The eyes have a cold focus and his face exudes anger and discontent whenever he dons the battle gear.
But with the boxing gloves off, or outside the gym, he’s a totally different person as if a light switch was turned on.
“My friends always tell me they don’t recognize the person in the ring when I fight,” said Williams with a smile. “They say they don’t know that person.”
Inside a California workout facility called Knockout Fitness, Williams (35-1, 26 KOs) once again turned on the killer mode as he swept through his workout routine for a group of boxing writers on Tuesday. And once again, as he took off the boxing gloves, he returned to being the amiable Southern gentleman who follows the advice of his trainer George Peterson.
“The reason he (Williams) is so successful is because he listens. He’s a very good young man,” said Peterson. “That’s the key to his success. He’s a very good person.”
Williams intends to return to his darker side when he faces IBF junior middleweight titleholder Verno Phillips (42-10-1, 21 KOs) on Saturday, Nov. 29, at the new Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. The fight card begins at 4:30 p.m. but will be shown on HBO Boxing After Dark.
“I just focus and take care of business in the ring,” said Williams, 27, smiling as he talked about his split personality. “All good fighters need to focus and take care of business in there.”
The WBO welterweight titleholder Williams could not find an opponent in his own weight division so his promoter Goossen-Tutor Promotions put out an alert to anyone in the vicinity of his fighter’s weight. For two months nobody answered except for junior middleweight champion Phillips.
Williams likes the guy, especially his personality and willingness to have fun. When both met a month ago at the press conference inside the new arena, Phillips got to the microphone and said to his taller adversary “with respect” that he was going to “chop down Williams” and prove why nobody wants to fight him too.
“He seems like a nice guy, I had fun with him at the press conference,” said Williams with a smile. Then his face suddenly transposed into the boxer mode. “I’m a give him a birthday whipping.” (Verno's birthday is Saturday.)
This Saturday, warriors from two different roads converge.
Phillips, through years of wars against many of the best fighters between 147 and 160 pounds, has accumulated 20 years of prizefighting wisdom. The boxer from Belize has battled against all types of opponents, big and small. Despite setbacks, he continues to baffle and astound boxing fans.
“Oh, we know all about Verno Phillips,” said Peterson who studies his charge’s opponents like a police detective studying a crime scene. The boxing guru once wore a badge. Now he protects Williams by preparing well crafted war plans.
In Belize, a country bordering Honduras and Mexico, prizefighters are not in abundance. Yet, Phillips has won three world titles in his career. The last came earlier this year in St. Louis when he upset Cory Spinks.
When both fighters enter the ring Williams will enjoy both an eight-inch height advantage and a 14-inch superiority in reach.
“Paul Williams has a longer arm reach than heavyweight Vitali Klitschko,” says Dan Goossen, president of Goossen-Tutor Promotions.
On paper it looks like a mismatch.
“I’ve fought lots of guys as tall as Paul Williams,” said Phillips, 38, a boxer who
has beaten several fighters with Williams' same or similar height, including Eddie Sanchez, J.C. Candelo and Bronco McKart. All of these boxers enjoyed a huge height advantage over the happy-go-lucky Phillips.
“When the fight comes I’m going to chop down Paul Williams,” Phillips says eagerly. “I’m going to do what Bernard Hopkins did to Kelly Pavlik.”
Williams smiles at the comparisons.
Unlike most fighters who develop in one gym before maybe venturing to other nearby boxing clubs, Williams and Peterson have always traveled long lengths in pursuit of the warrior’s way. From gyms in Augusta, Georgia to others in Washington D.C. they’ve sparred some of the best from coast to coast.
“We never sparred with Vernon Forrest,” said Peterson, adding that sparring sessions with O’Neil Bell and Williams Joppy did take place.
Back in 2005 one of those journeys took them to Los Angeles where they walked into the now defunct L.A. Boxing Club where a now somewhat legendary sparring match took place in front of maybe a dozen observers. That day both Williams and Antonio Margarito battled for several rounds with each increasing the volume until sparring ceased and real fighting ensued. The trainers of both sides ended the firefight and rumors began to circulate from both sides.
The legend of Williams had been born and soon challenges were tossed by both camps until Margarito accepted and they fought on July 14, 2007. That night another firefight took place and this time Williams emerged with a judge’s victory after 12 hard fought rounds.
“That was probably the most stressful fight of my career,” said Williams, who proved that night that he was not simply a front-runner but someone who could rally from behind if necessary.
The aftershock of Williams' victory was soon dulled in his very next fight seven months later in Pechanga Casino.
Puerto Rico’s Carlos Quintana was not considered a threat to solve the riddle of the ultra tall and super tough Williams. But within the first round it was obvious that the lanky fighter was out of synch.
“If you look at the tape of the fight you can see me and I knew from the first round that Paul was not himself,” said Dan Goossen, president of Goossen-Tutor Promotions.
