“Look, it wasn’t easy walking away,” says Sanders. “I was getting a lot of attention and there were still a lot of expectations of me. The age factor creeps in as well and when the body starts complaining sometimes it’s best just to stop. I know how hard it must have been for Vitali (Klitschko) to stop, but your health is more important. The saddest thing about Vitali’s situation is that he’s still young enough and given the current crop of boxers around, he could have dominated the division over the next 5 to 7 years. A lot of people have said that if I was ten years younger I would have been the dominant force. Unfortunately I’m not and what’s done is done.”
Asked about him possibly returning, Sanders eludes the question: “I’m turning 40 next month and I’m no George Foreman and I don’t want to be a George Foreman. Everybody knows that I’m not a lover of boxing, but to be honest I do miss it. I never thought I would, but there’s something about going to the ring to fight that you just don’t get anywhere else.”
When asked to describe his biggest regret, Sanders says “If I could change anything I would have changed my management team earlier in my career. I really feel that I was kept back and not allowed to achieve all I was capable of doing in the ring. Promoters here tend to wrap their boxers in cotton-wool, feed them fighters not up to the task so they can’t develop and only let them out when it’s too late and they’re basically stuck for opportunities. It happened to me; Pierre Coetzer, Sebastian Rothman, Phillip Ndou, the list goes on and on.”
A fight Sanders pursued for many years which never came off was against Lennox Lewis. “I always wanted to get Lewis in the ring. I knew I had the beating of him. When I fought [Vitali] Klitschko, Lewis chatted a lot with me and he admitted that they avoided me and were concerned about fighting me. I appreciated that he was prepared to admit it to me personally. It meant that I must have meant something.”
Asked about Hasim Rahman being the new WBC world champion, Sanders smiles.
“Our fight was rated as one of the fights of the year. Everybody knows what happened there. Rahman’s a solid fighter. He exposed Lewis weakness in South Africa and then Lewis exposed Rahman’s in their return. It was a wakeup call to me when I saw Rahman getting the Lewis fight in South Africa and I knew that it could have been me. I would have liked to have gotten back in the ring with him and who knows anything is possible …”
The fight that is most likely to be the one to bring Sanders back into the ring is an all South African affair. There has long been interest in seeing Sanders face-off against former IBF heavyweight champ, Frans “The White Buffalo” Botha. With Botha again residing in South Africa talks are raging and sponsors are showing interest in luring these men back for a final showdown. “Even though I beat him four times in the amateurs people are still keen to see us against each other in the pro ranks,” says Sanders. “He obviously thinks he can beat me and I think I can beat him. It would be good to do it and prove once and for all just who is the best.”
Previous showdowns of South Africa’s top heavyweights of their eras have all proven classic clashes with incredible drawing power and local interest: Pierre Coetzer vs. Johny Du Plooy, Gerrie Coetzee vs. Kallie Knoetze, Mike Schutte vs. Jimmy Richards – all great matches worthy of an encore, and there’s no doubt that a Sanders-Botha fight would be an electric affair.
“It wouldn’t be about ratings. It would be a fight for the country. But who knows if Rahman steps up after that? Money talks.”
Whatever his detractors may think of him, even nearing forty Sanders has one of the fastest pair of hands in the history of the division and can land with authority. When turning pro in 1989 he could run a hundred meters in under 11 seconds and at 6'4" that takes some doing. Had he been groomed properly and unleashed in his prime he may well have impacted on world boxing in a big way. He seems to have made peace with what could have been and looks very comfortable in his skin. “If I could have fought anybody in any era I would have loved to have faced Muhammad Ali. He was also one of the fastest guys ever and it would have been great to compare hand-speed in a fight.”
Outside of boxing, Sanders still plays golf when he gets a chance, and although he’s a scratch golfer and has won a number of tournaments, he won’t be turning pro. “Being a professional sportsman at the highest level takes a lot of time and dedication. I’ve been there,” Sanders says. “And it was boxing for me. If I was a pro golfer I would want to compete on that level and don’t feel that I could make the sacrifices needed at this time.”
Sanders also has a fledgling game farm with a variety of buck. It was recently gutted by a fire but he’s in the process of rebuilding and plans on developing a few lodges for international visitors. Precious moments for him career-wise are of course his title wins over Johnny Du Plooy (KO 1) for the national title early in his career, defeating Ross Purity (W12) to win the WBU crown, stopping Wladimir Klitschko (TKO 2) for the WBO heavyweight title, and even though he lost he counts his fight against Vitali for the WBC crown (L TKO 8) as something of a highlight as well. On a personal level and clearly more important to him was the birth of his two children, a daughter and a son. “Their births were the most special moments in my life and more than anything I want to be there for them.”
A brawl broke out between World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Hasim "The Rock" Rahman and WBC mandatory challenger James "Lights Out" Toney Monday night at the Le Meridien Cancun Resort & Spa in Mexico.
