The diminutive Meza-Clay was impressive in front of his hometown crowd as he overwhelmed the larger Aiken, throwing over 700 punches in less than 7 full rounds of boxing. Aiken, a former IBF featherweight champion, is now 0-3-1 since winning the belt 18 months ago. His career-path is heading in the opposite direction of the clearly hungry Meza-Clay.
Meza-Clay’s lone career loss came to Edner Cherry in 2006 and he has been a buzzsaw ever since. On Friday night, he overcame a substantial height disadvantage (in the neighborhood of a half-foot) and was consistently able to work his way inside on Aiken. Aiken landed several solid blows early in the fight, particularly in an action packed second round, but it was nowhere near enough to discourage an eager and willing Meza-Clay, who constantly moved forward all night.
Despite a pretty well-sustained effort, Aiken failed to establish his jab and work from the outside. At no point was he able to control the action by utilizing his height and reach to his advantage. Consequently, Meza-Clay would not be denied, as the crowd fueled him with chants of his name. He ended the fight 39 seconds into the 7th round with a flurry of punches that had Aiken backed up against the ropes eating fist for nearly 20 gut-wrenching seconds. Aiken may have still been alert enough to counter punch. But the problem was that there was nary a pause from Meza-Clay during which Aiken could jump in. He absorbed several solid body shots and at least two neck-rocking shots to the dome. The ref had seen enough.
When the referee stopped the fight, Roy Jones, Jr. called it a “beautiful stoppage.” Now, a fight stoppage can obviously be a crucial and difficult decision, but I can’t help but chuckle when it is elevated to an art form that can be called ‘beautiful.’ That’s truly top-shelf, Roy. Thanks for that.
Back to the fight, though: Meza-Clay, now at 27-1, is an active, action fighter with good enough chops that I’m sure we’ll see him on TV again in the future. Jones feels that he deserves some consideration for top-10 contender status in the featherweight division.
Roy Jones, Jr.,on the telecast in place of Teddy Atlas, who was "on hiatus," was clearly pleased with himself after his dismantling of Felix Trinidad. He also did his best to make it clear that he’s the best fighter at any weight 168 and up. He listed the 5 people he would most like to fight. Headlining the list was Joe Calzaghe, whom he called the best of super-middleweights (obviously). Surprisingly, his #2 name was Oscar De La Hoya, whom he called a “chicken” and said would never fight him. I’d hate to be Oscar’s dietitian with people calling him out to fight at every weight on the map right now. However, I'd gladly be his accountant. Rounding out the list was B-Hop, Kelly Pavlik, and Jermain Taylor. “One of them will be crazy enough to fight me at 168,” said Jones of Pavlik and Taylor.
And finally, read this Super Bowl tidbit at your own risk:
Bert Sugar presented an interesting theory for predicting the Super Bowl, based upon the movement of the heavyweight title in the previous year. I understand what he meant, but I’ll be damned if I can explain it. Basically, Sugar, likes the Pats based on the premise of the heavyweight title not changing hands on a KO this year, though. This applies to all Super Bowls with the Giants or Pats since 1986. For instance, Tyson KO’d Berbick in 1986 and the Giants won in 1987. Douglas KO’d Tyson in 1990 and the Giants won in 1991. Mike Tyson KO’d Frank Bruno in 1996 and the Packers topped the Patriots in 1997. In the years with KO’s, the NFC won. When the Ravens topped the Giants and in the 3 Patriots Super Bowl wins, there was not KO’s in heavyweight title matches with the belt changing hands. My apologies if my convoluted description has wasted more than a few brain cells for all parties involved. Enjoy the game, everyone.
PS EDITOR NOTE: We all love Larry here, and know full well that as a consummate pro, he's never pulled a Paula on air, for the record.
“Everybody is wondering if Brock Lesnar can fight,” said Dana White, president of UFC.
When Lesnar (1-0) steps into the Octagon against the formidable Mir (10-3) at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino for UFC 81: “Breaking Point,” he unwillingly brings with him the hopes and dreams of thousands of other pro wrestlers who toiled and broke themselves training every day, wondering if they could beat a world champion.
“A lot of pro wrestlers will be watching,” says Dan Madigan, author of Mondo Lucha A-Go-Go, a book about Mexican pro wrestling. “Brock is going to surprise a lot of people with his athleticism.”
Along with Lesnar and Mir, former heavyweight champions Tim Sylvia and Antonio Nogueira showed up at the press conference inside the Las Vegas casino. Both former champions will vie for the interim UFC heavyweight title. Randy Couture has the actual heavyweight title and is engaged in a lawsuit with UFC.
The fights will be shown on pay-per-view television.
