The bet already made is on the Exact Outcome of the IBF Middleweight Eliminator bout on HBO as former 154-pound king Ronald “Winky” Wright continues his career at 160-pounds when he takes on Australian contender Sam “King” Soliman. While Wright is a heavy -800 betting favorite, there is still value to be had in backing ‘Wright By Decision’ -215.
Southpaw Ronald Wright (49-3, 25 KOs) had been toiling his fistic trade at the junior middleweight limit where he owned nearly every belt there was to be had. A former IBF, WBC, WBA, WBO, NABF, and USBA champion at 154-pounds, he is as slippery a fighter as there is. Winky recently took two decision victories against quick-fisted “Sugar” Shane Mosley as Mosley found out just how difficult it is to catch Wright clean.
“Winky” made his middleweight debut a highly successful one as he practically shutout comebacking Felix “Tito” Trinidad – who, shortly after the fight, decided he didn’t want to come back any more. That bout was officially a WBC eliminator for the right to face champion Jermain Taylor. A more lucrative bout for Taylor came about as he recently met Bernard Hopkins in a rematch, so “Winky” Wright took the IBF eliminator against Soliman.
Sam Soliman, 37-7 (12 KOs) is not as well known as the Trinidad, Mosley and Vargas types that Wright has faced, but he does stand in the way of Wright becoming a middleweight champion. “King” Soliman has seven defeats on his resume but most of those losses did come against some of the better fighters at middleweight. Currently on a 19-fight winning streak, he has never been stopped despite having faced guys like Howard Eastman, Anthony Mundine, Glen Kelly and awkward Raymond Joval. If a heavy hitting natural middleweight like “The Battersea Bomber” Eastman (40-3-0, 34 KOs) couldn’t stop Soliman, then I seriously doubt that Wright will be the first to pull off the trick.
With the likelihood of “Winky” stopping a seasoned middleweight like Soliman all but removed, it comes apparent that the play on ‘Wright By Decision’ -215 (risking $215 to profit $100) is a wise choice. Clearly the Washington, DC-born Wright is the heavy favorite to win this fight for good reason. He outboxed both Trinidad and Mosley and should be too slick for Soliman. Soliman doesn’t have much power at all, evidenced by his 12 stoppage among 37 wins, and the chances of the Aussie outboxing a fighter of the class that Ronald Lamont Wright is, well, let’s just say it isn’t very probable.
Oddsmakers have set Wright as a whopping -800 favorite to win the fight and the Total Rounds betting is 11.5 Rounds, with the Over -300 and the Under +250. Eleven-and-a-half rounds translates to 11 completed rounds plus 1 minute 30 seconds of the twelfth round. “Winky” is a huge favorite to win the fight on Saturday and the Over is a heavy favorite to come in as well. 11.5 Rounds is a mere 1:30 short of the fight going to the scorecards, and it looks like the people who set the lines have it right with Wright the heavy choice. They are suggesting that the outcome of this bout will the Ronald “Winky” Wright by Decision, and I definitely agree.
The official play is ‘Wright By Decision’ -215.
The first step in making a smart wager is to accurately determine the most probable outcome, and then make your wager at the best possible price available. Remember to shop around for value and always bet with your head, not above it.
Among the places he called home were New Orleans and Atlantic City. Blackburn had no shortage of wondrous experiences over the years, some of which are best forgotten.
When he began shooting fighters through his lens, he was also capturing the essence of their being through his own eyes. Having once been a fighter himself – in more ways than one – Blackburn knew a thing or two about life.
All of that was captured in his vivid photographs, which were regularly emblazoned across magazine covers and even on the front pages of the two major New York City tabloids.
Over the years Blackburn has shot a wide range of subjects for the Reuters wire service and scores of other publications. He has been courtside at the U.S. Open, in a dank prison visiting room with Joel Rifkin, New York State’s most notorious serial killer, and at the sites of plane crashes and terrorist attacks.
Nothing, however, touched his emotions more than boxing. And no boxer’s personal saga touched him more than former middleweight champion Gerald McClellan, who was left physically and mentally crippled after a devastating defeat to Nigel Benn in 1995. He is now completely blind, 80 percent deaf, and confined to his sister’s home in Freeport, Illinois. The medical bills are nothing short of astronomical.
The only people who never forgot McClellan are his sisters, who take turns feeding and bathing him, and Blackburn, who visits as often as he can.
A little over a decade ago, McClellan, who was known as the G-Man, was a knockout machine. He wasn’t just Blackburn’s favorite fighter; it seems as if he was in everyone’s favorite top-five. If you were fortunate enough to be able to cut through his surliness, he was a warm human being. The laidback Blackburn was able to do just that.
“I remember shooting pool with the G-Man in Los Angeles,” said the low-key Blackburn. “Once he let his tough guy shield down, he was a genuinely nice guy. A real nice guy – and a helluva fighter.”
For the past nine years Blackburn has worked laboriously to help McClellan out. He arranged to have him brought by train to the Boxing Writers Association of America’s annual dinner in 2002.
McClellan wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, but he sensed that the affair was all about him. His sisters said he was emotionally floating on air for weeks. Blackburn’s benevolence earned him the BWAA’s Good Guy Award.