That night Quintana jumped in and out and pumped Williams with so many punches that it almost looked cartoonish. The southpaw Boricua won a clear-cut victory that Williams and team never contested. They knew it was not their night.
“I wasn’t on my game,” said Williams.
Four months later the two welterweights met again. This time it took Williams only two minutes to prove his superiority and he clobbered the lefty Puerto Rican with rapid and powerful blows.
“It was the best thing that could have happened to him (Williams) because he learned that you can’t always be at your best,” said Peterson.
Quintana never had a chance that night. He was obliterated.
Offers to fight two other Puerto Rican welterweights, Miguel Cotto and Kermit Cintron, were immediately declined.
“I thought a lot of doors would open up,” Williams said.
On Saturday, Williams pits his skills against the seasoned warrior Phillips in a battle that could mean the end for the elder athlete or a serious detour for the younger fighter.
Phillips takes it all with a smile.
“I call out Vernon Forrest, I call out Daniel Santos and the other champions and I don’t get no answer back,” says fast-talking Phillips, who can talk as fast as he punches. “So I go to the young lion (Williams) to get to them.”
Williams has all the advantages.
Phillips smiles when you talk about it.
“They’re looking past me,” says Phillips of William’s team. “He says he’s going to give me a birthday wish, but you know, he’s giving me my wish by fighting me.”
Williams takes a deep breath when thinking about the tribulations of the last 12 months. It’s his final test of the year and he can’t wait until he can return home and shoot his guns. It’s what he loves to do best.
“I have a lot of guns,” said Williams, who goes target shooting at a range with friends or in the woods alone. “I have all types of guns.”
Very much like the arsenal he carries into the ring. He has all kinds of weapons.
“I 100 percent believe that there was nothing boxing-related that contributed to the deaths of Mitch Halpern and Toby Gibson,” someone who knew both men, but asked not to be identified, told me. “Their only common denominator was that they were referees. But whatever was bothering them, and something obviously was, had nothing to do with boxing. I’m absolutely convinced of that.”
Gibson, who worked two undercard bouts of Saturday night’s card at the MGM Grand headlined by the junior welterweight clash between Ricky Hatton and Paulie Malignaggi, did not give any outward indication he was troubled when he worked the final fights of his 23-year refereeing career.
“He seemed normal, and everything was fine when I saw him on Saturday,” said Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
But something must not have been fine with Gibson because, two days later, he went into his closed garage, started the engine of his car and remained in the driver’s seat until there was no more oxygen left to breathe. His body was found by his wife, Barbara.
Was Gibson experiencing marital or family problems? Had the economic downturn dealt his stock portfolio or 401k account a knockout blow? Was he keeping secret any depression he might have been feeling?
My source said Gibson recently had lost his regular job, but he was uncertain if that could have spurred him to take his own life.
“He’d been learning mixed martial arts,” the source said, indicating Gibson was preparing himself to branch out into refereeing work in another combat sport. “I know he had lost his job with the State of Nevada penal system. He was taking some inmates up into the mountains where they were doing some forestry work. But whether that was a factor in this, I couldn’t say.”
Gibson, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, had served as the third man in the ring for boxing events in Nevada since 1985. He was generally considered to be a competent referee, if not necessarily an elite one.
Higher on the pecking order for major assignments were Green and Halpern, both of whom were regarded as among the best in the business.
Halpern got his start as a referee in March 1991 and he went on to work 87 world championship fights and hundreds of non-title bouts around the world. Among the signature events he worked were Evander Holyfield’s 11th-round stoppage of Mike Tyson on Nov. 9, 1996, the welterweight championship unification fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Frinidad on Aug. 18, 1999, and the second fight between Lennox Lewis and Holyfield on Nov. 13, 1999.
Controversial endings are endemic in boxing, and any referee who works long enough or often enough can find himself in the harsh glare of public scrutiny. Although Halpern was rated as the second-best referee in all of boxing by The Ring magazine just months before he pointed a gun at his head and squeezed the trigger, he had been widely criticized for his work in the March 3, 2000, fight between WBA super welterweight champion David Reid and veteran power-puncher Felix Trinidad.
Although an Olympic gold medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Reid was, despite his championship belt, something of neophyte professional with only 14 bouts when he entered the ring against Trinidad. By the time Reid made it to the final bell, he had been knocked down four times, thrice in the 11th round, and was clearly in distress. Reid was never the same fighter after that, and, fairly or unfairly, Halpern was criticized for allowing him to absorb more punishment than was necessary in a matchup the Philadelphian did not appear to have any chance of winning from the middle rounds on.
Could Halpern have been driven to the brink by a sense of guilt that he had not done all he could to protect the valiant but stricken Reid? Not likely; Reid kept attempting to fight back whenever he found himself in trouble, and referees, for the most part, are made of hard bark that is resistant to boos and putdowns.
“Was there ever anybody more vilified than Richard Steele?” my source said of another Nevada referee who found himself embroiled in more than a few disputed conclusions to high-profile fights. Steele, however, took the occasional slings and arrows and was adamant that he always had done his duty as he saw the light to do that duty.