For decades pro wrestlers have fought with a veneer hanging over them that their sport is fake. But few outside of the inner circles realize the training and injuries these athletes sustain.
“That was one of my fears,” said Lesnar a few months ago. “I felt that I would never be able to compete in other sports because of injuries.”
In one wrestling episode, Lesnar was asked to perform a stunt called a “shooting star press” and flung himself from the top strand of the ring and missed his mark.
“He almost broke his neck,” said Madigan, who has scripted many pro wrestling events and also has written a screenplay about pro wrestling. “It was only because of his incredible athletic ability that he wasn’t more seriously injured.”
Ironically, Lesnar’s opponent Mir is attempting to prove that a motorcycle accident that forced him to relinquish the title back in 2004, is no longer a factor in his fighting abilities.
White says that it wasn’t long ago that Mir was tabbed the next great thing and now can prove he’s back against the question mark of Lesnar.
Mir isn’t belittling Lesnar’s abilities.
“Anyone who won an NCAA title has a lot of drive and devotion,” said Mir, 28, who will risk his standing as a top heavyweight contender. “I know he’s stronger than I am.”
Lesnar, a native of South Dakota, is a four-time All American amateur wrestling champion and dominated in that arena before accepting a pro wrestling bid. After nearing his eligibility limits to wrestle in college, he was approached by pro wrestling honcho Vince McMahon and enticed with cash.
“I took the $200,000,” said Lesnar (1-0). “I didn’t have a dime to my name.”
But competition is what drives the former pro wrestler, and now at 30 years old, Lesnar knows he doesn’t have time to slowly submerge into MMA. He has to jump in against the best.
“I’m expecting him to bring his A game,” Lesnar said of his opponent.
Mir has his game plan and says it’s not the first time he’s an underdog with Las Vegas bookmakers tabbing Lesnar an almost 2-1 favorite.
“When I fought Tank Abbott they said he was going to tear my head off,” said Mir of a bout that took place in 2003. “I won that fight in 46 seconds.”
Almost forgotten is the match up between big Tim Sylvia who is attempting to win the UFC heavyweight title a record third time and Nogueira, the former Pride FC heavyweight champion.
It’s a dream match for Sylvia.
“I’ve watched him for a long time,” said Sylvia, who dreamed of one day fighting Nogueira who fought primarily in Japan. “He’s a stud.”
Last year UFC bought Japan-based Pride FC that owned Nogueira’s contract and then signed the Brazilian superstar. If Nogueira wins he could become the first heavyweight to win the Pride and UFC heavyweight championships.
“It feels good to be in this situation,” Nogueira says.
Standing on the podium White looked over at Lesnar, wondering if he can be the next UFC superstar. Or maybe the start a new trend of pro wrestlers finding a home in MMA.
“A lot of WWE guys are coming to this fight,” said White as he eyed Lesnar. “A lot of guys respect this guy.”
Jeremy Horn (88-16-5) meets Nate Marquardt (28-7-1) in a middleweight bout. Marvin Eastman (14-7-1) faces Terry Martin (18-3) in another middleweight bout. Lightweights Tyson Griffin (10-1) and Gleison Tibau (27-3) square off in a three-round fight. Chris Lytle (34-15-4) and Kyle Bradley (13-4-1) clash in a lightweight contest.
Of the two, Taylor, (27-1-1, 17 KO), has more to prove and more to repair in terms of strategy. Almost immediately after his loss to Pavlik, Taylor began making changes in preparation for the rematch. For the second fight, Ozell Nelson will assume the role of head trainer, replacing Emanuel Steward, with whom Taylor severed professional ties following a less than stellar four-fight partnership. Taylor is hoping a return to his roots with his longtime trainer will bring the type of success that has evaded him since winning the middleweight title.
For Taylor, it would be to his benefit to make the rematch a fast-paced fight. Against both Taylor and Jose Luis Zertuche, Pavlik has shown himself to be most vulnerable when aggressively trading with his opponents. It is then when Pavlik’s pedestrian handspeed reveals itself, which is a weakness the quick-handed Taylor needs to exploit.
Along with an up-tempo fight, Taylor’s road to victory will be paved largely by his overhand right. He will need to sling the right hand fast, hard, and often, much like the one that knocked Pavlik stupid in the second round of their previous meeting, nearly ending matters before they began. Taylor has proven that he can hurt Pavlik, and that may supply him with all the confidence he needs going into the rematch. If Taylor can time Pavlik’s slow, methodical left jab, he could very well have his hand raised when the proceedings are finished.