Blackburn, with the financial assistance of promoter Lou DiBella, and the editorial aid of Steve Farhood, one of the finest writers and most decent human beings in a sometimes sordid business, just published “In the Other Corner: A Tribute to Gerald McClellan.” The publisher is Four Angels Press, which is owned by DiBella’s mother Anna.
The book chronicles, in words and photos, the biggest boxing stories of the past decade and a half. There is a gem of a photo of McClellan knocking Julian Jackson out to win the title, as well as Oscar De La Hoya playing pool and James Toney sucking on a stogie in a bathtub. Anybody who was or is anyone in the sweet science has made it on to the pages of this pictorial masterpiece.
“Many fighters have suffered injustices and injuries both inside and outside of the ring,” said Blackburn. “The book is a tribute to a true champion. The G-Man gave the fans exactly what they wanted for seven years. Now is our opportunity to give something back to him when he needs us most.”
So much has happened since that fateful night when McClellan was left nearly lifeless in a London ring. Back then, there was no such thing as the Internet, the terrorist attacks that rocked the United States and reverberated around the world were inconceivable to most Americans, there were no ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Blackburn lost both of his parents.
Although his father was a college professor who was intellectually inclined, Blackburn found no shortage of trouble for himself as he took to the streets as a teenager. He sometimes found himself sleeping in rooms with steel windows. Realizing he was on the path to nowhere, he made his way to Detroit’s fabled Kronk Gym, which is where he met McClellan.
Although Blackburn’s boxing career was lackluster – he quit after being stopped in an amateur bout against future USBA light heavyweight champion Booker Word – he always showed the heart of a champion in the ring and out.
He showed it as he helplessly watched his parents die torturously slow deaths, and he showed it in every visit he paid to McClellan. The measure of a man is most apparent by the way he treats someone who can do nothing for him.
Using that criterion, Blackburn’s altruistic endeavors on behalf of McClellan and his family are akin to Mahatma Ghandi’s actions towards the world at large.
Every penny derived from the sale of Blackburn’s book will go to a fund to assist The G-Man and his family. The book costs $50, which includes postage and handling. It is worth even more than that.
To order, send a check for $50 to: Teddy Blackburn, 2985 Botanical Square, #6E, Bronx, NY 10458. Checks should be payable to Fighters Need a Hand.
Anyone wishing to make a separate donation to the McClellan’s trust fund can send a check to: Gerald McClellan Trust Fund, c/o Fifth Third Bank, PO Box 120, Freeport, Illinois 61032.
Have a wonderful holiday season. Don’t forget to keep the McClellan family in your prayers.
In the piece below we take a look at the upcoming IBF middleweight world title bout between Arthur Abraham and Kingsley Ikeke. You read that right, a “world” title fight. You know without a doubt that Jermain Taylor is the undisputed king of the middleweights. His two title fights with Bernard Hopkins settled the issue.
How then, can the IBF see any fight that doesn’t include Taylor as being for a world championship?
Everyone in the boxing world was well aware that Saturday night the undisputed middleweight championship of the world was on the line as Taylor and Hopkins engaged in close quarters combat in Las Vegas. Right? Wrong.
No, it seems there is a dispute as to who the “world champion” is.
The International Boxing Federation, for reasons known only to the chieftains of that squeaky clean sanctioning body, have deemed that this Saturday in Leipzig, Germany, Abraham and Ikeke will vie for the New Jersey-based sanctioning organization’s vacant title.
Let’s leave to the side for a moment that a group of men and women could somehow conclude that by facing Hopkins, Taylor was fighting someone who was of lesser qualification than either Abraham or Ikeke – we’ll come back to that later.
Focus for now on the relative worthiness of Abraham and Ikeke to be in a title contest. The starting point of the evaluation is the IBF’s ratings.
First, neither fighter is rated number one in the organization. Sam Soliman is number one, Ikeke’s number two and Abraham is number four. Number three, and excluded from the title picture, is none other than Winky Wright, a recent winner over Felix Trinidad and a two-time conqueror of Shane Mosley.
So what have Soliman and Wright done to find themselves on the outside? They had the temerity to sign to fight each other on December 10th. That’s right, the number one and the number three contenders are not qualified to fight for the belt. Neither fighter is squawking because they’re fully aware that the big cash will come by fighting Taylor.
Wright is number one in the latest WBC and WBA ratings. Soliman is number four in the WBC ratings, and unrated by the WBA (in the top 15 of the organization’s published ratings). A win over Wright – though highly unlikely – would almost undoubtedly lead to a bout with Taylor.
Of course there is not much squawking from the Hopkins camp either. He, as an officer of Golden Boy Promotions, is happy to see one of his charges, Ikeke, fighting for any kind of belt. You see, the Nigerian, 23-1 (13 KOs), recently signed with the company.
Abraham, an Armenian living in Germany, has amassed a respectable record of 18-0 (16 KOs). His decision win over Howard Eastman, a consensus top-10 fighter, is his only noteworthy victory.
In any case, however significant his win over Eastman, it is not at all clear how the IBF could have decided that he is better than Hopkins. It should be noted that Hopkins’ first title, and the only belt he defended all 20 times, was the IBF’s. Included in that list of victims was Eastman. (Hopkins is number two in the latest WBA and WBC ratings behind Wright, and number two in the WBO ratings behind, gulp, Felix Sturm.)