More likely, it was personal issues that bedeviled Halpern, who was involved in a a child-custody case at the time of his self-inflicted death. Those who knew Halpern, who did not leave a suicide note, believe that “woman problems” were at the core of his despondency.
But the referee who most likely was consumed by grief stemming from his work in the ring was Green, who drew the assignment for the Nov. 13, 1982, bout at Caesars Palace between WBA lightweight champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and South Korean challenger Duk Koo Kim.
Green, a Louisiana native who had been a Golden Gloves boxer in the 1960s, had earned generally high marks for his work in a number of big-time fights, including the Oct. 2, 1980 pairing of Larry Holmes and Muhammad Ali. Serving as the third man in the ring for Mancini-Kim, though, haunted him as much as it did Mancini, whose 14th-round stoppage in a bloody, two-way battle has weighed upon him like an anvil.
Kim slipped into a coma and died four days after the fight. His mother flew from South Korea to Las Vegas to be with her son before the fight and was the one who tearfully consented to having the life-support equipment turned off. Three months later, she took her own life by drinking a bottle of pesticide.
Green, who blamed himself for allowing the fight to go on and thus for Kim’s death, also committed suicide after his depression deepened.
“What really tortured me that night was it could have been me,” Mancini said in an ESPN special that was shown on the 25th anniversary of his fight with Kim. “I was looking at my hands going, `I can’t believe I did that.’
“My faith in God is the only thing that carried me through that. I said my prayers, `God, please help me to find the answers. I need answers. Help me to find the peace in this.’”
Green apparently never found his answers or his peace.
Maybe there is no common thread that ties Green to Halpern, or Halpern to Gibson. But some things need to be taken into consideration when assessing the pressures that referees occasionally find themselves under.
Take, for instance, the prison sentence recently meted out to disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy for conspiring to provide assistance to gamblers, a scandal that threatened to undermine public confidence in pro basketball.
There are sports books in Nevada, and it is not uncommon for large wagers – sometimes into seven figures – to be placed on boxing matches. If approached by anyone attempting to influence a fight’s outcome, a referee or a judge would be obligated to report such a contact to the Nevada State Athletic Commission and to the FBI.
But what if a losing better blamed the referee and threatened to do harm to him or to his family? And what if a boxing ref, like Donaghy, developed a gambling problem that made him susceptible to bribes or coercion?
A referee can work hundred of bouts without incident and all it takes is one tragedy to forever taint him. If Green or Ruby Goldstein were here, you could ask them. Goldstein, who died in 1984, was inducted posthumously into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994. But despite his 21 years of exemplary service, he probably is best known for momentarily freezing in the March 24, 1962, fight in which Emile Griffith battered Benny “Kid” Paret into a coma and, a few days later, death.
Another Nevada referee of note, Joe “Firm but Fair” Cortez, doesn’t have an inkling as to why Gibson took his own life. “Toby and I posed as part of a group photo Saturday at a seminar we did with some doctors,” Cortez said from Hawaii, where he and his family went to celebrate Thanksgiving. “It didn’t seem that anything was wrong with him then.”
But there is stress related to the job that has the potential to become dangerous when it runs headlong into the travails of everyday living. Cortez understands that referees are human beings, too, and subject to anxieties the rest of us face. His daughter was left paralyzed after an automobile accident, and his wife contracted breast cancer. How difficult can it be to have all that on your mind when you’re giving instructions to the fighters before the opening bell sounds?
“With criticism comes hurt,” Cortez acknowledged. “Sometimes it seems as if you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Even when you follow the rules to a `T,’ the fans don’t want to hear that. Fans are fans; they have a rooting interest in a particular fighter.
“Every referee knows what it’s like to have people say he’s no good, he’s biased, he ought to be run out of boxing. Whenever I hear that a referee made a judgment call that is somehow controversial, I’m the first one to pick up a phone and call him to offer my support. See, I know what he’s going through; I’ve been through it.
“Like I always say, you got to have a thick skin to be in this business because the pressure is just tremendous. Fortunately, I can deal with pressure. But Toby … I don’t know what was going on with him when he decided to do what he did. You never know what’s going through someone’s head at any given moment.”
Darchinyan’s newly acquired 115-pound International Boxing Federation (IBF), World Boxing Council (WBC) and World Boxing Association (WBA) world titles will be on the line.
The once-beaten Darchinyan (31-1-1, 25 KOs), of Sydney, Australia, by way of Armenia, will be making his first defense since unifying the 115-pound division with a demonstrative ninth-round knockout over Mexico’s Cristian Mijares Nov. 1, 2008, on SHOWTIME.
Darchinyan, who entered the ring as the IBF champion, walked out with Mijares’ WBC and WBA belts after blowing away the favored champion in a career-defining performance.