On the other side, Pavlik’s options could not be clearer. He can fight the type of long-range fight that allowed him to light Taylor up in the seventh round, or he can engage in the type of wild fight that left him weeble-wobbling all over the ring in the second round, desperately hanging on to Taylor. One would guess that Pavlik, (32-0, 29 KO), would like to avoid a repeat performance of the drunken stumble from last fall, thus making the former option more appealing.
Pavlik’s success relies on avoiding the over-anxiousness in the early rounds that nearly cost him the fight in their first meeting. After learning the dire consequences of being beaten to the punch, Pavlik took command by using his jab to slow down the tempo and dictate the happenings of the bout. Pavlik must control the fight’s pace and geography with his jab. If he can keep Taylor on the end of his punches and drop his sledgehammer right hand over Taylor’s habitually low left, it could be an easy night’s work for the pride of Youngstown.
The question of this fight ultimately comes down to the more likely scenario: either Pavlik duplicating the winning game plan of last September, or Taylor implementing the changes needed to win. An honest look at Taylor’s career has shown very little capacity for change or growth. The current version of Jermain Taylor looks an awful lot like Taylor circa 2003. He has the same strengths and vulnerabilities apparent during his prospect phase. As his level of competition has risen, Taylor’s game has not.
That Emanuel Steward could not improve Taylor’s fundamentals speaks volumes more than the Taylor camp is willing to let on. It is important to remember that Steward is the same man who rebuilt the careers of both Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko from ruins. The fact that Taylor’s career plateau continued even with Steward’s tutelage would seem to say more about Taylor’s coachability and receptiveness than the legendary Steward’s aptitude as a trainer.
Taylor’s success in the rematch depends on his ability to seize the initiative and impose his will upon Pavlik. This will be extremely difficult for Taylor, given his tendency to back up and fight reactively rather than proactively. He fought going backwards against Hopkins, Ouma, Spinks, and much of the fight against Winky Wright. It is difficult to envision an emboldened Taylor charging into the fists of the man who knocked him out just months earlier.
In the rematch, expect a smarter Pavlik, now with more to lose even in a non-title bout, to be less willing to engage with Taylor toe-to-toe. It would not be a shock to see Pavlik willing to go all twelve rounds in a somewhat cautious affair. While Taylor may have moments of success, it will not be consistent enough for him to control the fight. Taylor will likely be fading in the late rounds, as he is wont to do, making him a sitting duck for Pavlik’s bludgeoning right hands. There could be a few scary moments along the way for the Youngstown faithful, but the feeling here is that “The Ghost” will have the last word.
Pavlik (32-0, 29 KOs), and his trainer Jack Loew hosted a media workout, and they shared their thoughts about Jermain "Bad Intentions" Taylor (27-1-1, 17 KOs), and what they need to do to go 2-0 against JT.
Pavlik said he’s confident going in to the rematch, that he’s done his homework and that being the champ hasn’t dented his work ethic. "I know Taylor wants redemption, he's a competitor, but that may be his downfall,” said the 25-year-old hitter. “I can tell Taylor is more intent on beating me than on winning the fight and believe me, there is a difference in those philosophies. This fight is my sole focus.”
Pavlik isn’t content to rest on his last laurel, a TKO7 win over JT, which came on Sept. 29 in Atlantic City. “I've been watching more tape than I usually do,” he said. “Jack and I have been working on correcting the mistakes I made in the last fight -- I won't be sticking my chin out in this fight. The rematch is going to be tough, but I think he has a lot more to correct than I do. I'm having my best training camp ever. Winning the title has added extra motivation to me. It has spurred me to raise my performance to another level...a level I have never experienced before."
Trainer Loew is liking what he’s seeing from his fighter, and his eyes have been peeled, as he’s searching for behavior that might point to overconfidence, or lessened motivation that could arise after winning a belt. "I have been training Kelly since he was nine,” Loew said. “He's always been a hard worker in the gym, but since he's won the world title he's become a different fighter in the gym. He is more focused and you can tell he's working harder on his strength and conditioning because his punches are faster and more explosive than ever. He's been on weight for over a week and he's training like an animal. Kelly Pavlik, world champion, is a whole different cat from Kelly Pavlik, the contender. That's how much he has improved since winning the title in September. It's remarkable. So, all the notoriety, and increased adulation hasn’t detracted from his preparation? “Nothing has distracted him,” Loew said. “This is a big fight for Kelly from a money point of view. The money will be much bigger for Kelly when he beats Taylor again.”
So, can Taylor make some tweaks to his game, and finish the job this time? He had Pavlik in deep, dangerous water in the second round of their first fight. “Taylor didn't change in any of his fights and I doubt he'll change now,” Loew said. “Kelly's not going to be much different either. He's still going to come to fight and throw a million punches. But we'll have a few tricks up our sleeve.”