Even more astounding is the fact that Hopkins is not rated anywhere in the organization’s top 15 (though you will find such stalwarts as Evans Ashira, a recent loser to a one-handed Joe Calzaghe, for the WBO super-middleweight belt).
For his part, Ikeke gained his spot with a recent victory over Antwun Echols. You may remember Echols from his title shot against Hopkins in which he was stopped in 10 rounds.
Of course while Wright’s bona fides are above reproach, it is useful to look at the Australian Soliman’s record to find out just how he squirmed ahead of not only Wright, but also Hopkins and everyone else on the planet.
He gained a victory in an eliminator over Raymond Joval. It has to be noted that Joval has never defeated a consensus top-10 fighter. In fact, his primary claim to fame is winning a couple of rounds against Fernando Vargas, while losing a clear-cut decision.
Soliman, Wright, Ikeke and Abraham are solid contenders (Wright of course is a proven world champion). But, only Wright has fought the best available fighters and proven himself worthy of mention in the same breath as Hopkins and Taylor.
The trouble in the ratings – as we discussed in the article about the WBC’s leapfrogging of James Toney into a “mandatory” slot – is that the organizations are exponentially widening their credibility gap – if they ever had any.
Before anyone says that it does not matter, we should all consider that the sanctioning bodies are reaping huge windfalls of money from their various title fight and eliminator fees (a subject that we will take up in the near future). This is a consumer issue, and is undoubtedly detrimental to the general health of the sport.
Dec. 4, 1999: IBF junior middleweight champion Fernando Vargas holds off the challenge of Winky Wright via majority decision over 12 rounds in Lincoln, Oregon.
Dec. 5, 1938: Just 10 days after a tough 15-round decision win over Ceferino Garcia, welterweight champion Henry Armstrong stops challenger Al Manfredo via third-round TKO in Cleveland.
Dec. 5, 1947: Despite being floored in the first and fourth rounds, Joe Louis rallies, at least in the eyes of two judges, and retains the heavyweight title via 15-round split decision over Jersey Joe Walcott at Madison Square Garden. Louis was sure he lost and began to leave the ring before the decision was read, but was convinced by his cornermen to stay to hear the verdict, which is greeted by a chorus of boos. Always the consummate sportsman, the Brown Bomber gave Walcott a rematch in June 1948 – and this time left no doubt by knocking out Jersey Joe in Round 11 in what was a record 25th, and last, defense of the title.
Dec. 5, 1949: Champion Ike Williams scores a 15-round unanimous decision over Freddie Dawson at Convention Hall in Philadelphia in what will be his eighth, and last, successful defense of the world lightweight title he won in 1945.
Dec. 6, 1951: Future WBC junior middleweight champ Maurice Hope is born in St. John’s, Antigua.
Dec. 6, 1975: Englishman John H. Stracey officially ends the second reign of welterweight great Jose Napoles via sixth-round kayo in Mexico City. Napoles, who earned the moniker “Mantequilla” (Butter) first won the title in 1969 and made a total of 13 successful defenses.
Dec. 6, 1985: IBF/WBA 147lbs. champ Donald Curry unifies the welterweight title with a second-round kayo over WBC titleholder Milton McCory in Las Vegas. Curry’s reign atop the division lasts less than a year, when he is knocked out in six rounds by Lloyd Honeyghan, Sep. 27, 1986
Dec. 7, 1925: After two failed attempts to wrest the world lightweight title from Benny Leonard in 1922, Rocky Kansas outpoints champion Jimmy Goodrich over 15 rounds to win the crown in front of his hometown fans in Buffalo, New York.
Dec. 7, 1963: Challenger Joey Giardello outpoints Dick Tiger in Atlantic City to win the middleweight title. Tiger will turn the tables on the Philadelphian in their Oct. 1965 rematch at Madison Square Garden (double check the location)
December 7, 1989: WBC super middleweight champ Sugar Ray Leonard easily outpoints Roberto Duran over 12 dull rounds in Las Vegas. The long awaited rubber match in their three-fight series is a dud, which prompts the Las Vegas crowd to boo more than cheer the two legends.
Dec. 7, 1991: Rafael Pineda stops Roger Mayweather in the ninth round in Reno to capture the vacant IBF junior welterweight title vacated by Julio Cesar Chavez.
Dec. 8, 1984: Azumah Nelson of Accra, Ghana, dominates Puerto Rican legend Wilfredo Gomez en route to an 11th-round TKO and wins the WBC featherweight crown. Nelson, who eventually wins another world championship at 130lbs., fights all but one of his 25 world titles fights outside of his homeland, thus earning the moniker, “The Road Warrior.”
Dec. 9, 1961: Fresh off regaining the welterweight title from arch rival Emile Griffith, Benny “The Kid” Paret tries his luck against NBA world middleweight champion Gene Fullmer in Las Vegas. The fight is stopped when the challenger, who is trailing on all three judges scorecards, is dropped three times in Round 10. Both men will lose their titles in the next fight. Fullmer drops a unanimous decision to Dick Tiger and Paret is knocked out by Griffith in Round 12 and dies 10 days later from injuries sustained during the bout.
Dec. 9, 1995: Frans Botha outpoints Axel Schulz in Stuttgart, Germany to win the IBF version of the heavyweight title, vacated/stripped by George Foreman. It is a thoroughly forgettable contest. However, Botha tested positive for steroids after the fight and was stripped of the title.