The popular, crowd-pleasing Arce (51-4-1, 39 KOs), of Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico, is the current WBA interim super flyweight champion and is a former WBC 115-pound and WBO 108-pound titleholder.
Arce has been victorious in five consecutive fights, including a fourth-round TKO over Isidro Garcia Nov. 1, 2008, to capture the interim WBA strap, and has won 31 out of his last 32. The only loss during his scintillating run came on a 12-round decision to Mijares on April 14, 2007.
The 12-round world title fight, co-promoted by Gary Shaw Productions, LLC, and Bob Arum’s Top Rank, Inc., will take place at a site to be announced.
Instead of Mosley on Jan. 24, the WBC welterweight champion Berto (23-0, 19 KOs) will instead tangle with the New Yorker Collazo (29-3, 14 KOs), on Jan. 17.
It’s something like being promised a turkey feast prepared by Emeril Lagasse, and being tossed a TV dinner, made with Tofurky instead.
No offense, Colazzo…
No location has been chosen, though New York is the front-runner.
The Floridian told TSS he is a bit let down that he won’t get a chance to engage in his signature fight, with Mosley, who will in fact be taking on WBA 147 pound champ Antonio Margarito on Jan. 24 in Las Vegas. Berto thought he had Mosley locked up, and Mosley too thought he’d be testing his mettle against the young gun. But the 37-year-old Mosley will be checking to see how much he’s got left in the tank against a “middle aged gun,” The Real Life Terminator Margarito. Berto talked to TSS about the flipped script, and his disappointment.
“I really wanted the top guys,” he said. “Collazo is going to be tough, OK, but…But after that I’m still going to be in the same boat. I need that defining fight to enter the mix with the guys like Mosley, and Margarito.”
A cynic might say that Berto may have been played, like a card, in a high stakes negotiation poker session. Does he feel that way? “That’s what it seems like,” Berto allowed. “Maybe somebody used me to pull Margarito back in.”
Berto tossed a little dig at Mosley, who he said set up roadblocks in making a match with Berto. Mosley wanted the fight at 150 pounds, with 10 ounce gloves, and a 65-35 split, Berto said, and that leads the younger hitter to feel like he’s being avoided. “These guys get arrogant sometimes, they don’t want to let the young guys come in,” he said.
Berto said he won’t let political tomfoolery get him down, though. “The opportunity to fight Mosley, I wanted it,” he said. “But I have to be ready for Collazo, he’s a southpaw and he’s slick. It’s a step up, definitely a tough fight. I haven’t seen too many of his fights, I did see him with Mosley (in 2007, UD12 loss) and Hatton (in 2006, UD12 disputed loss). I can’t get upset with the politics. From Shane’s perspective, he’s older, he didn’t want to fight the young, tough guy, he wants to get paid. This is definitely not going to bring me down. I have to move though Colazzo, and take it out on him on January 17.”
But Thanksgiving Day is also a day when we can reflect on the genuine good fortune so many of us enjoy. We live in the one of the top three most wealthy nations in the world, and even in "lean" times, we enjoy a standard of living that people in certain pockets of the world would kill to taste.
Every now and again, I fall prey to the temptation to compare and contrast my earnings and holdings with other more "successful" souls, and I sigh, in a most self-pitying fashion. But I try and remind myself that on this day, I have a roof over my head, ample food on the table, and friends and family to share with.
I am fortunate. Others are not.
So please feel free to join me, and when you get the chance, consider sending a donation to aid in the effort to feed those who go hungry. The numbers are shocking; in the US, 35 million Americans go hungry annually. The situation around the world is beyond shocking. Almost 16,000 children worldwide die each day, from not eating. Nine and half million people have died the world over from hunger so far this year.
I just donated online to The Hunger Project, a global, non-profit, strategic organization committed to the sustainable end of world hunger. They work in 13 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to develop effective bottom-up strategies to end hunger and poverty.
Hey, I know this is a boxing coverage website. But I also know there are a lot of decent, caring souls here. No sport serves as a metaphor for our existence as well as boxing. There is a reason so many of you follow the sweet science, beyond appreciation of the skill and will displayed, I suspect.
Feeling bad that Oscar has been starving himself in training camp to make weight, and even admitting that he would have to forego Thanksgiving dinner, Team Pacquiao has arranged for an 11.25-pound, 12-inch chocolate (rich in antioxidants) cheesecake from the world-famous Carnegie Deli in New York to be delivered to him today at Summit Camp in Big Bear Lake, Calif., where he is training.
Hey, he can do curls with it before he eats it!
Team Pacquiao included the following card: “Oscar -- Looking forward to serving you your just desserts on December 6. Happy Thanksgiving. From, Team Pacquiao.”
NOTE: The cheesecake, which was FedExed from the Carnegie Deli's bakery in New Jersey yesterday, arrived at the FedEx Rialto, California facility at 9:09 a.m. PST this morning where it is now on a truck headed to Oscar's training camp for delivery later today.