Loew, who has a sneaky ability to trash talk, maybe more than you’d expect from an unheralded coach who still paves driveways fulltime, touched on Taylor’s switch from Manny Steward to Ozell Nelson. “He's [Ozell Nelson] the guy who taught him [Jermain Taylor] all his bad habits, so I'm thankful Jermain brought him back,” Loew said. “Taylor has a lot more to correct than we do. We'll correct our mistakes; it's a matter of will he?"
FYI, tix are priced at $600, $400, $300, $200, and $100, are on sale at the MGM Grand Garden Arena box office. Tickets are also being sold at all Las Vegas Ticketmaster locations (select Smith's Food and Drug Centers, Macy's West at the Fashion Show Mall and Ritmo Latino.) Tickets sales are limited to eight (8) per person. To charge by phone, with a major credit card, call Ticketmaster at (702) 474-4000 or MGM Grand at (800) 929-1111. Tickets are also available for purchase at www.mgmgrand.com or www.ticketmaster.com
SPEEDBAG John Ruiz’ manager, attorney Tony Cardinale, promises that there will be a brand new Ruiz on display on March 8, when Ruiz meets 37-year-old Jameel McCline, in a last chance dance for two veteran heavies. This scrap is smack dab in the middle of a pretty tasty card: BA/BO/IBF lightweight champ and TSS fave Juan Diaz meets vet Nate Campbell; Sam Peter tangles with Oleg Maskaev for the WBC crown; and Jose Luis Castillo shows if he’s done when he gives up ‘n comer Timothy Bradley a crack. The Ruiz/McCline winner will probably get a title shot at the WBC strap, Cardinale said. So, does Ruiz, age 36, know that his chances are running out? “He knows this is it,” Cardinale said. “He’s a different fighter with Manny Siaca training him. He’s more dangerous.” Ruiz lost to Giant Valuev (MD) in Nov. 2005 and Ruslan Chagaev in Dec. 2006 (SD). He took out Otis Tisdale in the second round in his last outing in October, something a few other people have been able to do, but Cardinale swears the time with Siaca will do wonders for Ruiz. “It’s going to be a good fight,” he said. “The winner goes on, the loser goes home.”
“I got a lot of love from fans in Southern California,” said Williams, a South Carolina native.
Williams (33-0, 24 KOs) steps in the ring to defend his title against Puerto Rico’s left-handed slickster Carlos Quintana (24-1, 19 KOs on Feb. 9 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula. Goossen-Tutor Promotions are staging the fight card that will be shown on HBO.
It’s bad enough that Williams stands about 6-2 in height and is left-handed, but that wingspan makes it doubly tough to get inside his constant battering attack.
“He can hit you from across the ring,” cracks George Peterson his trainer.
It was Peterson who urged Williams to trek across the country in search of sparring sessions with different styles and different weight classes.
“My trainer wants me to face all kinds of styles so he takes me every where so I don’t get surprised inside the ring,” said Williams, 26, who has sparred and trained in Washington D.C., Atlanta and Los Angeles. “You can only learn a style by facing it in the ring.”
Los Angeles is the place where he took part in the infamous sparring session with Mexico’s rugged Antonio Margarito a few years back. Only a few bystanders witnessed that intense encounter in the now defunct L.A. Boxing Club.
That sparring session became the spark that led to a forest fire and an eventual meeting with Margarito.
“Everybody knows that story now,” says Williams who is training in Puerto Rico. “That’s how I got my break.”
Last year, Margarito had vanquished Joshua Clottey and won the right to meet Miguel Cotto in Madison Square Garden. It would have meant millions for Margarito. But he hated the words tossed in the Internet about him being afraid to face Williams. He opted for less money and took the fight that he eventually lost last July in Carson, California.
“Margarito had been avoided for years and he didn’t want to do the same thing to Paul Williams,” said Dan Goossen, president of Goossen-Tutor Promotions.
The win by Williams upset the machinations set up by Margarito’s promoters Top Rank and forced the Las Vegas company to ink Shane Mosley instead. The eventual win over the Pomona boxer has made Cotto a big name in boxing.
Williams changed the boxing landscape with his win over Margarito.
The fight between Williams and Margarito took place at the Home Depot Center last July. A packed crowd saw Williams speed ahead in rounds by using a machine gun jab that found a landing on Margarito’s head for five rounds.
Then it was Margarito’s turn.
From round six to round 11, the fighter known as the Tijuana Tornado took over the lead and landed ferocious shots to the body and head. Williams teetered a couple of times but refused to fall. The judges gave the victory to Williams who battled and won the last round on all three judges score cards.
“I started too late,” said Margarito, who admits he made a mistake in letting Williams gain too many rounds. “He won the fight.”