Dec. 9, 2000: Former WBA light heavyweight champion Virgil Hill drops Fabrice Tiozzo three times in Round 1 for the TKO victory and wins the WBA cruiserweight title in Astroballe, Villeurbanne, France.
Dec. 10, 1923: Gene Tunney successfully defends the American light heavyweight title with a 15-round unanimous decision over nemesis Harry Greb at Madison Square Garden. It is the third bout of their five-fight series eventually won by Tunney, 3-2.
In the co-featured main event, World Boxing Association and WBC cruiserweight champion Jean-Marc Mormeck and International Boxing Federation champion O’Neil “Supernova” Bell will meet to determine the undisputed champion at the 200-pound weight limit. Both bouts will be televised on SHOWTIME at 9 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast).
The remaining world title fight showcases IBF junior flyweight champion Will “Steel” Grigsby defending his crown against IBF No. 1-ranked contender Ulises “Archie” Solis. There will also be an IBF bantamweight elimination bout featuring Gernaro “Poblanito” Garcia facing Ricardo “Chapo” Vargas for the No. 1 ranking.
“This means so much to me to be fighting in my hometown and at The Garden,” Judah said. “I want to celebrate a successful defense of my undisputed world welterweight championship with all my fans in Brooklyn and all of New York. I’m not overlooking or disrespecting my opponent but I have to score a knockout when I’m fighting at home.”
Tickets priced at $500, $300, $200 $100 and $50 go on sale Monday at 10 a.m. at the Garden box office and all Ticketmaster locations or by calling Ticketmaster at 212-307-7171, 201-507-8900, 631-888-9000, or 914-454-3388.Ticketmaster purchases are subject to convenience charges.
About a year ago, I wrote about my disappointment that the IBHOF more closely resembles a college bar rather than an exclusive club as far as who they let in. I want the Hall to be like those clubs with the velvet rope and the stylish bouncer with the earpiece, who picks and chooses who is beautiful enough to enter. You know, the one where you're standing on line thinking, "I can't believe they let that guy in. I'm just as good as he is." But you know that, no, you're really not. Just because you have an ID that says you're of age doesn't mean you gain automatic entry. Last year's diatribe, When Pretty Good is Good Enough, can be read here.
This year, I've been working on trying to be a more positive, cheerful person. I've engaged in some deep breathing relaxation techniques, visualizing letting all of the negative energy escape through my pores. When I find myself in my usual sullen patterns I say, “That was the old Marc. I'm glad I don't do that anymore." Besides, if I write the column before the results are released, I'll be less likely to act like a crybaby and hurl insults at people and an institution that I genuinely respect.
This year's ballot for the “Moderns” category contained forty-five candidates, with a few changes from last year. The four inductees from last year: Bobby Chacon, Duilio Loi, Barry McGuigan and Terry Norris are obviously off the ballot. They were replaced by Georgie Abrams, Michael Carbajal, Humberto Gonzalez and Edwin Rosario. I voted for two of these four, plus five others. Voters are allowed to select up to 10 boxers. This year three will be elected.
So if you've read this far, I'm sure by now you're waiting with baited breath to see who was good enough to get through my velvet ropes.
Michael Carbajal – 1988 Olympic sliver medalist. He was the IBF junior flyweight champ from 1990-1994, defending the crown eight times. In 1992, he captured the WBC baubles via a seventh-round knockout over Humberto Gonzalez. Carbajal climbed off the deck twice to win the fight. He lost both titles to Gonzalez in 1994 on a split decision and then in a rematch dropped a majority decision nine months later. Carbajal went on a seven-fight win streak (six by KO) and recaptured the IBF junior fly championship in 1996 by decisioning Melchor Cob Castro. He lost his title for good to Mauricio Pastrana in 1997. Carbajal won the last four fights of his career. His last was an impressive 11th round TKO over Jorge Arce, still at the Jr. Flyweight limit. His Hall of Fame career ended at 49-4 (33)
Carbajal was one of the greats and I'll be shocked if his plaque doesn't join the other ring immortals in Canastota next June.
Humberto Gonzalez – “Chiquita” won the WBC junior flyweight title in 1989, defending it five times (including three times in three months) before being upset by Rolando Pascua in 1990. Gonzalez regained the title from Melchor Cob Castro in 1991 and defended it four times the following year. He lost it in the first of his thrilling three-bout series with Carbajal. He regained the crown in the rematch (W 12) and had three more successful defenses, including the rubber match over the American (W 12), before being stopped by Saman Sorjaturong in 1995. He finished with a 43-3 (31) record, including 15-3 (9) in world title fights.
It's difficult for boxers in the lower weights to get recognition. Considering that the Hall of Fame (in all sports, not just boxing) is somewhat of a popularity contest, Gonzalez may have difficulty getting in, despite his lofty credentials. Although he was upset twice, he also beat one of the all time greats twice and defeated other very good boxers of his era.
Here is what I wrote last year about the following four fighters who once again received my vote:
The IBHOF is clearly biased towards American and European fighters. Since most of the writers who vote are from North America and Europe, it makes sense that they'll vote for the guys they see on a regular basis. It's tough to analyze an Asian fighter's credentials when he never ventures out of his region.
However, I believe these boxers deserve our attention and study as to whether they belong in the hallowed halls next to the Joe Louises and Fred Apostolis of the boxing world.