Rahman and Toney were joining other boxing luminaries and members of the media attending a welcoming cocktail party for the WBC’s “Crowning of the Champions” event set for Tuesday afternoon. Toney was being interviewed by Television Azteca in the hotel lobby with many members of the media surrounding him. He was in the process of explaining that he had made a spur-of-the-moment decision after arriving in Cancun yesterday to marry his fiancée Angie at the hotel’s pool on Tuesday morning.
Rahman stumbled across his mandatory challenger when he arrived in the hotel lobby at about 6:15 p.m. while the television interview was taking place.
The bliss of Toney’s pending nuptials was interrupted when he realized Rahman has just arrived. After the two prizefighters made eye contact, a war of words erupted. The verbal assaults escalated into a full-fledged brawl soon thereafter that took many people and over 15 minutes to quell while hotel guests and staff members looked on in stunned disbelief.
Unannounced fisticuffs are a rare occurrence at this posh resort. Ironically, this world famous tropical paradise is just now recovering from blows sustained by Hurricane Wilma. World Boxing Council Executive Secretary Mauricio Sulaiman confirmed that neither boxer sustained serious injury.
Rahman, Toney, former WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, boxer Oleg Maskaev, promoter Don King, boxing manager Carl King, promoter Dan Goossen, Todd duBoef from Top Rank, WBC President Jose Sulaiman, his son Mauricio, Rahman’s manager Steve Nelson, and many others have made the holiday trek to be present for the coronation of Rahman as the WBC heavyweight champion and Klitschko as champion emeritus.
Just imagine what a delight it will be for the lucky WBC official who receives the assignment of explaining what happened to the hotel's general manager on Tuesday morning as the circus that is world championship boxing makes another stop on the globe.
One of them, former IBF junior middleweight champion Mark Medal from nearby Jersey City, was treated like royalty by everyone he came in contact with. He couldn’t walk more than a few feet before being accosted by another fan.
The 48-year-old Medal attributes his popularity not only to his boxing, but also to the fact that he has been a Jersey City police officer since 1989. Because the always smiling Medal, who lived in his native Puerto Rico until he was nine years old, is such a people and community oriented person, he says both vocations have enabled him to garner more fame than he could have ever imagined.
“People joke that I’m like the unauthorized mayor of Jersey City,” said Medal. “The city means a lot to me because I grew up there and represented it as a boxer. I do the same thing as a police officer.”
Medal’s currently assigned to prisoner transport at the municipal courthouse. Because he treats everyone with whom he comes in contact with respect, he is accorded the same respect in return.
“Life is too short to take anything for granted,” said Medal. “I’ve accomplished a lot and am proud of what I’ve done and who I am. It’s nice to be nice.”
Campaigning from 1979-87, Medal compiled a 24-3-1 (20 KOs) record against some pretty formidable opposition. He fought often at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum, as well as in the arena’s big room, and in Atlantic City.
It was at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City that he won the vacant IBF title from the hard-punching, previously undefeated Earl Hargrove in March 1984. Coming into the fight, Medal had one loss in 23 bouts while Hargrove had won all 24 of his bouts by way of knockout.
“I was the first IBF champion to win my title in the ring,” said Medal, alluding to the fact that the organization, which had just been formed, had anointed most of its champions, including heavyweight king Larry Holmes. “All the other titles were handed to the champions. Hargrove had one helluva punch.
“I noticed that everyone he hit went down and didn’t get back up,” he added. “I said going into the fight, if I go down I’m getting up and I’m going to knock him out.”
In a ferocious battle of punchers, Medal stopped Hargrove in the fifth round. Unfortunately, however, his title reign didn’t last long. In his very first defense eight months later, he lost a unanimous 15-round decision to the slick-boxing Carlos Santos of Puerto Rico at the Felt Forum.
“That was heartbreaking,” said Medal. “I worked so hard to win the title, and then lost it in a fight that probably could have gone either way.”
That was not the only heartbreaking aspect of Medal’s career. In August 1978, a little over a year before he turned pro, one of his best friends, light heavyweight Kevin Smith, 12-2-1 (10 KOs), had apparently shot himself to death outside of a local restaurant called the Gridiron.
Smith, who was close to getting a fight with then champion Michael Spinks, enjoyed the same type of local popularity that Medal has to this day. They had known each other since grammar school, and had come up through the amateur ranks together.
“Kevin was like my brother,” said Medal as his eyes welled up a bit. “If Kevin ever got the opportunity to fight Spinks, he would have surprised a lot of people. He had so much heart and determination.”
So did Medal, who after losing to Santos fought three more times. After an eighth round TKO loss to Thomas Hearns for the WBC junior middleweight title in June 1986 and a ten-round draw with unheralded Donald Johnson in November 1987, he called it quits. He was only 30-years-old.
“My trainer, Bernard Forbes, who is Emile Griffith’s cousin, died,” explained Medal. “Then my managers, Edward Allen and Bob McNamara, died. Suddenly going to the gym wasn’t fun anymore. In the early days, especially with Bernard, it was always fun.”
After joining the police department in 1989, Medal, who grossed about $1.9 million during his career, has never looked back. The only thing he thinks about is the astronomical amounts of money some fighters make today.
“I can’t even imagine what that would be equal to today,” he wondered. “Life might be a little different if I was born a little later.”