Williams says he learned a lot that night from Margarito.
“I learned a lot from that fight about being a champion,” said Williams by telephone from Puerto Rico where he’s training once again. “Margarito came on strong the way a champion is supposed to. I’ve got to be like him.”
The South Carolina native knows that Quintana is a former world champion and expects the same intensity that he encountered with Margarito.
“I can’t take this Carlos Quintana for granted,” said Williams. “He’s a former world champion. I know now that champions keep coming.”
Female fight card
An all female fight card takes place on Thursday Feb. 7, at Pechanga Resort and Casino.
Heading the list of fighters will be Chevelle Hallback meeting Melissa Hernandez for the vacant IFBA lightweight title.
Hallback, who holds the IBA and WIBA junior lightweight titles, had her fight with Terri Blair at Pechanga voted Fight of the Year in 2007. Three years earlier, Hallback also was involved in a Fight of the Year candidate against Layla McCarter. She’s simply an entertaining all-action boxer with tremendous skills.
Others on the card will be welterweight champion Holly Holm, featherweight champion Lisa Brown and an engaging lightweight fight between Jennifer Barber and Oxnard’s Crystal Morales.
“I’m so excited about this fight,” said Morales, who works for the city of Oxnard when she’s not training. “We’ve sparred before.”
As an amateur, Morales fought for Mexico’s junior Olympic team and competed against other countries.
Barber is also a former amateur champion who won the National P.A.L. championship and National Golden Gloves.
“I know she likes to stick and move so that’s what I’m preparing for,” said Morales.
Tickets for the fight are on sale now. (877) 711-2946.
Fast Eddie Loses
Eddie Chambers lost the heavyweight elimination bout to Russia’s Alex Povetkin in Berlin, Germany last weekend.
Povetkin walked through an early pummeling from Chambers in the first four rounds, then out-worked the faster Chambers for the remaining eight rounds in decisive fashion.
Chambers, who seemed to have the quicker hands and feet, was content to absorb punches and wait until Povetkin was finished firing. Then he would counterpunch with accurate punches. The tactic worked for a while but the Russian heavyweight found a remedy and adapted to a style of combination punches then quickly moving out of range. Chambers seemed unable to adapt to Povetkin’s changes.
It was frustrating at times to see Chambers refuse to attack. Perhaps he sustained a painful shot that made him hesitant to exchange with the beefy Povetkin. In the end the Russian fighter never stopped punching. Chambers slowed down considerably and lost the fight.
One trainer in Southern California said it might be due to Chamber’s trainer Buddy McGirt.
“You might blame it on the cooler,” said Art Carrillo, who trains heavyweights. “Buddy McGirt has built a reputation as a guy who cools off hot fighters.”
He has a point. McGirt didn’t do much good for Lamon Brewster.
Povetkin will now fight the winner between IBF titleholder Wladimir Klitschko and WBO titleholder Sultan Ibragimov that takes place on Feb. 23.
Fights on television
Fri. ESPN2, 6 p.m., Monte Meza-Clay (26-1) vs. Eric Aiken (16-6-1).
Fri. Telefutura, 8 p.m., Mario Santiago (18-1) vs. Edel Ruiz (28-18-5).
She worked in basements, as well as in bigger venues, but the important fights always seemed to elude her. On more than one occasion her friends and family members asked her why she stuck with a job that was so unwelcoming to women.
“I was doing what I loved, and I always had a lot of faith,” said the 47-year-old Lee, who recently retired from the NYPD after serving as a Bronx police officer for 20 years.
“I loved the sport and I always believed in it, so I never thought of quitting. Not even once.”
Over the years, Lee has become an unwitting trailblazer. In 1998, she became the first woman in history to referee a New York City Golden Gloves bout. Three years later she was the first female referee appointed to the New York State Athletic Commission.
Last August she was the first woman to referee a fight in New Jersey, when she was the third “man” in the ring for Nasser Athumani’s stoppage of former world junior welterweight champion Juan Urango.
And on November 17, she reached what many insiders consider the pinnacle of the boxing profession when she oversaw bantamweight prospect Abner Mares’s 12 round decision victory over Damian Marchiano in Atlantic City.
Not only was a regional WBO title at stake, the fight was televised on HBO.
“I didn’t even know I was getting that assignment until the afternoon of the fight,” said the always cheerful and exuberant Lee. “I expected to handle some undercard fights. When I saw my name penciled in for the title fight, I was shocked. I immediately went and called my kids.”
Lee has one son and two daughters, as well as 5-month-old grandson. She draws great strength from them, and says they are the greatest blessings in a life that is full of blessings.
