Approaching the age of 41, Hopkins may no longer be middleweight champion, but he will go down as one of the great middleweights in history, the division champ who holds the record for consecutive title defenses at twenty. He may not have beaten the crème de la crème of the division, including the likes of Greb, Ketchel, Robinson, Monzon, Hagler, Griffith, Fulmer, and LaMotta, but Hopkins will leave us as a Hall of Fame fighter who dominated his division for a decade. The lack of stellar competition that Hopkins faced does make you question how he would fare against the elite middleweights who fought before him, but regardless, we cannot take away from his record-setting number of title defenses.
Despite his brilliant career, The Executioner may have executed himself in these last two fights with Taylor, letting the early rounds slip away in accordance with his supposed “game plan,” and then coming on stronger in the second half of both fights. The problem with Hopkins’ strategy of taking time to figure his opponent out was that its success was seemingly molded around a fifteen-round fight, not a twelve-round one. Hopkins made the mistake of taking rounds for granted against Taylor and it cost him dearly. The first time cost him his middleweight crown and the record title defenses along with it and this time he lost his chance for redemption and the opportunity to fly off into the sunset in perfect contentment.
Now Hopkins is left to reflect on what could have been if he fought with just a smidgeon more desperation. But then again, that may be too much to ask for a champion who believes himself to be invincible after so many years of using his Philly-born craftiness to generally dominate his opponents.
Against Jermain Taylor, he needed to be hungrier and he wasn’t. Part of his problem is the fact that his perception seems to be slightly skewed always in his favor. Hopkins’ mind tells him that he can control a round by feinting, circling, ducking, and holding, but the judges don’t generally give style points for those moves; rather, they’re looking to see who lands the more effective punches. Getting inside the fascinatingly complicated mind of Bernard Hopkins is no easy task, but it seems that he truly believes he won most of the rounds against Taylor in which he was so incredibly patient in dissecting his opponent that the bell rang before he could execute.
Ever hear of the Evander Holyfield syndrome? The former heavyweight champion’s affliction in which his perception of reality is so far from the truth that you’d think he had to be making up his story. Thus, despite being banned by New York State’s commission because of his consistently awful performances, we continue to deal with the Holyfield saga as he continues to talk about regaining his glory.
This disease of perception also seems to have been the cause of Hopkins’ ultimate downfall. He didn’t lose to Jermain Taylor because of his “old age,” he lost because he manipulated himself into a false sense of security, believing no one could beat him no matter what circumstance. He was wrong, and in essence, he lied to himself.
B-Hop, as he likes to be abbreviated, will go down in the books, not just as the guy you didn’t want to fight because of his old school, break-you-down Philadelphia style. You didn’t want to promote the guy either. He calls himself a boxing reformist, while promoters such as Dan Goossen call him a bad person and a nightmare to work with. Whatever you want to call him, Hopkins’ unique, enigmatic personality will leave its mark on our sport. Hopkins prided himself on his independence and his ability to change “the system” by eventually promoting himself. He rebelled against the boxing establishment and ultimately won his career-long battle, using his fearlessness and determination to do things his way.
Now, seemingly on the verge of retirement, Hopkins may have lost his middleweight crown, but he will walk away victorious as an already successful promoter, teaming up with his former vanquished opponent, Oscar De La Hoya, as a partner in Golden Boy Promotions.
There’s the saying that you can learn a lot about a person by looking into his eyes. That holds true when talking about Bernard Hopkins. When you talk to the man, you can’t help but to notice that fire burning brightly in his eyes. It’s an intensity that forces you to look away at times just like when you try and stare directly into the rays of the sun. When he walks toward you, it feels as if a powerful storm is heading your way. Fiercely driven, Hopkins’ eyes speak of a man on a mission, a man possessed, who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. I’m still waiting to come face-to-face with a man whose eyes are as haunting in their desperate search for independence and vindication as those of Bernard Hopkins.
“Understand that I’m at my best when it comes to proving a point, not only to show that I’m a better fighter and a better athlete at 40½ years old, but I’m at my best when I know I’ve got to beat the system again.”
Despite his success in freeing himself from the grips of the “evil” promoter, ironically only to become one himself, Hopkins has also lost along the way during his tireless campaign against the exploitation of fighters. Besides driving the obvious promoters away, B-Hop has alienated himself from the boxing establishment throughout his illustrious career, enjoying the role of “the black sheep,” and keeping fans at a distance. Considering his record middleweight reign, you’d think his popularity would be monumental. But that’s not the case because he combined an unflattering, cautious style with a combative and intimidating personality.
That’s why we’ll remember Hopkins’ courtroom battles with more alacrity than his nineteen title defenses. Just ask Lou DiBella, Don King, Bob Arum, etc. They all became tangled up at one time or another in B-Hop’s complex web and they all ended up in the front of the courtroom.
So as we leave this controversial champion for maybe the last time, some may be relieved to see this personality finally fade away, while others will still miss his out-of-the-ring antics. From the rough streets of Philly, to years of incarceration, to the middleweight championship, to promoting his own fights, Hopkins’ legend will be hard to forget.