Medal, who has been married for 29 years and is the father of six children who range in age from eight to 30, lives by his own golden rules.
“Take care of yourself, treat others fairly, live a decent life, and work out,” he said, stressing the latter. “Live life and enjoy it. We’re all here on borrowed time, so make the best of it.”
As far as any long-range plans, Medal only has one. Having recently visited Hawaii with his wife, he is determined to live there someday. “It’s the most beautiful place on earth,” he explained. “I’ve never seen any place like it.”
After our visit we spent the night at a nearby casino-hotel that was booked for us by Ed Brophy.
At the time, it did not have a liquor license!
Fortunately, Brophy’s area of expertise is not in booze, but in boxing history, because he is the executive director of the ever-expanding IBHOF, which every true boxing fan should visit at least once.
Once again this year I was pleased to vote for the hall. A voter can select up to 10 boxers on the list. Of the 45 candidates in the modern era, I chose six because they stood out. They were Eddie Perkins, Ceferino Garcia, Tiger Jack Fox, Holman Williams, Cocoa Kid, and Lloyd Marshal.
To qualify for the modern area, a boxer must have fought until at least 1943. A boxer must also be retired for five years to become a candidate.
Garcia retired in 1945, Williams and Cocoa Kid in 1948, Fox in 1950, Marshall in 1951 and Perkins in 1965. Now I have nothing against fighters of the last quarter of the 20th century. In fact, I am anxiously awaiting the chance to vote for Roberto Duran, Larry Holmes and Julio Cesar Chavez. As for current fights, I hope I am still able to vote Marco Antonio Barrera and Bernard Hopkins.
Of those on this year’s list that I did not vote for are some I could vote for next year. One of them is Michael Carbajal, who single-handedly developed interest in this country for the little fighters.
There’s no minimum limit of fights for a candidate, but I have a personal limit of 40, which are a lot in this era of phony weight classes, phony titles and undeserving champions. If a fighter has had only 40 fights or so, he should be expected to win almost all of them.
None of my six picks had fewer than 20 losses. None had fewer than 75 wins, and Cocoa Kid had 161 wins, Fox had 157, Williams had 157, and Garcia had 101. All six probably had more fights than are listed on their records.
Before I made my selections I checked out the records of all 45 candidates, using Boxrec.com. I also checked out the records of some of their opponents. My criteria are class of opponents and conditions, such as age at the time of a particular fight and the location of key fights.
Let’s look at my picks.
Eddie Perkins (75-20-2, 21 knockouts, 1956-65) fought out of Chicago – most of the time way out of Chicago. According to my unscientific research, he fought in 14 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, 21 foreign countries and 45 cities throughout the world. His record in foreign countries was 28-13-2. All seven of his world junior lightweight title fights in 1961-65 were outside the United States. Perkins fought a draw against champion Duilio Loi and the won and lost WBA title fights against him in Milan, Italy. He made successful WBA/WBC title defenses against Roberto Cruz in Manila, Yoshio Takahashi in Tokyo and Bunny Grant at Kingston, Jamaica, then lost the titles to Carlos Hernandez in Caracas, Venezuela. In only one of his 20 losses did he fail to go the distance.
Ceferino Garcia was the only other one of my six selections to win championship recognition. After losing decisions in welterweight title bids to Barney Ross in 1937 and Henry Armstrong in 1938, he won the world middleweight title in the eyes of the New York State Athletic Commission by knocking out Fred Apostoli in the seventh round in 1939. He made one successful defense before losing the title on a decision to Ken Overlin. In 1940, he boxed a 10-round draw against Armstrong in what was recognized as a middleweight title match by California. The Filipino fought from 1923 to 1945 and scored 65 knockouts in compiling a 101-28-12 record.
In his only shot at a championship, Tiger Jack Fox was stopped by Melio Bettina in the ninth round of a fight for the NYSAC light heavyweight title in 1939. Fox, who was two months shy of his 37th birthday at the time, had to wait until his 128th fight to get the title shot. Title chances did not come easy, if at all, to black fighters such as Fox, Cocoa Kid and Holman Williams. Earlier in his career, Fox (157-22-12, 100 knockouts, 1928-41 and 1944-50) had won, lost and drawn with Maxie Rosenbloom and he twice beat Jersey Joe Walcott. In 1948, the 46-year-old Fox won the Alaska heavyweight title. Whoever promoted that fight should have been ashamed of himself.
Cocoa Kid, born Louis Hardwick, and Holman Williams never did get title shots. Why should they have? The Kid was only 167-58-10, 46 knockouts, 1930-48, and in all those losses he failed to go the distance just seven times. Williams was a mere 147-30-11, 34 knockouts, 1932-48, and he failed to last the distance only three times.
In 1940, Cocoa Kid won the colored welterweight title with a 15-round decision over Williams, which was one of his seven decision victories over Williams against two decision losses and two draws. Another of the Kid’s victims was Louis “Kid” Kaplan. While Williams had trouble beating the Kid, he did beat Charley Burley in three of six matches and he also split two fights with Archie Moore. One of the wins and one the losses in the Burley fights were for the colored middleweight title.