Yoko Gushiken fought exclusively in Japan, yet held the WBA featherweight title for five years, compiling a 23-1 record during his career.
Brian Mitchell never took on any all time greats, but he retained his super featherweight title for five years and retired as champion. He lost just once in 49 bouts. That's dominance.
Masao Ohba fought only once outside of Japan, a ninth-round KO victory in San Antonio, Texas, before he won the title. He started boxing professionally two weeks after his 15th birthday. When Ohba, 35-2-1, died in a car wreck at the age of 23, he had been the WBA flyweight champ for more than two years.
When it comes to Myung-Woo Yuh I can only wonder, what's a brother got to do to get into the Hall of Fame? He held the WBA junior flyweight title for six years, defended it 18 times and then recaptured it from the guy who beat him in the very next fight. Yuh retired after making one defense of his second reign with a ledger that read: 38-1 (14).
Lastly, I was surprised as I found myself making a check mark next to the name Lloyd Marshall. The light heavyweight known as "Black Dynamite" put together a record of 75-24-4 (34). Marshall never fought for the championship due to the politics of the era and frozen titles during World War II. Marshall holds victories over legendary Hall of Famers including Jake LaMotta, Ezzard Charles and Charlie Burley. Other notables who suffered defeats at the hands of Marshall include Freddie Mills, Holman Williams, Ken Overlin, Joey Maxim and Anton Christoforidis.
Marshall is not the kind of pick that I usually make, but I found it hard to ignore the first class names on his resume. Had he received a shot at the title, I have a feeling his name would be much more recognizable today.
I'd guess that of the above-mentioned boxers, only Carbajal will be enshrined in Canastota next year. As long as the voters are being more selective, that will be fine with me. Just please don't put Tommy Farr in there with him.
* I was crucified the last time I said Jermain Taylor was unimpressive in his win against Bernard Hopkins. This time I'll just say that for all of his gifts, Taylor seems to fade badly at the end. I wonder what would happen if an opponent is able to give him a few rounds of hell earlier in a fight. Would he have enough left later on to finish the job?
* I like almost all sports. I'm a huge baseball fan and love football too. I watched the Taylor vs. Hopkins fight with a few industry insiders. I can say without a doubt that seeing a big fight, with people who really know what they're talking about, is hands down the most fun I can have as a spectator of any sporting event.
* Please, Don King and Bob Arum, make the Zab Judah vs. Floyd Mayweather fight happen. I can't think of another fight (including Castillo vs. Corrales III) that I would like to see more.
* Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Ed Schuyler wrote on this site that the late Pat Putnam belongs there as well. I couldn't agree more and I think it will happen.
Until next time, obey my commands and protect yourself at all times.
“When they were shooting the scene of me in a coffin, I fell asleep,” Lip said, while taking in the action with former heavyweight contender Chuck Wepner, and others, at the Main Events “Back to the Future” boxing show at the Schuetzen Park ballroom in North Bergen, New Jersey, on November 30.
“It took them a lot of takes to get the right shot – so I really fell asleep. Imagine that!”
Lip, who now resides in New Jersey, has been a diehard boxing fan his whole life. He is a regular fixture at club shows and other boxing-related events throughout the New York metropolitan area.
While watching undefeated Colombian sensation Joel Julio batter Hicklet Lau around the ring, he recalled listening to a fight between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta on the radio when he was a young man. Those days, he said, provided some of his best boxing memories.
“I think I enjoyed listening to the fights more than watching them,” he mused. “Your imagination would go wild. Back then, listening to fights [involving] guys like Jake [LaMotta] and Rocky [Graziano] – your heart would race with excitement. They were real neighborhood heroes.”
While working for 30 years as a host at the Copacabana, Lip eventually became friendly with LaMotta and Graziano, as well a scores of other influential people. It was his casual acquaintance with a film producer that led him to his first film role – in none other than “The Godfather” in 1972. He played a wedding guest.
One thing led to another, and he soon became a regular in films with Italian-American or organized crime-related themes. He played Frankie the Wop in “Goodfellas,” Nicky Bad Lungs in “29th Street,” Vito Pasquale in “Who’s the Man,” and Philly Lucky in “Donnie Brasco.”
He’s also appeared in, among other films, “Raging Bull” and “The Pope of Greenwich Village.”
“I never took an acting lesson in my life,” said Lip, who refuses to divulge his age, as well as a lot of other things about himself. “But it’s something I love. I wish I started earlier.”
“He’s a natural,” Wepner said with a chuckle. “I’ve known Tony for 30 years. He’s a helluva an actor. Sometimes it doesn’t look like he’s acting at all. Maybe he isn’t.”
Working with the cast and crew of “The Sopranos” was like no other set Lip had ever been on. He said James Gandolfini, who plays the lead character Tony Soprano, kept everyone laughing and that life on the set was more like fun than work.
“We told a lot of jokes and had a lot of laughs,” Lip said. “Everyone was so easy to work with. All those things you hear about actors – nobody was like that on the show. A happy crew made it a healthy show.”
Lip’s first book, which he co-authored with Steven Prigge, was published by Berkeley in October. It is called “Shut Up and Eat” and lists the favorite recipes of 39 Italian-American celebrities.