Complicated to say the least, Hopkins has created a strange aura around him that is shaped both by the old-school tactics he lived by in the ring as well as his own personal liberation movement that sought to shake-up boxing’s hierarchal order. His great leadership skills were honed long ago when he made a living in the field of robbery.
“The one thing I’ve always been is a leader. Even when I was out in the streets doing all kinds of wrong and ended up going to prison, I was never a follower. The guys I rode with looked up to me.”
All Bernard Hopkins wanted in his career was to do things his way. That he accomplished, along with the all-time middleweight title defense record in tow. It’s time now to say goodbye to “The Executioner,” whose bright sun has finally set, yet his imprint has forever been embedded in the history of boxing for better or worse.
Brunch was served on schedule at 11 am, but an hour and fifteen minutes would elapse before Judah and his noisy entourage appeared, immediately doubling the size of the gathering. If this had been a more circumspect sport like, say, golf, Zab might have been disqualified for missing his tee time, but in this case it was probably just as well that the Brooklyn contingent showed up late. If they’d been on time there’d have been no food left for the press.
Judah, the undisputed welterweight champion, will face one of his mandatory challengers, top-rated WBC contender Carlos Baldomir, in the main event of the Showtime card. The evening will also produce another ‘undisputed’ when WBA/WBC champ Jean-Marc Mormeck of France meets IBF titlist O’Neil Bell in the co-feature.
(Yet a third world title will be on the line that night, when IBF light-flyweight champion Will Grigsby defends against Mexican Ulises "Archie" Solis.)
Baldomir is a rugged-looking Argentine with a modest record of 41-9-6. He hasn’t lost since 1998 (though there have been a couple of intervening draws), and ostensibly earned his title shot by upsetting Miguel Rodriguez in a Chicago eliminator back in May, though it probably didn’t hurt his chances that New York attorney (and former King publicist) Mike Marley is Baldomir’s “advisor.”
“Play your cards right,” Marley’s successor Alan Hopper was told, “and ten years down the line you might get one of your fighters on one of Don’s cards.”
Baldomir is a rugged-looking boxer who claims fealty to the late middleweight champion Carlos Monzon, another native of Santa Fe. It could be that he is a late bloomer like Monzon, who suffered all three of his career losses (and – count ‘em – nine draws) before he left Argentina, but went on to win and defend the undisputed middleweight title a then-record 14 times, but physically Baldomir calls to mind not Monzon, but another Argentinian of more modest gifts, Juan Domingo Roldan.
“Baldomir is a fighter,” Judah (34-2), reminded the audience. “He’s the No. 1 mandatory so you have to respect him for that, but at the same time I’m here to do what I do best and that is destroy. I’m here to take on the best. I am not here to run from anyone, I only take on the best. I do not run from anyone. I want the best and nothing less.”
Judah may have inherited part of Mike Tyson’s considerable entourage, but he proceeded to demonstrate that his knowledge of boxing lore and history isn’t quite up to Mike’s. In proclaiming the 147-pound class “the division everyone wants to be undisputed at,” he ticked off a short list of former welterweight champions that included Marvin Hagler, who never had a welterweight fight in his life.
The winner of the Mormeck-Bell fight will become the first undisputed cruiserweight champion since Evander Holyfield in 1988. Mormeck (31-2), who solidly outpointed Wayne Braithwaite in Worcester, Mass., last April to add the WBC title to the WBA belt he already owned, plans to add a third championship. Bell (25-1-1) is Jamaican-born, currently lives in Atlanta, and owns a win over Holyfield. (William Holyfield, who he stopped in the first round his pro debut; six weeks later in his second pro fight, O’Neil was knocked out by somebody named Mohammed Ben Guesmia in South Carolina.
Presumably he has improved since.
“Mormeck does not back up,” said Bell. “He will come to me. It’s an excellent way to start the year, and you can expect explosions. Most of my opponents have ducked and dodged me, but Mormeck has come and put up the belts.”
“We’ll be ready,” proclaimed Mormeck, who cited Holyfield – Evander, not William – as “a great example to me.”
Although Judah, a native New Yorker, will be topping the bill in his hometown, King wisely opted to put the Jan. 7 event in the 6,000-seat Theatre. Zab will bring a sizeable contingent, but unless we badly miss our guess, most of them won’t be paying customers.
The event will also celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Showtime Championship Boxing, and Judah is right about this much: It promises to be a good start to the New Year.
“I was very disappointed following my loss to Bell,” says Rothman. “I was four minutes away from claiming the title and could taste victory going into the eleventh round. The next thing I knew I was doing a mattress advert in the middle of the ring.”
Rothman was ahead on one of the judge’s scorecards and even on the other two at the start of the eleventh round, even though the referee for some reason did not acknowledge the fact that the Israeli-born South African had knocked the champion down at the end of round four.
“Bell is certainly a tremendous puncher and hits harder than anybody else I’ve ever fought, but in the middle to late rounds the only thing he was doing was hitting me below the belt. In my next fight you may have to call me Miss Rothman,” the fighter says. “Thank goodness I’ve already got two kids.”
“I realized after the fight that I was not properly prepared for it,” says Rothman, who is not one to make excuses. “I battled with the humidity and I was also too light going into the fight.” Rothman tipped the scales at 194½ lbs, but was feasting on pizza the day before the weigh-in trying to add a few pounds. Rothman does build up a sweat quickly and has a tendency of dehydrating a lot faster than normal; another reason the humidity proved a problem.