Lloyd Marshall (71-25-4, 36 knockouts, 1936-51) also never got a title shot. Five of his victories were against Charley Burley, Jake LaMotta, Joey Maxim, Freddie Mills and Ken Overlin. All but Burley held either middleweight or light heavyweight titles at one time in their careers.
After Taylor squeaked past Hopkins, some immediate post-fight discussion held that the real middleweight winner had been Winky Wright. Based on Taylor’s less than scintillating victory, prominent observers lobbied that Wright could lay claim to being the top talent in the 160 pound division based on recent form and his dominant win over Felix Trinidad last June.
Hopkins was unjustly relegated toward that chunk of retirement village real estate known as Over the Hill.
Most predictions assumed Wright would slap Sam Soliman silly on the weekend following Taylor’s triumph. That pounding would increase pressure on Taylor to back up his responses indicating he would soon accept Wright’s challenge.
Some handicappers already had Taylor as a considerable underdog to Wright. That theory lasted about a week, or until Aussie Soliman made Wright look ineffective.
Wright showed that he too was susceptible to an off night. Soliman gave him the herky-jerky, made-you-look-bad type fight Wright was renowned for pulling on others.
After Solomon frustrated Wright, suddenly it wasn’t so hard for more folks to envision Taylor turning size and strength into very effective aggression against Winky.
So the Taylor-Hopkins rematch did sort things out atop the middleweight division. Taylor is hands down number one. Hopkins is still number two if he chooses to stay active.
There were many complaints about the lackluster contest, but at least it came off, without controversy, outrageous malice, or other negative trappings. Overall it was a good showcase for the sport, especially before the swarming conventions of mainstream USA at Mandalay Bay for the National Finals Rodeo and New Las Vegas Marathon.
Taylormay have actually gotten under the usually taunting Hopkins’ skin at the final press conference. By embracing the title, Taylor has rubbed it in, purposely or not. That afternoon, Taylor meant it. Taylor rolled tape of a crying baby (his year-old daughter), then produced a doll with Cry Baby X Hopkins on a pink shirt. Some veteran Hopkins observers felt Bernard was truly steamed.
There was no real bad blood, but Hopkins more than returned the head trip. His response may have put a little extra fire in Taylor when he warned Taylor about leaving his family behind through an implication of death.
“I’m going to hug my wife and daughter because there’s no guarantee Saturday,” said Hopkins. “I know what this business is. No disrespect, but there’s no guarantees, so I’d advise Jermain, hug your wife, hug your daughter. Because it’s on man, and you never know.”
“Is he saying he’s going to kill me?” mused Taylor to the gathering. “Isn’t he on probation? Where’s my lawyer?” Taylor sounded amused, but there was a strong indication he was very pissed.
“Damn. I didn’t know it was that serious,” said Taylor. “I want this man to go home to his family just like I want to be with my family. I wouldn’t even let that come out of my mouth. It just shows how stupid he really is.”
In terms of inflicted brutality during the contest, there turned out to be almost the same probability of somebody getting hurt by falling asleep and rolling out of the stands. If there was any rematch clause this time, nobody was talking about it.
Hopkins entered to a James Brown medley of “I Feel Good” and “It’s a Man’s World.” When Hopkins left it wasn’t his world any more, but at least he still felt all right. He’ll fight again.
It didn’t seem Hopkins missed Bouie Fisher. Whether Fisher’s absence was all about moolah, as Fisher claimed, or the 77-year-old trainer’s health, per Hopkins’s side of the story, never became clear.
Nazim Richardson, a Hopkins’s camp assistant for around nine years, did a solid job in the corner. Richardson is also the father of 2000 Olympian Rock Allen, 4-0 (4), who conked out Calvin Pitts, 3-5-1 (1), at the end of the second round when Pitts’s corner intervened.
It isn’t discussed much lately, but a Hopkins-Wright contest could get the New Year off with a bang. After Wright whipped Trinidad, there was much speculation he’d be Hopkins’s big final test. The scenario is unlikely now, but it could still be great boxing.
It’s still a big notch for Wright, and a winnable goodbye fight if Hopkins wants to erase doubts about his all-time great status.
In the meantime, team Taylor spoke of an Arkansas homecoming against easier opposition next. That could be a spring date.
As for this year, Taylor has a strong claim to Fighter of the Year honors.
Ike Quartey made a strong impression on the undercard. Quartey, now 37-2-1 (31), showed he can still be plenty slick as he pounded Carlos Bojorquez, 25-8-6 (21). Bojorquez absorbed plenty of punishment before Joe Cortez decided going the distance wasn’t as important as long-term health and waved it off at 2:12 of the tenth and final frame. Bojorquez managed to demonstrate that Quartey is vulnerable to pressure.
Also looking good was Israel Vasquez, who blasted out Oscar Larios in their high stakes tiebreaker. 4-1 underdog Vasquez, 39-3 (28), dropped Larios, 56-4-1 (36), in the first frame and never looked back. Larios had a better second round, and showed the skill that made him the first to stop Wayne McCullough, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Vasquez couldn’t really cut off the ring, but he did two-handed damage all along the way, until ref Tony Weeks had seen enough at 2:52 of the third.