“It was great to referee a fight on HBO,” said Lee. “But no matter where you are working, you have to always remember that nothing is more important than the health and safety of the fighters.”
Similar words have been stated by esteemed referee Benji Esteves Jr., who, not surprisingly, was a longtime mentor to Lee. He guided her through the labyrinthine amateur system, and the mutual respect the two have for each other is immeasurable.
“Sparkle has always been a good learner and a hard worker,” said Esteves. “She didn’t always get the right opportunities to prove herself; that was just the nature of the game. But I am not at all surprised by her success. She’s been learning her craft for over 20 years, so she is fundamentally sound and understands that you can never stop learning.”
“Benji has been a blessing,” said Lee. “He has taught me so much, and continues to teach me today. I’ve been blessed to have him as a teacher.”
New York State Athletic Commissioner Ron Scott Stevens is also an admirer of Lee’s work ethic and acumen in the ring.
“She’s really coming into her own, and she has a very good refereeing style,” said Stevens. “She is very decisive and safety conscious.”
Unlike many others who have spent decades immersed in the sport, Stevens always believed that women would make their mark in the sweet science as fighters and judges. He envisioned it as an evolutionary process, and his prognostications have come true.
“We’ve had women timekeepers, judges and commissioners for many years,” he explained. “It was only natural that they would eventually want to expand into all areas of the game. They deserve to be where they are today because they are doing a great job.”
Way back in the early 1980s, Lee and her twin sister Star started training for the White Collar Boxing program at Gleason’s Gym, when the fabled venue was still located in Manhattan.
Once she joined the police department in 1987, she decided not to box competitively but was still emotionally attached to the game. Bruce Silverglade, who is still the owner of Gleason’s, ran the New York City AAU amateur program at the time.
He realized that Lee had an abundance of talents that would be put to good use as an official.
“She was a real nice kid who had a great personality and a real desire to learn everything she could about boxing,” said Silverglade, who has been a mentor to countless boxing neophytes.
“She went on to eventually run the amateur program herself, and was in charge of all the New York officials. She took no nonsense, and has done a great job in everything she’s been associated with in boxing. As a referee, she is in control and you hardly notice her. That is the sign of a good official.”
Taking control in the ring has not always been so easy for Lee. In her very first amateur fight, two middleweights flailed wildly at each other and completely ignored her instructions. She vowed to never let that happen again. To her credit, it has not.
“I can be very hard on myself, but I am also very good at learning from my mistakes,” said Lee, who has incessantly studied tapes of referees Joe Cortez and Larry Hazzard, both of whom are or were well known for their take-charge officiating styles.
Lee considers them among the best in the business.
“I see myself like any other referee, but know that you are only as good as your last fight. I learn from all of my fights, and I will continue to learn in each and every one of them.”
While Lee might seem like an overnight sensation to some, the road to where she is now has been a circuitous one. However, she is elated to be where she is in her life and looks forward to a future full of boxing, as well as working as the manager or adviser to her nephews who she believes are about to make big waves in the music business.
“I started out as a wrestling fan until I found out it was fake,” said Lee. “Then I became a boxing fan. I met lots of great people, and I was helped by so many great people. I love every aspect of boxing, and I am so happy to be involved in it. I am blessed, truly blessed.”
TSS saw Muriqi, who pressed the pace, and stayed in Tarver’s face from minute one, as the winner in that fight.
Maybe TSS was swayed by the underdog factor, and didn’t particularly care for Tarver’s dismissiveness to the one judge who saw a draw, or anyone else who had the temerity to not see his obvious brilliance on display.
Regardless, Muriqi performed on that night like many who saw him cutting though Golden Gloves competition like butter knew he could.
He performed like his acclaimed trainer, Teddy Atlas, thought he could. He performed like his proud pop, fighting for the cause back in war-ravaged Kosovo, knew he could. He performed like he knew he could.
Finally, after learning so many lessons on how to think, and act, like a fighter, from Atlas.
Finally, after enough time passed that the Kosovo Kid truly became The Man From Kosovo.
Finally, after his head caught up with his foundation of talent, Elvir Muriqi was close to the big time.
Finally, no more club fights.
Not so fast, Elvir.
Muriqi (34-4-1, 21 KOs) has at least one more club fight to get through, when he meets 10-5-1 Willis Lockett of Maryland at Utopia Paradise Theatre in the Bronx (NY) on Thursday evening.
Then, maybe his promoter Joe DeGuardia will lock down that rematch with Tarver, or a tussle with a Chad Dawson, or a Glen Johnson, or a the WBO 175-pound champ, Zsolt Erdei.