Among them is comedian Pat Cooper, as well as actors Danny Aiello, who also wrote the forward, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Chazz Palminteri, Drew DeMatteo, Talia Shire, Tony Sirico, Robert Loggia, Robert Davi, and Gandolfini.
“The book is doing dynamite,” Lip said. “I hear they can’t keep it on the shelves in some stores. That’s great news.”
At the time of this writing, it was listed as one of the top 5,000 selling books on Amazon.com. It also had numerous five-star reviews from readers.
While discussing the book, Lip was distracted by Julio’s fourth round TKO of Lau. When asked for an email address so I could forward the publication date of this story, he motioned for me to get that from his friend, a burly fellow who was sitting to my right.
“What do you want it for?” he asked gruffly. “What are you going to send?”
When I told him, his position softened a bit and he passed it along.
“Nice to meet you,” Lip said as I made my way over to Wepner, who was sitting two seats to his left. Directly on Lip’s left was Wepner’s lovely wife Linda.
“I hear there’s gonna be another show here in February,” Lip added. “I’m looking forward to it. I enjoy these fights more than the big fights. I enjoy the winners and the losers. Even the losers fight with their heart. At [club] fights like these you get great crowds – just like the old days.”
Lewis had recovered greatly from his only loss, a wild punch by Oliver McCall that put him on the canvas in September of 1994. After that knockout, he hired trainer Emanuel Steward, who turned him into one of the finest specimens the heavyweight division has ever seen.
Early in his career, Lewis’s style relied too heavily on his right hand, arguably the best in history, and a straight-up, open stance. Under Steward’s training, he developed a fearsome jab, along with greater footwork. The only feature Steward could not hone was Lewis’s chin.
A suspect chin hardly mattered as Lewis unleashed a refined two-fisted attack when he returned to the ring in May of 1995 and knocked out Lionel Butler in five and a string of opponents thereafter. In their rematch for the vacant WBC title in 1998, Lewis dominated McCall from the outset, before his nemesis suffered what appeared to stunned ringsiders and an international television audience, as an emotional breakdown, in Round 5.
The onslaught would continue. By 2001, he had unified the heavyweight title with a win over Evander Holyfield, avenged his only loss and defeated a who’s who of former champions and contenders.
At the personal invitation of Nelson Mandela, Lewis chose to journey to South Africa to face the lightly regarded Rahman. The Rock had taken the path of many solid contenders. He started his career with 29 straight wins and was cruising to number 30 when David Tua stopped him in Round 10 of an IBF world title eliminator in 1998. The following year, Rahman showed up out of shape to fight journeyman Oleg Maskaev. Ahead on all three scorecards – as he was against Tua – Rahman was stopped again, this time in Round 8.
After that humiliating loss, the Rock once again found focus … and the gym. He then scored three consecutive wins to earn his title shot with Lewis. Noting that Johannesburg is 6,000 feet above sea level, Rahman opened camp in the Catskill Mountains and arrived in the South African capital a month early to acclimate himself to the high altitude.
By the time of the Rahman fight, Lewis, like many champions before him, found himself pulled in different directions by outside interests, the gym not being one of them. He interrupted his abhorrent training for the bout to appear in the remake of Ocean’s Eleven. He finally arrived in Johannesburg 11 days before the fight weighing a career-high 253 pounds.
Both fighters made their way to the ring a little before 5:30 a.m. South African time to accommodate television viewers in the United States. When the opening bell sounded, Rahman attacked and Lewis sluggishly defended. By the end of the second, the sparse South African air had the champion breathing heavily.
But Lennox Lewis was still Lennox Lewis. Although fatigued, he managed to win three of the first four rounds and open a cut under Rahman’s left eye. The Rock started Round 5 battling off the ropes. He hurt Lewis with an overhand right midway through the round and then chased the champion into the ropes with a string of jabs.
Lewis bounced off the ropes and smiled cockily, trying to conceal his pain and fear. The Englishman would have done better to just cover his face, as Rahman landed one of the greatest right hands in history beneath his forced grin.
Lewis was immediately dropped, his head hitting the canvas. As referee Daniel Van de Wiele counted, Lewis slowly pushed himself upward. He was on his feet by the count of 10, but was by no means able to continue. Van de Wiele stopped the fight at 2:32 in the fifth. Rahman celebrated. Lewis sat in his corner as he had following his equally shocking loss to McCall, confused and bewildered.
When asked the inevitable question if he was going to Disney World, Rahman, a devout Muslim, replied, “No. I’m going to Mecca.”
Shortly after leaving Johannesburg, he did just that.
Lewis would later say, “The punch was a great punch, but I never put my hand in position to block it. My defense wasn’t like it should have been. I may have taken him a bit lightly.”
Fortunately for Lewis, there was a rematch clause in the contract to The Ring’s 2001 Upset of the Year. Although Rahman went to court to avoid fighting Lewis (he stood to make more money fighting Mike Tyson), the court upheld the contract and the rematch was held in Las Vegas on November 17, 2001. For this bout, a more focused Lewis arrived weighing 246 pounds. In the fourth round, he regained his title with a perfectly thrown right cross.
Lewis held the title for two more years, successfully defending it against Tyson and Vitali Klitschko, before retiring in early 2004. Rahman went through a series of lackluster defeats before once again regaining his focus. He reeled off six straight wins, the most recent one (W 12) coming against Monte Barrett in August, for the WBC Interim championship (due to Klitschko’s injury-induced inactivity). Rahman was scheduled to fight Klitschko November 12, before nagging injuries led Klitschko to retire. As a result, the WBC crowned Rahman as its champion.