B-Hop’s nephew, Demetrius Hopkins also showed progress. Hopkins, now 22-0-1 (9), scored a TKO over outgunned Jesse Feliciano, 13-5-2 (8), at 2:23 the fourth of a scheduled ten.
Throughout fight weekend, scenes from “Rocky Balboa” were filmed live during crowd-related events like the weigh-in and ring walk. Fans were welcome to sign up as extras. It definitely raised he energy level. It was amusing to watch usually stoic commission, promotional, and media characters ham it up once the camera was rolling.
There were ten bells for the recently departed George Horowitz of Everlast Inc., and The Sweet Science’s own master scribe Pat Putnam. They would have enjoyed the arena’s duked-out ambiance.
Pay-per-view numbers came in at around 440,000 buys. That’s respectable numbers at $49.95 a pop.
HBO executives repeated the new company line, after what was considered a weak year that saw rival Showtime usurp positive word of mouth. They conceded that too many mismatches aired during 2005 while premium events went directly to HBO PPV. The new plan for 2006, admirable if carried out, is to return premier fights to the primary Saturday night series. The number of broadcasts will increase. Boxing After Dark will undergo some tweaking.
A ready looking Hasim Rahman generated a subdued but strong presence as he settled into his role of designated WBC heavyweight champ with new promoter Top Rank. Rahman did a good PR job with many well-wishers who congratulated him but didn’t care to discus much about his future. Considering his recent rollercoaster ride regarding the Klitschko cancellations, bankruptcy, and lawsuits, a wait and see attitude is probably the wisest way to go.
Fight fans won’t have to wait long at all to see another series of top flight contests begin in early ‘06.
Winky will continue calling Taylor out, maybe because Wright recognizes that Taylor may keep improving. For his part, Taylor promises active championship defenses against the very best. Meeting Wright by late summer would be a great place for both men to start, by adding premier opponents to their resumes.
Spring hopes eternal. Cards like Taylor-Hopkins II make it seem like a Golden Age could come again, maybe soon.
SHOWTIME subscribers can access Spinks-Judah II from Dec. 26 through Jan. 7 and Braithwaite-Mormeck from Dec. 21 through Jan. 7 in their entirety only at SHOWTIME On Demand.
On Feb. 5, 2005, Judah faced Cory Spinks in his hometown of St. Louis in the pair’s second match-up. Judah ruined Spinks’ homecoming before a record-setting crowd of more than 22,000 who turned up at the Savvis Center to support their local hero. The building was abuzz as Judah floored Spinks in the ninth, but he beat the count and Judah continued to land punishing blows that forced the stoppage at 2:49.
In the end, Judah won over the raucous crowd with an impressive and determined TKO to vindicate an earlier loss to Spinks and take the undisputed welterweight crown. Now Judah prepares to defend for the second time.
Then-WBA champion Mormeck met Braithwaite, the WBC titleholder, on April 2, 2005 in Worcester, Mass., in a bout that proved to be the preamble to the upcoming undisputed cruiserweight championship fight with Bell. Mormeck made history when he became the first boxer from France in any division to become a unified world champion by scoring a unanimous 12-round decision over the previously unbeaten Braithwaite. In the seventh round, Mormeck dropped Braithwaite with a devastating overhand right to score the bout’s only knockdown. Throughout the bout, Mormeck continuously hurt the smaller, quicker Braithwaite.
Now, both Mormeck and Bell have a chance at history when they collide in only the second undisputed cruiserweight unification fight ever. The winner will be the first in the division to unify the titles since Evander Holyfield defeated Carlos DeLeon in 1988. Many are calling this a match-up that will put the cruiserweight division back on the map for boxing fans.
The Jan. 7 cruiserweight unification bout will be the division’s third enthralling matchup on SHOWTIME in nine months. The first was Mormeck’s win over Braithwaite and the other was Guillermo Jones’ upset TKO victory over Braithwaite on Sept. 2.
It all changed in 1996, when Giovanni Parisi sold out the Palalido (back then, it had a capacity of 4000) and forced the promoter to move to a bigger venue. But the renewed popularity of boxing didn’t last long. Milan was abandoned for a few years and the Palalido became the heaven of kickboxing. Six companies promoted kickboxing shows and five of them were successful in drawing thousands of paying customers. Today, only two kickboxing promoters are still active and each one of them puts on one show a year. A new company debuted recently, but it didn’t announce a second card. The problem is that kickboxing never made it to the big time. It has always been ignored by newspapers and that keeps it a niche sport. TV networks broadcast kickboxing only when the promoter buys the airtime (paying a fee per hour). Even ring sports magazines cover kickboxing only after somebody invests big money in publicity. This situation says it all about the difference between boxing and the other ring sports: kickboxing & co. are considered small-time entertainment and nobody wants to give them space for free; boxing is considered a serious sport, with a large fan base, and everybody is willing to cover it and sponsor it. That’s why boxing is always able to come back after a crisis.