“I’m going to leave forget-me-knots all over his nicotine-stained face,” growled Angulo, whose nickname “Perro” translates to “dog” in English. “Mayorga isn’t going to have to wait until the last second to get knocked out like he did with Shane Mosley. I’m going after him like a dog on a bone the second the first bell rings. He is so done.”
Added Gary Shaw, Angulo’s promoter, “I don’t know what possessed Mayorga to accept this fight. Maybe they should be checking the contents of his cigarettes!”
Angulo (14-0, 11 KOs), of Mexico is riding a 10-bout victory-by-knockout streak dating back to 2006. The former Mexican Olympian is currently world-rated No. 3 by the WBC, No. 5 by the WBO and No. 8 by the IBF. Mayorga (28-7-1, 22 KOs), from Nicaragua, has a resume that boasts victories over Vernon Forrest, Fernando Vargas and Andrew Lewis and world titles in the welterweight and super welterweight divisions.
Shaw also announced that Ali Funeka (30-1-2, 25 KOs), of South Africa, the IBF’s No. 1-rated lightweight contender and mandatory challenger, would be making his U.S. debut, when he takes on world lightweight champion Nate Campbell (32-5-1, 25 KOs), from Tampa, in the co-main event.
Where most young men that age are looking forward to their peak earning years, the too-often beaten boxer finds himself in another position entirely. A week ago, much against his will, Manfredo joined in the long line of such fighters after being stopped in three rounds by another Contender series alumnus, Sakio Bika, thus losing both the vacant IBO super middleweight title and, quite possibly, his job.
As it is with most professional fighters, Manfredo has been boxing nearly as long as he’s been walking. It was never a sport in the way Little League baseball or high school basketball is for most players. Boxing was always a stern and difficult endeavor, even long before he’d collected his first paycheck.
That business took him to two unsuccessful world title challenges and earned him a considerable, although not remarkable, sum of money. But even before the Bika fight, Manfredo had said if he was not successful in his second shot at a world championship he would have to consider whether boxing should continue to be the focus of his life.
As he sagged on the ropes, his eyes glassy and unfocused as Bika beat him down, it was clear the time for him to face what may be his last decision in boxing had come. Yet as obvious as the need for it may be, it is not an easy one to make because, frankly, boxing is all Peter Manfredo, Jr. knows. Give it up now and where do you turn?
“My father raised me to be a prize fighter,’’ Manfredo said nearly a week after he’d been stopped at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in his hometown of Providence. “Nothing else. A prize fighter. So now I’m at a crossroads. I got a wife and three kids. I got to find a career, maybe a union job as an electrician. I gotta stop being selfish and think of my family but it’s difficult. Boxing is all I’ve ever known.
“If I still want to be a world champion I have to box at middleweight. But I don’t know if I can still make the weight. The guys at the elite level at 168 are too big, too strong, for me. It’s just a mismatch at 168. I’m not going to be a champion at that weight.
“Bika was too big and strong. He blew me out. I went in confident. In training I was sharp and strong and I thought I’d knock him out but he caught me early just like Calzaghe did and got me out of there. He did his job.
“I’m a little disappointed but I was as good as I could be. He was just the better man. So now I gotta make a decision that’s not easy.’’
Unlike many fighters, Manfredo (31-6, 16 KO) invested much of the money he made in rental properties not jewelry or an entourage, believing they would give him a steady income after boxing. But with the economy in free fall he’s found the landlord’s life is not an easy one either as he’s watched the value of those investments dwindle at the same time his mortgage payments have ballooned.
Like many Americans, Manfredo is boxed in by life at the moment but he carries with him the added burden of a dream denied and a father who has in some ways invested his own life in his son’s rise and fall in the ring.
“It’s tough having a father and son relationship if you’re both in boxing,’’ Manfredo said. “It’s more of a business relationship. I never had a father I could lean on. I’ve said it before – he lived his life through me. He gets mad when I say it but other people see it.
“It’s a messed up situation but it’s something I grew up with. It could have been worse. He could have been a bust out or something but I don’t think you can really be a father and a trainer or a boxer and a son. It don’t work that well. How many times have you seen it in boxing? Fathers don’t stay fathers if they train their kids and sons don’t say sons if they box for them.
“He’s a little upset with me right now because he thought I should have boxed Bika more but I don’t think if I boxed for 12 rounds it would have mattered. He would have caught up with me. He was just too strong for me. He can’t see that.’’
Despite those familial conflicts, Manfredo has not determined yet if he is finished with fighting, admitting he plans to spend six months looking for day work before he decides if his nights inside the ring are over. It is possible, he admits, that he could work and then train in the evening and on weekends. Certainly many fighters do.
But with three kids, a wife and dwindling faith that he and his father, Peter, Sr., can achieve their dream of success at boxing’s highest altitudes the larger issue becomes finding where he can make a living and how he will cope with walking away from what has been his life since he was seven years old.