The 28-year-old Muriqi, who came to the US in 1996, lives in the Bronx. He checked in with TSS on Wednesday evening, and chatted with us, in an accent that advertised Bronx more than Kosovo. (“A lot of people in the Bronx tell me I was born here,” he tells me.) We touched base, and then Muriqi asked us to call him back in 20 minutes, because he was picking up a pal at the airport.
You can be certain, if he was two days away from an HBO or Showtime main event, against a Tarver, Dawson, Johnson or Erdei, somebody else would be dispatched to do the airport errand. But Muriqi is the sort who might well to volunteer to do the task, forthcoming main event or no.
Family, and friends, are especially important to him. That’s easily understood, if you have basic knowledge about what went on in his native Yugoslavia going back a decade.
Kosovo was a province whose inhabitants overwhelmingly wished to gain independence from Yugoslavia and Serbia in the late 90s. The Serbs and Yugoslavs faced off with Kosovarians; Kosovo, in 1999, after much savage fighting, was placed under United Nations oversight, but obtained a system of self-governance. Muriqi’s father, Ramiz, went back to Kosovo in 1999, to fight for the Kosovo cause, with the Kosovo Liberation Army. His younger sister Elinde, also flew from the US back to Kosovo to help the cause. That left Elvir, who was chomping at the bit to join his dad and sister, back in the US.
His father directed him that he would help the cause more by spreading the word about the tumult in the homeland, so the fighter reluctantly agreed, and stayed behind to learn the craft.
His did so, under the tutelage of Teddy Atlas, for 27 professional fights.
Those two split, amicably Muriqi says, after the fighter decided that he and Atlas were too similar, too headstrong, to keep on working together.
Muriqi told TSS that he wouldn’t trade the Atlas experience for anything, and that he is grateful to the combustible Atlas for showing him the ropes in and out of the ring.
“People grow up,” he said. “I had a hard head. I was younger then. Teddy is a great man, with a great family. Being with Teddy for 5 ½ years was like I went to college. He was a great person for me, for boxing, for life.”
Atlas was painstaking in his approach to building Muriqi up to becoming a competent pro. Some argued that he was too timid in the process, and that Muriqi got bored as he fought an assemblage of journeymen. The fighter explains his take.
“Teddy took his time,” he said. “I started getting bored. He wanted to see me prove myself to guys that weren’t so great, so I didn’t show as much.”
Muriqi began to fight down to the level of his competition, in his mind. At one point, he climbed to No. 5 in the rankings, but he began to lose his love for the sport. He and Atlas parted in, after Muriqi fought his 29th fight as a pro, a win over Thomas Reid in December 2003. Since then, he has worked with Harold Knight, and Joe Guzman and Colin Morgan. Morgan was in his corner when he nearly knocked off Tarver, but for now, Muriqi is in transition. “For now,” he says, “I can handle it myself.”
Now, trying to better comprehend why such a promising prospect has taken so long to reach a period of fertility where meaningful fights are within his grasp, I asked Elvir if the civil war back in the homeland drained him mentally, and set back his progress.
Yes, he conceded, he did think about the battle back home, he admitted. But “I can’t make excuses,” he told me.
Perhaps Muriqi should be more eager to tell people about how the war at home affected him. There is a difference between an excuse and an explanation.
Three times, attempts were made on his father’s life. The first time, he got sprayed with an AK 47, but escaped. The second time, someone tried to blow him up with a bazooka, but missed. The third time, someone loaded up a few kilos of explosives, and detonated them, but again, Ramiz escaped. It’s hard to concentrate on anything, let alone the savage science, when that is hanging over your head.
Back to the present.
No, he says, he is not overlooking his Thursday foe.
“He’s a rugged guy, a tough guy,” Muriqi said of Lockett. “I can’t sleep on nobody. He’s not the best in the world, but he comes to fight.”
To get ready, Muriqi, who mostly works out at the Morris Park gym in the Bronx, has gotten solid sparring with Lou De Valle, and Delvin Rodriguez.
But more importantly than who his manager is (nobody, at the moment, but he’s entertaining offers), or who is training him, is Muriqi’s maturity.
“I’m mature,” he said. “I’ve built a record, and I’m confident. I grew up at 26. Now I’m calmer than ever. I’m better than ever. It was OK the way my career went. In the end I will be on HBO. I’ll be around a long time. I’ll beat all the old champions and big names now.
“But to be honest, two years ago, stepping in with Tarver, I don’t know how I would have dealt with that. Colin, Shadow, Teddy, all those parts of my career have helped me a bit. I’m still young. I’m 28. I figure I’ll leave the sport at 32, 33. These five years I will fight and beat the big names. When I leave the sport, I will have had a title. I will be remembered as a world champion.”