Gleason’s Gym owner Bruce Silvergrade told me, many times: Boxing is part of the human nature. It became a show when there were only three men on Earth: two were fighting, the third one was watching. It hasn’t stopped ever since and it will never stop. Going back to the Milan’s situation, we can legitimately say that boxing is back. That’s thanks to Salvatore Cherchi and his contacts with the national TV networks, big sponsors, foreign promoters and top officials of the major sanctioning bodies who bring their world title fights to Italy. That’s the main difference between the United States and Italy: in North America there are dozens of big promoters and countless small ones (it must be this way if 856 shows were promoted during 2003 in the U.S. and Canada); in Italy we have less than ten promoters in total and only one with international connections. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, there were four big promoters: Umberto Branchini, Rocco Agostino, Rodolfo Sabbatini and Renzo Spagnoli. It’s not that way now. On December 16, some of the best Italian fighters showed up against easy opponents in keep busy fights while waiting for a shot at a major title.
This was the main event because of Silvio Branco, one of the most successful Italian fighters of recent years. He won titles in three divisions. The list is so long that I’ll just name his most important accomplishments: Italian and WBU middleweight champion, WBU super middleweight champion, and WBA light heavyweight champion. His record comprised 53 wins (33 KOs), 8 losses and 2 draws. On the other hand, Branco’s opponent Radek Seman’s record was 6 wins and 11 losses. It looked like a mismatch on paper and it was a mismatch on canvas, with Branco knocking down Seman in the first round. In the second and third rounds, the fighters spent too much time clinching and not hitting properly. This caused the crowd to boo. It has to be said that there is a strong rivalry between Milan and Rome; Branco comes from Civitavecchia which is a coin toss from Rome. In the fourth stanza, Branco silenced the crowd by hitting Seman at will and forcing the referee to stop the fight.
Giacobbe Fragomeni vs. Zoltan Beres – 6 rounds - Cruiserweights
WBC international champion Giacobbe Fragomeni’s record was 18-0, with 7 wins coming by way of knockout (using Michael Buffer’s favorite expression) and he was aiming at a world title shot against WBO champion Johnny Nelson. Zoltan Beres had a journeyman’s record (27-27-2) and was just looking for a payday. So, it was easy to predict a Fragomeni win. The only doubt was if he could get it before the final bell. Fragomeni had the power to do it, but he told The Sweet Sciencebefore the fight that he wanted to go the six full rounds to keep improving. Fragomeni didn’t need six rounds because he hurt Beres early. It should be said that Beres looked like a giant compared to Fragomeni, but the Italian overcame the disadvantage in size and attacked Beres relentlessly. During the third stanza, Fragomeni hit Beres with a fast and powerful series of hooks and Beres went down. In the fourth round, Fragomeni scored a well deserved KO. For most in attendance, this was the real main event, since Giacobbe Fragomeni was the local idol. Everybody in the arena understood that when Fragomeni made his way to the ring to the howls of the crowd. Salvatore Cherchi said that he never saw Fragomeni in such a good shape and plans on making a big fight for him within four months.
Andrea Sarritzu vs. Kemal Plavci – 6 rounds – Flyweights
Andrea Sarritzu is one of the most promising talents around. He was born on April 9, 1976 on the island of Sardinia, a place that was home to many great champions. Consider legendary Italian, European and WBC world flyweight champion Salvatore Burruni (109 fights between 1957 and 1969: 99-9-1). In seven years as a pro, Sarritzu compiled a record of 22 wins (only 7 KOs), 3 losses and 3 draws. He won the IBF intercontinental light flyweight crown and the WBO intercontinental flyweight title. His two battles with WBO world flyweight champion Omar Narvaez were surprisingly close and gave Sarritzu’s reputation a big boost. On December 14, 2002 in Quartu Sant’Elena (Sarritzu’s birthplace and hometown), Narvaez won by split decision. On August 9, 2003 in Cagliari, Sarritzu and Narvaez fought to a draw. Last July 8, in Vigo (Spain), Sarritzu lost a unanimous decision to European flyweight champion Ivan Pozo. In Milan, Sarritzu faced professional loser Kemal Plavci (3 wins and 12 defeats) and should have made short work of him. Instead, the match went the distance and Sarritzu was declared the winner. It was a good fight, with both guys trading combinations, but it could hardly be described as exciting.
Massimo Morra vs. Frederic Bonifai – 6 rounds – Super bantamweights
Massimo Morra is building a reputation in Civitavecchia, where he lives. Morra’s record is14 wins (4 KOs), 1 loss and 1 draw. For his Milan debut, he faced an opponent, Frédéric Bonifai, with more experience, but on his way down: The Frenchman had a record of 28 wins (9 KOs), 25 losses and 3 draws. It should have been an easy win for Morra, but it ended in draw. A big disappointment for Morra’s crew.