On his split with his promoter Rodney Berman and trainer Harold Volbrecht, Rothman says it was a mutual decision. “We don’t have the same vision for my future,” says the likable boxer nicknamed The Soldier. “One of the biggest problems in my career is that I was not kept busy, so could never build up momentum. If you’ve got momentum it builds confidence. I never had that going against Bell and I certainly have not reached the heights I could have had I been given matches against better opposition earlier in my career.”
Rothman did claim the WBU and the IBO cruiserweight world titles, but has always hungered to get in the ring with the big names. He’s passionate about the sport and has a love for boxing, which is not noticeable in most other pugilists. “I wanted to challenge Osborne Maschimane for the South African heavyweight title. Having beaten the previous champion in a non-title fight, I figured it would be a good marketing exercise to win the title. There aren’t any cruiserweights of note for me to fight so I’d move up for that one.”
Herein lays a possible obstacle: Maschimane is also trained by Volbrecht and promoted by Berman. Ironically, it was not long ago that former WBO heavyweight world champion Corrie Sanders also parted ways with Berman and Volbrecht citing inactivity and that his best interests were not always looked after. One seems to recall that he was not fully prepared when climbing into the ring against Vitali Klitschko. “The split has been two years coming,” says Rothman. “The Machimane fight wasn’t a factor. I just think he should clean house at home before launching an international career.
“I figure I’ve still got a good two to three years left before I call it a day and don’t want to waste it sitting around hoping I’ll get a fight.”
Asked whether he would be prepared to relocate to pursue the big names in the US or other shores, Rothman says “Yes, if I get the right offer and it was to advance my career I would be prepared to relocate. I have already received a few offers out of Europe, but I haven’t signed with anybody as yet.
“Looking at Mormeck vs. Bell, I think Mormeck will outmuscle Bell and try and impose his physical presence on the fight,” continues Rothman. “Mormeck is incredible strong and imposing, but having said that, if Bell lands he could stop him. Bell has a very deceiving punch. He fights off the back foot and looks very relaxed. You don’t expect him to land with such authority, but he can punch. He’s also an awkward fighter. Another thing people don’t realize about Bell is that he has tremendous heart. When he’s back is against the wall he can dig deep and do what he needs to do. He’s got a lot of heart. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Rothman makes no secret that he would love to get in the ring with the winner of the Mormeck-Bell unification. “The last unified cruiserweight champion was Evander Holyfield and he’s one of my heroes. It would be a dream come true if I could contest that title. It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a child. Fighting and beating the best boxers in the world.”
And who would he want to win between Mormeck and Bell? “Well, seeing as though I came so close against Bell, I would want him to do well,” says Rothman, the tone of his voice indicating that it may be a bridge to far for Bell. “But let’s say I’ll support whichever one would be prepared to defend against me. ”
Rothman has a fine appreciation of boxing skill and adds that he thinks stylistically Steve Cunningham could defeat both Mormeck and Bell, his only problem being that he does not have a punch.
On what he’d do different if he had a rematch with Bell, Rothman replied, “Oh, I learned my lesson. There are a few things I’d do different and in the end I think I could knock him out with a jab. I’d also work his body more. Besides the low blows, he worked my body well and it did slow me down.”
In other South African news Mzonke Fana returns to the ring on Friday night in his first fight since losing to Marco Antonio Barrera for the WBC junior lightweight world title eight months ago. He faces Filipino fighter Benjamin Sollano (10-5, 7 KOs) in front of his home crowd in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape. “I’ve come to terms with my loss against Barrera,” says Fana. “Now I want to get back on the winning track and earn another shot at another credible world title.”
* * *
Mzonke Fana, 23-3 (9 KOs), showed some fine form in stopping Filipino Benjamin, 10-6 (7 KOs), Sollano in four rounds in Khayalitsha on Friday night in his first outing since losing to Marco Antonio Barrera eight months ago. The break has seemingly done the South African good as he looked composed and fired his blows with confidence and precision. Fana dominated throughout and dropped Solano with a solid right. Feeling like a cat whose milk was plucked away before he could drink it following his loss to Barrera, Fana is determined to prove that he is worth more. He has stated that he intends working his way back into contention for a “credible” world title and has no interest in contesting the titles of the smaller sanctioning bodies like the IBO, WBU, etc. Although this bout was in reality nothing more than a warmup for Fana, there is a change detectable in the man and the Barrera experience may well have served to mature him to another level. Fana is back and by the looks of it he intends to stay.
Unbeaten Dmitriy "Star of David" Salita will headline the card. The Brooklyn-based Salita (23-0, 14 KOs) will be looking to extend his professional unbeaten streak to 24 straight wins in the main event when he squares off against punching-machine Robert Frankel (12-4, 1 KO) of Denver, Colorado, known to throw 100 punches per round.
Spanish Harlem standout Edgar "El Chamaco" Santana (15-2, 10 KOs) and his sizzling take-no-prisoners style will be showcased in the co-feature.