Boxing demands of its full-time practitioners a spartan existence. It is a solitary life, one where, when the bell rings you stand alone. Then again, so is a life without boxing, as Manfredo has begun to understand.
“I’m in a difficult situation,’’ Manfredo said. “I should have money but I don’t. The recession is killing people. They don’t pay their rent. I tried to do the right thing (with his money) but here I am.
“I know this. None of my kids will fight. That’s for sure. There’s nothing but vampires in this sport. It’s the only sport where you can make a lot of money and end up with nothing. Not even a pension.
“In a way I’m glad it’s over with. I got my own life now. I know no one’s going to help me because once you lose in boxing you find out how lonely the world can be. I have my family and I got some good friends but I got to get my life together now.
“I knew this day was going to come. This day always comes. I just never thought it would be in the middle of a recession.’’
When the end comes for a prize fighter, it’s always a recession. A personal one. Peter Manfredo, Jr. is now walking into a world not unlike the one he is leaving, one filled with doubt and the unknown, a world that will test him in ways boxing did not.
Although he did not win a championship, Manfredo became what few fighters do any more - a household name and a popular fighter in his hometown because of his style, a stout heart and a reality TV show called “The Contender.’’ He made a good living for half a decade or more working in sport’s most dangerous landscape but now, in life’s prime earning years, he has to leave it all behind and become a real reality fighter. One who gets up every morning and goes to a job without a face or fanfare to work only for his family.
Manfredo has gotten off the floor before so he will surely get through this time as well but there’s a sadness to the ending of any dream, even if there may yet be another one down the road. If there is though it won’t be found in the cheering arena where he first made a name for himself because that has become a place where his entrance music should be B.B. King singing the old blues dirge, “The Thrill is Gone.’’ The thrill is gone It's gone away for good Oh, the thrill is gone baby Baby its gone away for good Someday I know I'll be over it all baby Just like I know a man should.’’
Until then, Peter Manfredo, Jr., once and still The Pride of Providence, will fight a different fight. It is the difficult one of learning who he is when he’s not a prize fighter any more.
After pounding around poor Paulie Malignaggi for 10 rounds Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena until Malignaggi’s face began to take on a swollen look and a purplish hue, Hatton’s assault was stopped 28 seconds into Round 11 at the instruction of both Malignaggi’s trainer, Buddy McGirt, and his promoter, Lou DiBella. Both had seen enough by then to know this was not the Hatton they had expected.
While he will never be mistaken for Willie Pep, the Hatton that won nine of those first 10 rounds and the first 28 seconds of the 11th before referee Kenny Bayless stepped in to end something that had actually been over for nearly a half an hour was far more skilled than the wild boar who defeated Jose Luis Castillo, Luis Collazo and Juan Lazcano and was stopped by Floyd Mayweather, Jr. while sacrificing his face in the process each time.
This was the best Hatton anyone had seen since he stopped Kostya Tszyu in 2005 in what remains the best fight of his life. But while that victory was his finest hour, the win over Malignaggi may have been his most important because it came in such a one-sided manner that it again opened up the possibility of facing the winner of the Dec. 6 showdown between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao.
Even in this dismal economy, that fight figures to be one of the biggest pay-per-view events in history and a match next year between Hatton and the winner would be the biggest payday of Hatton’s life, far in excess of the estimated $2.5 million he earned for pummeling Malignaggi, and surely one of the biggest shows of 2009.
Now trained by Floyd Mayweather, Sr., there would be a natural storyline if De La Hoya emerges as the victor in two weeks because Mayweather left him to train Hatton and has since been replaced by the highly respected Mexican trainer Nacho Beristain. Mayweather’s goal in taking over Hatton was to convince him that there are other ways to block punches than with your face and that the jab is a formidable weapon of both offense and defense if used properly. Or at all.
Although Hatton prove to be master of neither against the light-hitting Malignaggi, he did show enough improvement after his first seven weeks training with Mayweather to believe there is yet a chance he might become all that Britain hoped for him in the wee hours of the morning after he broke down the noble Tszyu in a packed arena in Manchester, England.
That night all things seemed possible for Hatton but with each passing fight his defense lapsed more and more and his weight ballooned up more and more between each fight. In combination that left him in wars he won and in one, the knockout loss to Mayweather’s son, Floyd Jr., a defeat that was utterly and completely final. When put together it was the body of work of a fading fighter it seemed, a young man old before his time.
“Doubts started to creep into me mind,’’ Hatton (45-1, 31 KO) admitted after stopping Malignaggi. “Have I had too many fights? Have I been in too many wars?’’
The answer to that is not yet fully known but he was impressive enough against the slick moving, light-hitting Malignaggi (25-2, 5 KO) that it erased the memories of his battered face and wobbly legs against Collazo and the trouble he had subduing Castillo and Lazcano. Such problems may still exist but there is now at least all that is needed in boxing to spark another big fight for him – hope. Hope that his improvement will continue under the baleful stare of Mayweather, Sr. until he is actually slipping punches and catching an opponent’s jab with his gloves rather than his nose.