Fabrizio Tronu vs. Nikolai Michailov – 6 rounds - Bantamweights
Another promising prospect from Sardinia, Fabrizio Tronu won 11 of his 12 matches, only 2 wins coming by KO. Last July 22, in the tourist destination called Campione d’Italia, he got a decision over Frederic Gosset. Tronu’s performance wasn’t impressive, so everybody was waiting to see him in the ring against Nikolai Michailov. The Bulgarian had a record of 3 wins and 11 losses. He shouldn’t have been a problem for Tronu; but he was. Michailov hit Tronu many times with good shots, and in the end the judges declared a draw. If Tronu wants to move up in the rankings, he must learn to make quick work of journeymen like Michailov.
Jerome Arnould vs. Cherif Saki – 6 rounds – Bantamweights
The surprise of the night: French Jerome Arnould (7 wins, 4 by KO, and 1 loss) lost on points to Algerian Cherif Saki who had just three fights on his record (1 win, 1 loss and 1 draw). Before this fight, Arnould was considered a prospect. From now on, he won’t be considered at all.
The fights of Sarritzu, Branco and Fragomeni were broadcasted live by national network SportItalia. In a few days, they will be broadcasted in 54 European countries by Eurosport.
Huge banners throughout the sold-out 10,000-seat Max Schmeling Halle hung from the rafters, and not a single photo of Ruiz was featured on the cover—or inside—the event program.
If one didn’t know better, they might think that Ruiz was the challenger and Valuev the champion.
But just as the audience in Oldenberg lustily whistled and booed when Valuev won a majority decision over Donald—that crowd of about 5,000 was not swayed by the one-sided propaganda they were fed and rightly sided with the American whom they felt had clearly out-boxed the Russian—the crowd in Berlin reacted in similar fashion when it was announced that Valuev had won a majority decision to become the first Russian to win a world heavyweight title.
In fact, possibly the loudest applause of the evening erupted after the fight when Ruiz’s colorful trainer, Norman “Stoney” Stone, ripped the belt off Valuev’s shoulder and held it up to the crowd in defiance.
That started a melee inside the ring with Stone being struck by Valuev cornerman Hagen Sevecke and the corresponding retaliation from Stone before order could be restored.
Ruiz did exactly what he promised at the beginning of the fight by coming right at Valuev, delivering left jabs and burrowing in to attempt to neutralize the Russian’s huge advantages in height, reach and weight.
Ruiz then did what nobody thought he would do midway into the round. He removed himself from the inside, content to stay on the outside. Valuev himself appeared a bit confused when Ruiz stepped back. The Russian waited to fire shots, and Ruiz came back inside with a flurry that delighted the crowd at the end of the opening stanza.
Ruiz continued to press the action in the second, but the lumbering giant seemed to have just warmed up. Ruiz then landed his best punch of the fight to that point, a big right hand. He tried to follow it with another shortly thereafter but missed while Valuev rallied to land a few jabs.
Valuev continued to establish his jab in the third round, which was enough to win the round on one of the judges scorecards—the first judging deviation after all judges were in agreement that Ruiz had won the first and Valuev the second.
Ruiz seemed comfortable to stay on the outside during the first minute of the fourth round and paid the price by again being on the end of Valuev’s jab. Ruiz was better served when he moved back inside and began to throw combinations, many of which scored including a right hand that landed flush on Valuev’s face that seemed to stun him just before the bell sounded ending the round.
But it wasn’t enough for Ruiz to win the round on two of the judges’ scorecards.
The bout, which had the appearance of a tugboat battling a supertanker, gievn the size difference of the fighters, moved into the fifth round where Valuev landed his best right hand of the fight to that point, which may have been the difference in a close round that was unanimously won by the Russian—as he did again in the sixth round.
Ruiz sensed that he needed to rally, and he did with strong combinations in one of the better rounds of the fight, the seventh. All three judges gave that round to Ruiz, and all three judges were in agreement that Valuev was ahead by one point going into the eighth.
Valuev’s trainer screamed at him to increase his intensity, and Ruiz remained right where he wanted him to be—on the outside—where Valuev again worked his jab and also landed a solid right, which was enough to win the round on all three cards and extended the Russian’s lead to two points across the board.
Ruiz burrowed inside again in the ninth where he boxed effectively and won the fight on two scorecards while the third judge, Derek Milham from Australia, deviated by scoring it a 10-10 draw. (This wouldn’t be his last 10-10 scoring, as he did the same thing in the final round, which had produced some of the most spirited action in the contest.)
The tenth appeared to be an even round until Ruiz unloaded a right hand and promptly followed with another that may have been his best punches of the fight. Valuev answered with a right of his own with both fighters still punching at the bell.
The scorers differed in this round as well: two gave it to Ruiz, probably swayed by those strong back-to-back rights, but Hector Hernandez from Mexico gave it to Valuev.
The fight was still up for grabs entering the championship rounds where one judge had the fight even, the two others were at 96-95 and 96-94 favoring Valuev.
It should also be noted that referee Stanley Christodoulou from South Africa had warned Valuev repeatedly throughout the fight for throwing elbows and holding but never deducted a point.
Ruiz slowed his punch output in the first half of the eleventh round while both fighters had marks showing under their eyes by this point. The judges were obviously confused in this round as two judges split the round and the third judge scored it a draw.
Stone yelled at Ruiz during the break before the final round, much like Valuev’s trainer had implored his fighter to step up the action earlier.