The knockout artistry of Brownsville's Curtis "Showtime" Stevens (9-0, 8 KOs) will also be among the holiday gifts for fight fans when he takes on Kia Daniels (5-2, 3 KOs) of Louisville, KY.
Two additional stocking stuffers on the card will be Staten Island featherweight Gary Stark, Jr. (12-0, 6 KOs), who will step into the ring against Jose Hernandez (8-2, 4 KOs) of Atlanta, GA, and Emmanuel "Sleek" Clottey (23-6, 14 KOs), from Queens by way of Ghana, in a welterweight contest against James Crayton (34-22-2, 21 KOs) from the fighting city of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Atlantic City prospect Lorenzo Bathea (4-1) will meet Rasheen Daniels (3-7-1, 2 KO) from Warren, Ohio in a six round junior welterweight bout.
Tickets are priced at $150, $100, $80, $60 and $40, and are available by calling DiBella Entertainment at 212-947-2577.
Broadway Boxing Presented by Turning Stone Resort and Casino will air on a later date on MSG Network, Fox Sports Net New England, Comcast Sportsnet Chicago and HDNET.
Along with Turning Stone Resort and Casino, the site and title sponsor, Broadway Boxing is also sponsored by HBO Sports, Locatestock.com and Gallagher's Steak House, as well as Prime Grill for the season-ending card.
The fight will be shown on free German television on ARD channel 1 but will not be seen in America and is co-presented by Berlin-based Sauerland Event, promoter of Valuev, and Don King Productions, promoter of Ruiz.
The assembled German media seemed interested and curious to be covering the build up to a rare occurrence: a world heavyweight championship being determined in Berlin.
The press conference took place adjacent to the U.S. Embassy and a stone’s throw from the seat of government for Germany, the Reichstag and Bundeskanzleramt (the Reichstag is to Congress what the Bundeskanzleramt is to the White House).
Another 500 yards down the road is the site of the former Berlin Wall.
Today, a unified Berlin is a bustling, modern city of about 3.5 million people that is in the middle of its winter weather, which is almost always overcast and chilly.
Santa Claus and his reindeer are ubiquitous in this capital city with posters throughout town announcing the return of the annual holiday Wienacht Circus featuring, you guessed it, Santa Claus and more reindeer.
It will be staged on the former site of the castle of the Prussian Monarchy, where the German emperors lived beginning in 1871 with Wilhelm I. Frederic III took over in 1888 but he died after just 100 days. Wilhelm II then came to power until being exiled to Holland after World War I, ending the German monarchy and paving the way for the first German Republic.
The castle of Prussia no longer stands. It was bombed during World War II and later completely removed by the communist East German government after they took over in 1949, thus making it a perfect site for the circus.
Noteworthy in their holiday spirit, Berliners seem to have saved some of the old world flavor of the season as compared to what is seen in most malls of America during December. Shopping and eating at open-air clusters of temporary booths abound on various streets and corners throughout the heart of Berlin creating a festive holiday atmosphere.
Many of these booths are operated by craftsmen who have traveled into the city from the surrounding countryside to sell items they have created themselves for sale.
The undefeated, No. 1-challenger Valuev, who stands 7 feet and weighed in for his last fight against Larry Donald at an astonishing 324½ pounds, was asked by a reporter to explain how he obtained his “Beast from the East” nickname. He explained that was done by former management and that he now prefers the “Giant Russian” moniker.
A better description may be provided visually when Valuev enters the ring. He doesn’t step through the ropes; he steps OVER them!
Valuev says Ruiz’s star-studded world championship fight record including wins over Evander Holyfield, Kirk Johnson, Hasim Rahman, Fres Oquendo and Andrew Golota do not faze him.
“I am not any more nervous for this fight because it is my first world championship match,” Valuev said. “I will try to keep Ruiz away from inside clinching to use my height and reach advantages to prevail.
John Ruiz has been in Berlin for a week and was also polite when he spoke, noting this was the first time he has visited Germany.
“I’m honored to be in Germany defending my title,” Ruiz said. “If a KO comes it comes. That just means I get to leave work early. I’m coming into this fight in great shape to go 12 rounds.
“I’m not worried about his height or reach advantage. I trained to fight and will come to fight. My game plan is to take the fight to him, which will neutralize any height or reach advantage.”
When asked if he fears the bout going the distance, Ruiz spoke plainly: “I know there have been questionable decisions [in Germany] but what can I do? I can only do my best.”
One journalist asked Ruiz if it was true that he arrived in Berlin with 28 pieces of luggage, and if so, why?
“We plan to bring pieces of the giant Russian back to the United States” he quipped. “We’re going to give them out as Christmas presents.”
Ruiz’s manager Norman Stone, normally colorful, was uncharacteristically demure in addressing the Berlin media.
“We respect Valuev,” Stone said. “He’s a big guy and a tough guy and anything can happen. That’s why preparation is so important. Johnny’s prepared. My guy’s ready and it’s going to be a great fight.”
They are junior welterweight Dmitriy Salita, 23-0 (14 KOs); junior welterweight Edgar Santana, 15-2 (10 KOs); junior featherweight Gary Stark Jr., 12-0 (6 KOs); super middleweight Curtis Stevens, 9-0 (8 KOs); and “Punchin” Pat Nwamu, 10-1 (3 KOs).