“He got hit way too much,’’ Mayweather said of the Hatton he inherited. “He was like a target. He didn’t have any defense. If he sticks with me and does what I tell him, you’re not going to believe he’s the same guy you saw against my son. He’s a real smart guy who wants to learn.’’
Some might argue that it is easier to stay with new things like head movement and a sharper jab when little armaments are coming back at you and they would have a point. While Malignaggi outboxed Hatton in the opening round he didn’t really win another minute of the fight in part because Hatton concluded very early that even if he did get hit it would not be fatal to his chances at victory.
Conversely, after Malignaggi was hurt by a right hand that buckled his knees early in the fight, he began to grab and hold and by the midpoint of the match his face was beginning to morph into a gargoyle’s misshapen image.
Freed of any concerns over being hurt, Hatton was free to move inside and work Malignaggi over, which he did. Still his jab, though more evident than in the past, would remind no one of Larry Holmes’ and to say he had head movement and improved defense, while true, would raise the question “In comparison to what? The statue of Michelangelo up the boulevard at Caesars Palace?’’
Still, there clearly was a positive change in his style. Many in boxing felt Hatton might never be able to catch up with Malignaggi’s speed and movement or have an answer to his hand speed but as things turned out neither was a problem and Mayweather was quite willing to take full credit for that.
Whatever the reason, the impression that was left was that the gulf between the No. 1 junior welterweight in the world and the No. 2 man at 140 pounds was as wide as the Grand Canyon that sits a short helicopter flight outside Las Vegas.
“Nobody will beat me at junior welterweight,’’ Hatton said after his hand was raised. “Nobody.’’
Perhaps not, but to face either Pacquiao or De La Hoya would be a different proposition because both would bring with them the kind of power that not only can make an opponent take notice but can also render him unconscious, especially if he’s forced to move back up to the welterweight division. That is where Mayweather’s son overwhelmed him and where even Collazo appeared too strong for him, even though Hatton ultimately won that fight.
He is willing to do it again despite earlier promises that he had fought his last at 147 pounds because the money is there and, especially if De La Hoya awaits him, the most promotable fight in boxing would be there as well. Although that is not the same as the biggest fight, this is a business after all, and it would be big business with a capital B.
But if Ricky Hatton intends to win such a fight he will have to do more than learn how to manage those extra pounds and the power other men carry at that weight. He’ll also have to master further the lessons of Floyd Mayweather, Sr.
“In the Castillo fight, the Collazo fight, the Mayweather fight, there wasn’t a lot of method to what I was doing,’’ Hatton conceded. “I was just tearing in there. I needed someone who would work on my technical side.
“I looked around and realized the best man in the world for me was Floyd Mayweather.’’
Now he has him and the fruits of that union were on display in a one-sided victory over Paulie Malignaggi that has cemented that relationship, at least for the moment. If Hatton invests the time in training and is able to control his emotions and tendencies toward blind aggression when frustrated or after being hit, he may yet be all that Great Britain hoped for him the night he retired the great Kostya Tszyu in dramatic fashion over three years ago.
If he’s not, he still got something big out of looking good Saturday night. He got a chance to earn big in six months or so, which, in the end, is really what prize fighting is all about.
Notables that Chuvalo beat during his career were Doug Jones, Cleveland Williams, Jerry Quarry and Manuel Ramos. Chuvalo is in several Hall of Fames including the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame (inducted in 1990) and the World Boxing Hall of Fame (in 1997). He also was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1998 and has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.
His personal life has been marred by real tragedy, including the loss of two sons to drug overdoses and his wife and yet another son to suicide. Chuvalo has survived, and currently travels and lectures about the dangers of substance abuse.
(SM) Mr. Chuvalo, when did you first take up boxing? (GC) I was about seven years old. I was in a convenience store and saw a magazine called The Ring. I think it was about 1944 or 1945. I opened up the pages and saw the guys with muscles and thought that was for me. I go home and ask my mother to buy me a set of gloves. She ended up getting them about two years later. I started fooling around with some kids at a parking lot we called the Macaroni Field. I learned how to jab and throw a hook to the head. I had a sporting card with Joe Louis on it that showed how to do it. I ended up going to the gym and had my first fight when I was ten. I was 16-0 as an amateur.
(SM) You turned pro in 1956 and knocked out four guys in one night, how did that happen? (GC) It was a pro tournament, like a Golden Gloves tournament, but you could not have more than twelve fights. It was a pro show though.
(SM) Who would you say were some of the hardest punchers you faced? (GC) I would say guys like George Foreman (1970), Mike DeJohn (1963) and Mel Turnbow (1966). These guys were big bangers.
(SM) What do you think was the biggest win of your career? (GC) I don’t know really. I knocked out three guys who were ranked four at the time in the world. Those were wins over Doug Jones, Jerry Quarry and Manuel Ramos. Those three were all good wins for me.