Sponsored by the promotional company Main Events, last Wednesday night’s card was held at an old German catering hall in North Bergen, NJ called Schuetzen Park, which hasn’t hosted boxing since 1986. The intimate venue would be camera-ready for The Sopranos—and will be ideal for boxing once they remedy the abysmal lighting and sound system. When I realized a familiar-looking mug with a remarkable combover was Carmine Lupertazzi, or, rather, the actor Tony Lip who plays the Brooklyn mob boss on the show, it confirmed life does imitate art.
The show was billed “Back to the Future,” as the promoters pray a successful one lies with the two featured fighters of the evening, welterweight Joel Julio and featherweight Jason Litzau.
It’s no secret Main Events had an unfortunate 2005. Their flagship fighter Arturo Gatti was sliced up by a gloved Ginsu knife in “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather. Welterweight prospect Kermit Cintron wilted under the bright lights of ESPN’s first PPV show, and was summarily dumped by his promoter. The once-hot lightweight Juan Diaz was cut before his match with Ebo Elder, and now has been bereft of TV for almost a year. The preternaturally gifted Francisco Bojado is MIA as far as boxing is concerned, but if you drop by your local KFC, you might find him there. Featherweight Rocky Juarez received a gift decision against Zahir Raheem in ‘04, but then got shellackedon HBO by an unknown Mexican named Humberto Soto.
What anxiety Main Events’ Kathy Duva and Carl Moretti must’ve felt when they signed their new can’t-miss kids?
But this is the business they’ve chosen. And once again they’ve put their faith in the hands of a couple very young men: one of whom can’t have a legal drink in the States, Columbian Joel Julio (24-0, 21 KOs); the other a 22-year-old Minnesotan who couldn’t grow stubble on his chin if you gave him a month, “The American Boy” Jason Litzau (16-0, 14 KOs).
Julio took the stage first. He was in against a fearless Cuban, Hicklet Lau, who is much better than his 19-14-2 record. The journeyman almost always goes the distance with the better 140 and 147 pounders. Against Julio he displayed nimble feet and an elastic torso that initially frustrated the prospect. When caught with a flush shot or trapped in a corner, Lau would grin and rope-a-dope like a young Chris Byrd. He conducted himself with an admirable haughtiness that won over this observer.
Lau’s problem is he can’t punch, and had no way of keeping the other man honest. Julio’s not your average Columbian banger, usually a gritty, game, wild bunch that lack fundamentals. This predator’s well-schooled. He was on balance, applied pressure behind a stiff jab, and patiently closed the distance on Lau.
The right hook from hell that put Lau down in the fourth round is what makes the 20-year-old special. Lau beat the count—still wearing his customary grin upon rising—but Julio’s an instinctive closer. He bulled the opponent into a corner and threw combinations upstairs and downstairs, dropping his man again. Lau got up quickly and wanted to keep fighting. The referee mercifully protected the boxer from himself, halting the bout at 2:11 of the fourth.
If Julio doesn’t pan out, no one should accuse his promoter of incompetence; only that they’re in a business based on educated guesswork, not science.
But as Einstein said, “Things should be made as simple as possible, not any simpler.” Which was the gist of Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker’s advice to Jason Litzau, who desperately tried to lay out Miguel Angel Munguia (15-5-1, 13 KOs) but had to settle for a unanimous decision. The former great implored the kid to stick to basics, while the boxer endeavored to please the crowd and mimic his flashy idol (Whitaker), who famously disregarded convention during his magnificent career.
The special attention paid to the lithe, towheaded slugger would’ve been invaluable, if only Whitaker was in his corner. “Sweet Pea” was sitting ringside, closer to Munguia’s Spanish-speaking team. However, the venue was so small and Whitaker so vociferous, the boxer caught every word. Torn between listening to his trainer, Bob Van Sickle, and the boxing legend a mere 20 feet away, he attempted to satisfy both parties. At the ten-second warning sounding the end of the minute break, “The American Boy” would rise from his stool and move toward Whitaker, who didn’t just talk to the flummoxed fighter but graciously pantomimed his instructions.
Midway through the bout, I tapped Whitaker’s shoulder and asked how long he’s mentored the talented but flawed Litzau.
“I don’t know this guy!?” he bristled, anxious to resume his tutorial. “This is the first time I ever seen him fight. But I think I’m having some type of affect on him.”
“One thing about good Mexican fighters,” Whitaker counseled, “is they take good head shots but they don’t take good body shots. That’s why you gotta stay down low. And he needs to jab. Jab sets up everything. It’s never gonna be effective if your hand stays down low.”
Returning to my seat, I almost tripped over the “Bayonne Bleeder” Chuck Wepner. He was comparatively reticent but must’ve enjoyed one of Litzau’s clever tricks. Periodically, he’d step on the Mexican’s lead foot, pinning him in place, then unleash a jolting one-two—the same maneuver Wepner employed to down Muhammad Ali 30 years ago.