All are very popular, well-established prospects with large local followings. Stark, for example, has fought three of his last four fights in New York. His busy, crowd-pleasing style has left his fans clamoring for more. On Thursday he will square off against Jose Hernandez, 8-2 (4 KO), of Atlanta.
A native of Brooklyn who now fights out of Staten Island, the 25-year-old Stark loves the pressure of competing at home. “It’s a great feeling to fight in front of all of your friends and family,” he said. “With every combination I throw and every punch I land, I know they are cheering me on to victory.”
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Stark, who is nicknamed “The Kid,” started boxing relatively late. His first competitive tournament was in the 1999 New York Metros tournament where he advanced to the finals. That same year he also reached the finals of the New York City Golden Gloves.
That was the last year that Stark would come in second locally. In 2000, he won titles in both of those tournaments and, with only 13 bouts to his credit, made it to the finals of the Eastern Olympic Trials. He finished his amateur career as a three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion and was ranked fifth in the country by USA Boxing.
“I was always around boxing, from the time I was five or six years old,” said The Kid, whose father, a former amateur standout named Gary Sr., is of Guatemalan and Jewish descent. Stark’s mother is Puerto Rican.
Although the young Stark was around boxing, he didn’t always cotton to it. His first love was always baseball, and he played second base for Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn. However, once he realized he’d have a better shot at a pro boxing career than a pro baseball career, he donned the gloves for good.
“Once I gave up baseball, I became totally committed to boxing,” said Stark. “Now boxing is my life.”
He is also committed to establishing a second career in the entertainment industry. He is assisted in that endeavor, as well as boxing, by Damon Dash of Roc-A-Fella Records. Stark recently got a modeling assignment that appeared in Playboy magazine, and was also featured on New York’s Emmy award winning WB 11 morning news program in early December.
“I have a lot of plans for the future,” said Stark, who has fought professionally in New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, Tennessee, Florida, Maryland and Alabama. “Boxing is just part of the plan.”
Stark has no shortage of other positive people in his life, including retired NYPD detective Tommy Dades, who was instrumental in the arrest of two retired New York City detectives for committing numerous murders for the mob. Dades’ work on that case resulted in him being interviewed on “60 Minutes.”
Dades is a trainer at the Park Hill Boxing Club on Staten Island, where Stark Jr. and Sr. work out regularly. “The Kid is something special,” said Dades. “He’s going a long way. He works hard, has patience, and surrounds himself with good people. A year or two from now, you’re going to see him on HBO. He’s that good.”
As difficult as it is becoming an East Coast junior featherweight sensation, The Kid is undeterred. He saw Junior Jones do it, and he is convinced he can do it too.
“Things will fall into place,” he said confidently. “All I got to do is keep fighting and winning.”
Stark has been out of action for a few months because of an injury he incurred in training. However, he is raring to go in what he is certain will be his first fight back on the road to a glorious future.
“It is a thrill to be fighting again,” he said. “Unfortunately this Christmas the only holiday colors my opponent will see are black and blue. I’ve been training hard since my last fight in June and I know I will be ready for this fight.”
The Manhattan Center is located on West 34th Street, just off of 8th Avenue in Manhattan. The doors open at 6:00 P.M. and the fists start flying at 7:00 P.M. Tickets range from $40 to $150. Contact DiBella Entertainment at 212-947-2577 for tickets or further information.
For the past nine years, One Songchai Promotions has promoted shows featuring some of the world’s finest Muay Thai fighters and also some of Thailand’s best up-and-coming boxers. Each year, without fail, a crowd swells to nearly one hundred thousand at the Royal Garden to watch bouts that go from early afternoon until the wee hours of the morning.
Former WBA super featherweight champion Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai (46-3-1, 36 KOs) outclassed 140 lb. Filipino champion Bart Abapo (16-4-2, 11 KOs) in a workmanlike effort en route to winning a unanimous six-round decision. The 35-year-old Sor Nanthachai showed good defensive skills and by round three was walking through the punches of Abapo. In the fourth stanza he dropped Abapo with a short right hook; in the sixth a barrage of punches led to another knockdown and only the bell saved Abapo. All three judges scored the bout 60-52.
There are rumors Sor Nanthachai may face Venezuelan knockout artist Edwin Valero in the near future, but at this stage nothing has been confirmed. The Thai is known for having an excellent chin and Valero is known for his terrific KO power. Sor Nanthachai has the experience; Valero has youth plus a record 17 straight first-round knockouts to his credit. Sor Nanthachai surprisingly lost his title back in April in a war against Vincent Mosquera and looks to try and regain it sometime next year.
In the co-main event, Thailand’s Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (12-0, 5 KOs) coasted to a twelve-round unanimous decision over Jeffrey Onate (29-21-6, 16 KOs) of the Philippines to retain his Asian Boxing Council Featherweight title for the seventh time. By the end of the twelve-round bout both the eyes of Onate were swollen and nearly shut. The loss is the fourth in a row for Onate. All three judges scored the bout 120-108.