(SM) You were the #1 contender for the British Empire HW title for years, why didn’t Henry Cooper fight you?
(GC) I was the #1 contender for ninety-nine years! (laughing). Because he was afraid of me is why he didn’t fight me. The British Boxing Board always protected Henry. I was always #1 in the Empire and always ranked ahead of Henry in the world rankings. His manager said I was too ugly anyway to fight. He said that about anyone that was too good for Henry including Sonny Liston. I was pretty proud of being too ugly! They just always protected Henry.
(SM) What do you remember most about the two Ali fights, in 1966 and 1972? (GC) The first fight was the most memorable. There was so much going on at the time. Particularly, it was in the middle of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war stance with Ali. It was a pretty chaotic time. Elijah Muhammad and the black Muslims were making a lot of news at the time. So it was memorable from that aspect. Ali was under a lot of pressure at the time. Ali was very popular for a time but then became sort of a pariah for his stance on Vietnam. At the time he was considered an outcast, a social outcast. That's why the fight took place in Canada. Ali was supposed to fight Terrell and that fight was chased out of the United States. I fought Terrell instead and lost the fight. I know I beat Terrell. Terrell couldn’t hit me in the fanny with a bowl of sand. He had the ring guys behind him, the mob guys. They intimidated everyone in Toronto. So to make a long story short, Ali was supposed to fight Terrell and Terrell pulls out and who in Canada would Ali fight but me. So they call me up and I tell them I have to ask my wife first if we had anything going that night. She says no, we weren't going to the movies or anything so the fight was on, that’s how it came about. I had only seventeen days notice. I was training but not training like I was in a big fight. I had to call in a lot of guys to spar with from Chicago and New York. So I trained the best I could in the short period of time I had. We had a tough fight but Ali got the decision. I always say I won that fight because Ali went to the hospital with bleeding kidneys and I went dancing with my wife. They said I was hitting him low during the fight, but Ali had his cup and trunks pulled up so high, you can see that on film. It was kind of like Bugs Bunny fighting Elmer Fudd. Bugs had his trunks up right over his head with his ears sticking out. And that’s what it reminded me of. None of the reporters at the fight ever mention how high Ali's trunks were. Most reporters who covered fights only covered them every once in awhile. They didn’t hang around the gym and learn about the sport. Boxing is a very complicated sport.
(SM) You were never knocked off your feet, you were the Canadian Heavyweight Champion for twenty-one years and in several Hall of Fames, does it bother you that you could never add the World Heavyweight title to that list of accomplishments? (GC) It can only weigh on you for so long. I know I beat Terrell. The referee even told me so. They intimidated the referee, my managers and they threatened them. I know I should have had the title in 1965 though.
(SM) Any regrets looking back on your career? (GC) No, not really. I've had 1001 happy times. But all in all I still say I've had a pretty full life in boxing. Maybe I would have had different managers and trainers but all in all you only have one crack at life, and you make the best of it. When I think back on my career I had a lot of exciting things happen to me. Peaks and valleys but by and large, it’s been real exciting.
(SM) What do you think about the heavyweight division today? (GC) They are the worst bunch of heavyweights I've seen in a long time. The only thing going for them is their size. They’re huge now. As the eras go, the heavyweights get bigger. I fought a few guys that were 6'6 and 240-250 pounds. That's pretty standard now for the heavyweights today. Too many champions, I can't even name them myself.
(SM) After boxing what did you do? (GC) I was in a few movies. I also speculated in the real estate market a little, that was about it.
(SM) A big part of your life now is speaking about substance abuse, tell me about that. (GC) I give a lot of speeches to young kids about the dangers of substance abuse. I do quite a bit in the United States as well. I was on ESPN a couple months ago and got a good response. My agenda is actually preventative medicine. I share a story with the young people about my family and let the chips fall where they may. I talk to them about the choices my sons made and that the most important time in their lives is when they’re young. When you’re young the decisions you make last a lifetime and are the most important you will ever make. I always talk about how education is the single most important decision you will make in life. I talk about self-esteem and how you should see yourself in a positive light. If you don't get the proper education your future may be bleak, but if you do it may be very positive for your family. If you don't see that future for yourself you're not happy. If you're not happy you're pulled off track because it's much easier to be pulled off track during these times. It doesn’t matter who you are, we all want our families to be proud of us. One of the ten commandments says to honor our mother and father. When you do this you also end up honoring yourself. That's a lot of what I talk about, my family and the decisions they made, the paths they chose in a crucial time of their lives. My two kids now are doing great. My other three sons got messed up on drugs and it was the worst thing that could happen to a family. Love of family and love of friends is what you need. I've remarried, what a beautiful young lady she is. She's my strength in so many ways. I have my two kids, my grandchildren, and I still have a lot of love in my life. You know, I just stay on my feet!
(SM) George, what a great message that is, thank you for speaking with me. (GC) Thank you Shawn, and look for my book possibly coming out next year.
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