin McBride’s alarming stoppage of Mike Tyson also will be featured.
Besides the thrilling highlights, the announcers will recap memorable moments of a year in which SHOWTIME presented eleven world title fights (not including the one on “ShoBox”) and discuss a myriad of subjects including the top fighters and prospects of 2006.
Entering its 20th year, SHOWTIME has consistently provided viewers with quality, competitive fights, whose surprising outcomes have unveiled new champions, affected entire careers and gained SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING the distinction of not only offering the most important matchups, but the most unexpected results. Since March 15, 1986, there have been 227 SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING telecasts encompassing 472 fights. There have been 305 world title bouts and a new champion crowned on 100 occasions.
There have been 69 “ShoBox” telecasts since the popular, well-received series debuted in July 2001. “ShoBox” features up-and-coming prospects determined to make a mark and eventually fight for a chance at a world title. It is pure, basic boxing, reminiscent of the golden days of the sport.
The Senior Creative Director of “SHOWTIME BOXING: The Best Of 2005’ is Earl Fash. It was written by Steve Farhood. After its initial airing, “Best Of 2005” will be repeated several times.
For information on SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING and “ShoBox: The New Generation” telecasts, including fighter bios and records, related stories and more, please go to the SHOWTIME website at http://www.sho.com/boxing.
The WBA belt that Valuev won – a belt much coveted despite some of the waists it has graced – the same belt Ruiz’s former manager, the banshee Norman Stone, grabbed off the new champ’s shoulder in a fit of pique – does not fit the new champ; either it’s too small or he’s too big, take your pick. The heavyweight champion – who is 7 feet tall, weighs 323 pounds, and looks like an illustration in a medical textbook – doesn’t want the world to look at him like he's a sideshow freak; Valuev, who wrote poetry before he started fighting, considers himself “a sportsman and not a monster.”
It was only a matter of time before a genuine colossus, something that stepped from the pages of ancient myth, something that jogged off an asphalt basketball court, actually won the heavyweight crown. Although there are exceptions to the rule (the hapless Primo Carnera comes to mind), it seems the heavyweights keep getting bigger and bigger year after year after year – from the golden olden days before there were weight classes; through the small heavyweights like Marciano and Patterson; to the big boys like Liston, Ali and Holmes; then to the super sized Foreman, Bowe, Lennox and Klitschkos; and culminating, at long last, in Nicolay Valuev, the biggest, if not necessarily the best, heavyweight champion of the world so far.
Russia’s first heavyweight champ is a sight for sore eyes. According to his promoter Don King, “Valuev is the eighth wonder of the world.” If beating John Ruiz by dubious decision in Germany makes one the eighth wonder of the world, I’ve got to get my wonders checked. But there’s a new heavyweight champ in town, a guy who calls himself, albeit with a Russian accent, the baddest man on the planet, and tough guys weighing a duce and up are talking trash and thinking big bucks.
Some wild-eyed optimists insist that Valuev fight Wladimir Klitschko. Hmmm. Good fight. Not gonna happen. Lamon Brewster? Hasim Rahman? Not yet. It’s too early. Maybe down the road. Valuev fighting Byrd is a possibility, but they’d have to pay fans to watch that fight – and the fans would still scream bloody murder. Andrew Golota, last seen crawling on a canvas in Chicago, might be good feed for the Beast from the East, and word from out west is the Foul Pole is interested. King can play the Slav vs. Slav angle to the hilt and sell the fight to New Europe as the greatest thing to hit it since the Second Coming. (Only in Hungary!)
Evander Holyfield, who has been inactive the past year, and long may it last, is another fighter who would like nothing better than to get his hands on Valuev, just so long as it’s not in New York State. The 43-year-old former undisputed world heavyweight champion figures he’s fried bigger fish than Valuev and is undaunted by the challenges the Russian presents.
"I'm hoping that I get the opportunity to fight him. It would be a good show," Holyfield told BBC Radio Five Live. “The art of the game of boxing is not so much the size but what you can do with what God's given you. You can be big, but if you can't fight, you don't have the punch, or don't have the skills that are necessary, then you're just another fighter. It's obvious that he'll get tired if you move a lot. I should have faster hands so I should be able to dot in and dot out and hit him with a lot of punches.
"He could throw one hard shot and that could be it – but you've got to not let him hit you and you've got to hit him.”
Evander talks a good fight, but his body, in a last-ditch effort at a semblance of self-preservation, has other ideas. But no matter who Valuev fights next, champ, contender, chump, pretender, the new king is a hot property, and if he’s not too spooky for American tastes, not too much like Lurch in “The Addams Family” for the red states to cotton up to, Nicky Boy will be doing the talk shows in a minute.
All hail the newest heavyweight champion of the world! Ruiz is gone (but not forgotten), Valuev has arrived (but is untested), I have seen the future and it’s as I feared.
Boxing may keep shooting itself in the foot, but, in the game’s defense, at least it’s firing back.