December 6, 2005 The Mall Shopping Center, Ngamwongwan, Nonthaburi, Thailand
Former WBA and WBC bantamweight champion Veerapol Nakornluang (52-2-2, 36 KOs) made quick work of veteran Rey Llagas (57-27-3, 37 KOs), using a rapid-fire body attack to absolutely obliterate the Filipino before he could even get started. The end came from one, well-placed punch to the stomach at 2:19 of the second round.
The 37-year-old Sahaprom is hoping to regain the title he defended 14 times and held for seven years. Sahaprom lost the title by a close unanimous decision to Japan’s Hozumi Hasegawa and a rematch in 2006 is eagerly anticipated.
Napapol Kiattisakchokchai squared off against Tanzanian Francis Miyeyusho in the co-main event and they wasted no time getting down to business. Both fighters came out on a mission in round one and it seemed doubtful the fight would go the distance. Miyeyusho (15-3-1, 5 KOs) looked to have the edge in hand speed and for the first two minutes of the round got the better of the exchanges. But at the end of the round Kiattisakchokchai (34-2, 30 KOs) landed a straight to the head of the lanky African that had his spindly legs doing the funky chicken.
In round two Kiattisakchokchai aggressively cut the ring off, forcing Miyeyusho against the ropes where he reeled off body shot after body shot. A right hook to the body dropped Miyeyusho, who gamely rose at the count of eight. Miyeyusho had no answer for the powerful attack of Kiattisakchokchai; an accumulation of punches, followed by two shots on the beltline, floored Miyeyusho once again. Although seemingly wide-eyed and capable of getting up, he sat through the ten-count and the fight was called at 2:48 of round two.
Kiattisakchokchai is currently the WBC # 2 ranked super bantamweight, one spot ahead of fellow countryman Saenghiran Lookbanyai.
BEFORE TAKING UP permanent residence in the Big Mango (Bangkok), I called Southern California my home. I was extremely fortunate to have a boss who had season tickets to the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles and was usually too busy to use them. I was always given the tickets via courier at the last minute, but it didn’t matter. I’d always make the two hour drive because I knew that while many of the boxers who fought at the Forum were unknowns, the place had a reputation for staging battles between tough Latino fighters.
Agapito Sanchez dropped a majority decision to Guty Espada in early 1998 and while I have long since forgotten the specifics of the fight, I always remembered his determination and his name. The he took on Juan Manuel Marquez, Cesar Soto, Freddie Norwood, Javier Jauregui, Guty Espada, Nestor Lopez and Oscar Larios. He certainly didn’t shy away from a tough fight and it’s too bad more fighters aren’t more like him.
The years passed and after his draw with Manny Pacquiao I lost track of him. Then I heard he was fighting Artyom Simonyan. He was out of sight but not out of mind and I didn’t forget what a tough, gritty fighter he was, so when I found out Simonyan was the favorite, I put a few hundred bucks on Sanchez. It came as no surprise to me when he knocked out Simonyan in five. Thanks Agapito. R.I. P.
I GREW UP in South Miami when South Beach was only a beach and Ft. Lauderdale had yet to be tamed. As a young boy I poured over the sports pages of the Miami Herald on a daily basis, reading about any and all sports. The name Pat Putnam stuck with me over the years and when I first began writing for The Sweet Science I was damn proud to be writing on the same site as he was.
A few weeks ago out of the blue, I received an email from the venerable Pat Putnam himself. When I got his email I hurriedly opened it to find out why the boxing poet would be emailing me. Much to my surprise it seemed he was a fan of my efforts and simply wanted to tell me to keep up the good work. Needless to say, that email made my day. In subsequent weeks we continued to exchange emails and I feel fortunate to have gotten to know him if only just a little. His first email is now framed and on the wall in my office.
”Except for the two guys inside the ropes, I would have packed it in a long time ago, but since we are the only guys between them and THEM, I couldn't do it.” – Pat Putnam
None of those thespians invested more time and depth to their craft than Audley Harrison. A man who devoted five years to the role of heavyweight contender, misleading the great and the good in the sport along the way. Harrison’s portrayal lacked the gritty realism of Rocky I or the sugar coating of Rocky IV but it deserved plaudits, critical acclaim and arguably a golden statue all the same. Opinions as informed as George Foreman, Lennox Lewis and our own Richie Woodhall all bought into the hype, believing Harrison had the tools and the connections to become a heavyweight champion. Foreman was even led to say Harrison would be a world champion in 2006. He fooled so many. The charade’s only weakness, that eventually Harrison would have to have a fight to win one, came on Saturday night.
Finally, the 6-5, 250 pound southpaw looked across the ring at an opponent with the punch and ability to expose him. When the curtain went back, the spotlight lurched toward him and Harrison’s moment of truth arrived, he got stage fright, and the carefully constructed ruse collapsed. It was reminiscent of Jim Carey in the Truman Show, except paradoxically Harrison had been the only one in on the secret.
So conservative, so cautious and so weak willed was Harrison, the 15,000 strong ringside audience booed unanimously from the third round onwards. Fighters can fool writers, they can fool a sycophantic entourage, they can even fool themselves, but the one guy Harrison has never really fooled is Joe Public.
The eight million viewers who tuned in either out of genuine or passing interest will have wondered what happened to the sport; had the politically correct European bureaucrats in Brussels intervened and outlawed punching? On the evidence of Harrison and Williams’ soporific output on Saturday you couldn’t discount the conclusion.