The sound of the fight crowd still ringing in our ears, TSS’s Robert Ecksel, Bob Mladinich and I dissected the evening over beers at The Ringside Lounge. The bar attracted a tough-looking clientele and was filled with shots of fighters of varying status. A fair share was of Mike Tyson posing with the bar’s Portuguese proprietor, Mario Costa. A short middle-aged man with a mound of black hair, I recognized him inside the bar’s kitchen, fussing over a stew while gnawing on a stubby cigar.
Costa, a genuine boxing insider currently training Sultan Ibragimov, keeps a tiny ramshackle gym adjacent to the bar. For years the Gatti Brothers, Arturo and Joe, lived in the gym’s basement when they were fledgling pros. Costa was Arturo’s advisor before his current manager, Pat Lynch, intervened. Canada’s Hilton brothers also camped in the dwelling, which evokes POW scenes from The Dear Hunter.
Costa offered to give us a tour of the space and regaled us for an hour with boxing stories, many of which are not safe to print—lest someone end up in the weeds by JFK Airport. He regularly co-trains with Carlos “Panama” Lewis, and the two worked with Francois Botha when he fought Tyson. He explained that Tyson gave “The White Buffalo” the payday as a personal favor to him.
Costa joked about the tortured ex-champ’s lustful side or the literal whacks he’s gotten in on Don King, but also described the stuff that never makes it to the tabloids. How Mike often shows up unannounced and has Costa gather the local children for boxing lessons. How the two plot a day when they will expand the gym, get all the lost kids off the streets, and never charge a cent. Costa knows it’s a pipedream, reminding you of George and Lenny’s fabled farm in Of Mice and Men, but it’s something the two fantasize about whenever they meet.
When we exited the gym, Costa wanted to show us one more thing. We walked around the back and swerved clear of an angry pit bull on an unnervingly long leash. We looked up and there it was: a pigeon coop with “Tyson’s corner” inscribed on the door.
Costa takes care of the 600 exotic pigeons while Mike is globetrotting. He keeps the hut heated through winter and feeds the birds daily. It smelled rank inside, but you grow accustomed to it, and the reverberating coos lull you into a peaceful state.
“Mike sits in here from the break of dawn all through the night,” Costa said. “He don’t leave. I bring meals out to him. He loves it here. He could write a book about every pigeon.”
Main Events will be doing another show at Schuetzen Park in February. Judging from this past one, the fights will be good and the crowd star-studded. But the bonus will come afterwards, when we stop by to see Mario Costa at his Ringside Lounge.
The fight between IBF super-middleweight champ Jeff Lacy and long-time WBO champ Joe Calzaghe is set for March 4 in Manchester, England, and that should overshadow the finger-pointing, the busted plans and the constant bickering that have marred this fight from the very beginning.
That’s why I hate to bring it all up again. But I think I should. It’s my job. Just one last time. Clear the air, as they like to say. Put it to rest. Stomp the SOB to death.
Here’s the biggie: Why did Joe Calzaghe take a fight in September when he knew his big-money fight was set for early November against Lacy and scheduled to be held within a soccer kick of his home in Wales? Calzaghe broke his hand in that little warm-up fight, causing the cancellation of travel plans and hotel accommodations worldwide.
Calzaghe was recently asked that simple question on a conference call, but before the champ could answer, his promoter, Frank Warren, cut in.
“I’ll explain for him,” Warren said. “Very simply, Jeff was going to defend against Robin Reid (in August) and we certainly weren’t going to sit around and wait for that to happen. Joe had been out of the ring for awhile and he needed a fight. Unfortunately, he fractured his hand.”
So what about Calzaghe ducking Lacy? Any truth to the rumor? It seems like he’s been as tough to nail down as a tarp in a wind storm.
Again, we go to Warren.
“We tried to make this fight over a year ago,” he said. “It’s not something that just happened. We’ve been trying to make it for awhile. We’re going to find out on March 4 who’s the man.”
A year ago? Doesn’t sound right, but at least a deal has been made.
Finally, why does Lacy have to go to England to fight instead of Joe coming over here? What’s wrong with our country? Calzaghe allergic to airplanes? He never leaves home.
“I’m willing to go to his home turf and unify the division,” said Lacy, who would probably travel by sled dog to the North Pole if that’s where Calzaghe wanted to fight. “I have a goal out there and my goal is to unify the super-middleweight division. That’s my dream...I’m willing to go anywhere. If Joe would have come over here, we would have fought here. It so happened the fight was made in England, and I look forward to that.”
Lacy’s game plan is simple: A KO. Win by knockout. Take it out of the hands of the hometown cronies. Lacy doesn’t have to book a flight across the ocean to get robbed. He can get mugged just down the street.
As for Calzaghe, I used to think he was like Big Foot. There were occasional sightings, but no concrete proof he really existed.
But someone was on the other line on that conference call, and he sounded both confident and articulate, so I’m assuming it was him.
“This fight wasn’t hard to make,” said Calzaghe, contradicting Warren who claimed it took over a year. “As far as I’m concerned, I think this is my destiny. I’ve been world champion for eight years and I’ve been waiting for this moment. I’ve always said good things come to those who wait. A lot of people think I’m going to get beat in this fight and as far as I’m concerned, I’ve waited so long for this fight and I can’t wait for it to come. I think it’s going to be the fight of the year.”
Lacy wasn’t quite as philosophical
“I’m lost for words,” he said. “I’m just ready to fight. Too bad we still have to wait a few months. I’m coming over to his hometown to take what is mine. Look out.”