Both fighters seemed to give what they had left in the final round, with many ringside observers feeling Ruiz had won the round, but two judges gave it to Valuev. The remaining judge, Milham, inexplicably scored the final round of a heavyweight championship match a draw.
In the end, one judge scored the fight 114-114, while the two remaining judges favored Valuev by scores of 116-114 and 116-113, giving the Russian the WBA title by majority decision.
“I worked 12 years for this moment,” Valuev said after the fight. “I excuse myself for not having the most beautiful performance but the most important thing is that I won the decision and the title. “
Ruiz felt he was robbed of his championship.
“I think this (decision) is ridiculous,” Ruiz said in his locker room after the fight. “This is a sad moment. Not only does this destroy me but it doesn’t do any good for boxing.
“It’s up to the people of Germany and around the world who saw this fight on TV to decide what they thought of this decision.”
Ruiz added: “Other that the [bad] decision, I loved everything about Berlin, Germany and its people. I’m gonna let them decide but I want a rematch. Boxing is on a path to destruction [with decisions like this].
Ruiz was also critical of the Christodoulou, who he said didn’t do enough to stop Valuev’s holding and elbows.
“The referee didn’t do his job. He should be fined. If they (referees) can’t maintain the rules it’s chaos in there.”
Ruiz’s attorney Anthony Cardinale said at the post-fight press conference that he would petition the WBA to review the fight and determine if a rematch is in order.
Ibragimov, now 19-0 (16 KOs) went right after Whitaker, 31-4-1 (26 KOs), assaulting him with combinations to the body and head. The southpaw sent Whitaker to the canvas for the first time in round one with a left hand. Whitaker, to his credit, backed Ibragimov up a few times later in the round with rights.
Whitaker tasted the canvas again in the second from a left to the body, right to the head combination. The transplanted Russian, now living in South Florida, gave the gentle giant a beat down in the third frame, unleashing savage lefts to the body.
Ibragimov seemed to slow in the fourth. For the next several rounds Whitaker set the pace as he attempted to walk down his smaller opponent. Whitaker scored with a few hard right hands, even buckling Ibragimov’s knees at one point. However, the threat of Ibragimov’s left hand was enough to keep Whitaker’s right hand in place for much of the fight.
Whitaker was knocked down for the third time in the sixth after two cracking left hands set up a combination that sent him to the mat for the last time.
Ibragimov picked up the pace in the seventh and opened a cut over Whitaker’s right eye. When Dr. Stanley Simpson examined Whitaker, the fighter told him he had blurred vision in the eye, which forced Simpson to recommend halting the fight.
Ibragimov is currently ranked #15 by the IBF and will certainly vault into the top 10 as Whitaker was rated #10.
Ibragimov displayed terrific hand speed, power, boxing ability and a willingness to slug it out with the bigger man – all traits that the television networks will likely notice. The performance certainly wasn’t lost on Ibragimov’s manager Sampson Lewkowicz. “The networks are looking for new blood,” he said. “Please, HBO and Showtime, it’s a new beginning. Forget the old men.” Lewkowicz stated that he would be willing to put Ibragimov in the ring with anyone that the networks desired.
The fight, which had built up some interest due to a press conference brawl (in which Lewkowicz was knocked unconscious), overshadowed the main event between Samuel Peter and Robert Hawkins.
This was Peter’s first fight since his defeat to Wladimir Klitschko. The heavy-handed Nigerian pounded out an uneventful (and quite boring) 10 round decision over Robert Hawkins, 21-5 (7 KOs).
Peter, 25-1 (21 KOs), knocked Hawkins down in the first with a left hook. For the next several rounds, the crowd paid more attention to a fallen Panama Lewis at ringside. Sultan Ibragimov’s legendary and infamous trainer suffered a heart attack shortly after the Peter-Hawkins fight began. Lewis had no pulse and was flatlining before paramedics revived him with a defibrillator. Lewis was conscious and talking as he was taken to the hospital.
After the fourth round, the fight was halted in order to get replacement medical personnel at ringside. When the contest resumed, there was confusion as to the timing of the round. The fifth seemed to last only about a minute long.
For the rest of the bout, Peter was content to throw one punch at a time, while Hawkins barely mounted any offense, instead staying in survival mode.
After ten rounds, Peter was awarded a unanimous decision by scores of 98-91 and 99-90 twice.
In undercard action:
· Lightweight Jesus Pabon won a four round unanimous decision over Mike Salyers.
· Heavyweight Mike Marrone remained undefeated with a first round KO over Curtis Taylor.
· Cruiserweight contender Dale Brown pitched a six round shutout over Dennis McKinney.
· In a battle of undefeated heavyweights, JD Chapman took an unpopular but deserved twelve round decision over Edward Gutierrez.
· Undefeated middleweight John Duddy electrified the crowd for three rounds before opponent Wilmer Mejias refused to come out for the fourth, complaining of an injured hand.
Many celebrities were at ringside for the Warriors Boxing Promotions card, including Mike Tyson, Angelo Dundee, Glen Johnson, Shannon Briggs, Lil John and Burt Reynolds.