Not since Johnny Nelson’s abject, safety-first tilts at the cruiserweight titles in 1989 and 1992 has a fighter delivered such a noncommittal performance in championship class. Adding insult to the terminal injury the display inflicted on his reputation as a contender of significance, is the irrefutable fact Danny Williams was, by his own admission, ill-prepared.
Williams, a fighter prone to public investigation of his neurosis and mental fragility with an honesty virtually unsurpassed in a sport where self-belief is key, revealed post fight that he’d conducted his training in isolation. His media workout in the days before the fight with long-time trainer and mentor Jim McDonnell had been another carefully directed subterfuge. For the second time in his career Williams felt he no longer required McDonnell’s services, stories of needing to pull gloves on with his teeth for sparring provide evidence of the naivety of the decision. In short, Williams implicitly conceded he was ‘there for the taking’ and expressed his own bemusement at Harrison’s performances despite his pre-fight assertion that Harrison was no more than a “celebrity boxer” being proven astutely accurate.
Tipping the scales at 19stone 6lbs provided further indictment of Williams’ shocking preparation. He may be naturally bulky of arm and chest, but the former WBC title challenger is only six feet one. It would be easy to forget the embarrassing figure Williams cut in the aftermath of Harrison’s output on Saturday. To prepare so badly for a crossroads fight like this was inexplicable. Williams knew victory would once again open the door to world-title shots, Lamon Brewster the most likely target, or a money-spinning showdown with domestic rival Matt Skelton. He’d also craved a fight with Audley since the Sydney Olympian turned professional; acutely aware of the prospective purse and notoriety he would gain but also because he always suspected Audley lacked the “bottle” for the fight. Despite the split decision victory, as many questions remain about Williams’ commitment to the sport in which he’s repeatedly underachieved as Harrison’s.
Mention of Harrison as a potential world-class title contender will be met with derision and laughter from here on in and at 34, even in the division where age and defeat appears to present little barrier to progression, it looks unlikely he can summon the missing qualities to succeed. A route back to contention is hard to fathom, such was Harrison’s failure and apparent fear of taking punches; his reputation would have been less soiled by a first round knockout defeat. Harrison can hone technique, he can improve his stamina and work on his power – but the quintessential desire and the hunger every successful fighter has to feel cannot be trained. Audley Harrison simply doesn’t possess this crucial attribute, whether the million pound cheque he received from the BBC to turn professional diluted it or whether it ever truly existed will never be known.
Perhaps veteran WBO cruiserweight champion Johnny Nelson’s dogged return from his own championship nightmares all those years ago can offer Harrison hope of re-incarnation. Few promoters expressed interest in Nelson because of his equally cautious approach, despite his obvious physical gifts, and the Sheffield man was forced to fight above his weight class and around the globe. Germany, Brazil, South Africa, Belgium, Thailand, France and Australia – Nelson fought everywhere, rebuilding his confidence and reputation wherever he could. Eventually the British promoters relented, the public forgave him and he’s enjoyed an Indian summer over the past six years.
The chances of Harrison swallowing his gargantuan pride and featuring in such boxing backwaters appears as likely as his quest for world-title opportunities. Offered the chance to appear on a future Sports Network under card by Frank Warren, Harrison grumbled his disquiet, claiming to be worth more than a mere supporting role.
Warren quipped: “I’m not being disrespectful. I’m just saying that that’s how it is.”
That stark reality hasn’t quite registered with Harrison yet, in fact it may never, but if it does perhaps Mountain Rivera could be Audley’s comeback opponent.
In the Showtime co-feature, two reigning cruiserweight champions collide when World Boxing Council/World Boxing Association (WBC/WBA) champion Jean-Marc Mormeck faces his International Boxing Federation (IBF) counterpart, O’Neil “Supernova’’ Bell, in a world title unification bout.
ZAB “SUPER” JUDAH (34-2, 1 NC, 25 KOs)
“Baldomir is a fighter. He is the No. 1 mandatory so you have to respect him for that, but at the same time I am here to do what I do best and that is destroy. I am here to take on the best. I am not here to run from anyone, I only take on the best. I do not run from anyone. I want the best and nothing less.
“I do not get ring rust. am in the gym 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And I beat down champions of the world in the ring. I am the champion of the world, I never get ring rust.
“Welterweight is the division everybody wants to be undisputed at. Sugar Ray Leonard, Shane Mosley, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran; everybody wants to be the best at welterweight. It is a weight class where you want to be called undisputed, you want to say ‘I am the king,’ and right now, I can say I am the king.
“The year 2006 is going to be a beautiful year. In ’06, I am going to take on the best. I want the best and nothing less.
CARLOS BALDOMIR (41-9-6, 12 KOs)
“My biggest goal for 2006 is to become a world champion. I have sacrificed being away from my family for five months and not even Zab Judah can stop me from accomplishing this.
“Zab Judah has the advantage of speed but I have the advantage of a knockout punch.
“Zab does not intimidate me. I have been in this same scenario in different parts of the world. He talks and I punch.”
JEAN-MARC MORMECK (31-2, 21 KOs)
“There is no difference leading up to this fight in what we do. There is no technique, no secret to training, but we will be ready. Evander Holyfield is a great, great example for me. I am very proud to be the one on Jan. 7 to do what he did.”
O’NEIL BELL (25-1-1, 23 KOs)
“It is an excellent match up. Mormeck does not back up, he will come to me. It is an excellent way to start the year and you can expect explosions. Most of my opponents have ducked and dodged me, but Mormeck has come and put up the belt.
“When I unify, I will go down in history and I will be in the hall of fame, be in a class with Evander Holyfield. That is a big honor.”
Wepner, who hailed from Bayonne, New Jersey, was nicknamed the “Bayonne Bleeder” because of his propensity to bleed as if stabbed with a shank. During a career that spanned from 1964-78, he received more than 300 stitches while compiling a record of 35-14-2 (17 KOs).
But his biggest moment came in March 1975, when, as a prohibitive underdog, he lasted into the 15th round against Ali in Cleveland. He even knocked the mighty Ali down.
Stallone, then a struggling actor, watched the Ali-Wepner fight on closed-circuit television in a New York movie house. He was so impressed with Wepner’s effort that he churned out the script for “Rocky” in just a few days.
The film would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1976 and spawn four sequels. It is believed that the entire Rocky franchise has netted over $1 billion, of which Wepner never saw a dime.
For years Wepner told people that he received $70,000 for being the muse for the first film, but now admits to saying that to spare himself the embarrassment of not being compensated at all. He describes his dealings with Stallone as being “thirty years of frustrations, handshakes and broken promises.”
Since his gallant stand against Ali, Wepner has had no shortage of travails. He was socially addicted to cocaine in the eighties and served two years of a 10-year prison sentence for drug trafficking, but was sprung early with the help of his many friends in the law enforcement community and the political arena. Although Wepner was a small fish in a much bigger drug conspiracy, he refused to rat on his colleagues, which only enhanced his reputation as a standup guy.
What is most refreshing about the former boxer’s involvement in that crime is the fact that he accepts full responsibility for his actions. He is the first to admit that he screwed up and deserved every day of the sentence he received. When released, he spent several years in what is called the Intensive Supervision Program. He has never looked back.
“What I did was an aberration,” said the 66-year-old Wepner, who looks a decade and a half younger.
Wepner continued to do charity work, much of it with local police departments, even as he logged many hours a week as a salesman for a liquor distribution company – a job he has held for more than three decades. Because he was so beloved in and around Bayonne, he shot a television ad several years ago for Dillon Tires, which is located in his hometown.
“I’ve been around a while,” he says in the ad. “I’ve fought Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. Sometimes I got beat, but you’ll never get beat at Dillon Tires.”
The former fighter has proved to be quite the pitchman. “I run the ad every year on local channels for about four months at a time,” said Bruce Dillon, the owner of Dillon Tires. “Whenever I do, business booms. I have to keep a stack of autographed pictures of Chuck on hand, because everyone wants one. He’s an icon around there.”
Wepner’s life never seems to slow down – even as he approaches the age of 70. He is currently immersed in a lawsuit with Stallone, whom he alleges used his name inappropriately to promote the “Rocky” franchise.
What inspired the lawsuit, which was filed two years ago, was the fact that Stallone announced plans to produce a Broadway play based on the Rocky character. Since then, a film to be called “Rocky VI” has gone into production.
Renowned documentary filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig is also filming a documentary on Wepner’s life. Feuerzeig recently released “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” a portrait of the manic-depressive, singer/songwriter genius.
For the past several months, a camera crew has been chronicling Wepner’s every move. Besides traveling with him as he makes his daily rounds of liquor stores and bars, many of whom he has serviced for decades, they have brought him to Gleason’s Gym, where they filmed him hitting the heavy bag; to New Jersey’s Hudson County Park, where they had him running up steps much the way Stallone did in “Rocky,” and even had him run over a mile behind a car equipped with a camera.
“In the park I ran up 46 steps five times before they got it right,” joked Wepner. “When they had me running behind the car, the producer was telling me to pick it up while I was saying slow it down. These guys forget that I’m a senior citizen.”
Once the documentary is completed, most likely by the spring of 2006, there are plans for a feature film on Wepner’s life to be made by Metro Goldwyn Mayer and tentatively titled “Redemption.” The first choice to play him was Academy Award winner Tim Robbins, who, like Wepner is 6’5” and already showed in “Bull Durham” that he is athletically inclined.
However, it seems that Robbins has priced himself out of the picture. That opened the door for John C. Reilly, who although a few inches shorter, could probably better capture Wepner’s blue-collar, workingman appeal.
Reilly has been nothing short of brilliant in such films as “The Aviator,” “Anger Management,” “Chicago,” “Gangs of New York,” “The Perfect Storm” and “Boogie Nights.”
“I feel like my life is being lived as a reality TV show,” said Wepner, who was accompanied to a November 30 boxing show in North Bergen, New Jersey, by his lovely third wife Linda, to whom he has been blissfully married for 12 years.
“I’ve always lived large and enjoyed the ride,” Wepner said. “But this, I have to admit, is one of the most exciting chapters of my life. The next few years are going to be very interesting. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me.”