Muriqi says he told his promoter to get him a big name, and with decent judges, he’ll fight winner take all. He does wonder if maybe he showed too many skills against Tarver, and that he presents too much risk vs. too little reward for some of the top tier at 175.
“Why fight Muriqi, he’s not the biggest name, and he’ll give you a tough fight, and you can make more money in an easier fight?” he says rhetorically.
Muriqi finishes with a few words to the readers, his fans, the suits and himself.
“Thanks to TheSweetScience.com for taking the time to talk to me, and all my fans,” he said. “I will soon make it happen and become world champion. And to HBO and Showtime, c’mon, you need a real light heavy to test Roy, and Johnson, and Clinton, and Chad and Zsolt. I’m here. You know I’ll give a good fight, put me on. My job is to win a title. I haven’t done it yet. I want to win a title, defend it at Madison Square Garden, then in Kosovo. I want to fly my flags together,” says the fighter once known as The Kosovo Kid, now known as The Man From Kosovo.
IBF light heavyweight champion Clinton Woods will defend his title against IBO titleholder and former undisputed 175-pound kingpin Antonio Tarver at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., while WBC world title holder Chad Dawson will face off with former world champ Glen Johnson.
The card, promoted by Gary Shaw, kicks off at 9PM Eastern.
"Thanks to Showtime and Dennis Hobson, we have created a very special night for boxing fans and an important event for the light heavyweight division," said Shaw. "Four world class fighters are taking the risk to reap the reward in a best against best scenario. Dawson, Tarver, Woods and Johnson are in the fights of their lives and I'm proud to be promoting them."
“I'm thrilled that we were able to put this fight together and add it to what was already a sensational fight card April 12 on Showtime.” said Ken Hershman, Showtime's boxing chief. “These two match-ups are not only world title fights, but have significant career implications for all four fighters. I give them and their promoters a tremendous amount of credit for agreeing to take these fights. Saturday, April 12 should be a spectacular night for Showtime subscribers."
Also, over on HBO, Miguel Cotto will glove up for the first time in 2008 on April 12, against Contender alumnus Alfonso Gomez, and Kermit Cintron looks to avenge his 2005 stoppage loss to Antonio Margarito on the chief support bout in Atlantic City. The show will be televised on "free" HBO.
Woods (41-3-1, 24 KOs), of Sheffield, England, will be making the fifth defense of the crown he won with a fifth-round TKO over Rico Hoye on March 4, 2005. It will be Woods' second start in the United States and his Showtime debut; Tarver (26-4, 19 KOs), of Tampa, will be appearing on Showtime for a third consecutive time. A southpaw who owns two victories over Roy Jones Jr., registered a fourth-round TKO over Danny Santiago on Dec. 1, 2007, on Showtime.
Dawson (25-0, 17 KOs), of New Haven, Conn., - a ShoBox alum - will be defending his WBC belt for a third time since winning it on Feb. 3, 2007. In his last outing, he registered a fourth-round TKO over Epifanio Mendoza on Sept. 29, 2007.
Johnson (47-11-2, 37 KOs), of Miami, by way of Jamaica, is seeking his fourth consecutive victory. The former IBF light heavyweight champ has fought the best in his division throughout his career including title defense victories over Jones Jr. and Tarver.
I cannot recall the last time dueling doubleheaders of this quality were offered on the same evening. As always, in such a case, I finish with the most logical sign off: thank God for TiVo.
With Finkel and Oscar in his corner, Faragon’s career began on the biggest stage of all: Madison Square Garden. His first victory might have occurred at the Garden, but many smaller triumphs, in and out of the ring, put him in the position to make such a high profile debut. The casebook on Michael Faragon is simply about hard work and luck. Luck can be a two way street and Faragon’s walked on both sides in his 20 years.
Born in Syracuse, New York, his birth certificate lists him as Michael Cunningham. An unstable family life marked his early years as his father was in and out of prison. His loving mother, Kim, did all she could to shield her son from the abuse inflicted on her when Michael’s father was at home. Kim worked two or three jobs to keep things afloat and good fortune struck when she landed with Verizon, who promptly transferred her to Albany.
Away from the father he barely knew, away from the threat of abuse, Michael had his first sense of security at age seven. He took up kick-boxing at a local gym and was immediately recognized as a child with talent. A few years passed and as his kick-boxing improved, one phone call would change his life. Andy Faragon, a kick-boxer, invited Michael to the gym he owned in Schenectady, New York.
Andy and Michael switched their focus to boxing. Andy became the father figure always missing from his life. Boxing may have been the bond that brought them together, but their connection went beyond the ring. Andy was quite aware of the difficulties Kim had in raising Michael and his two half-siblings as a single mom. With Kim’s blessing, Michael moved to Schenectady in the 6th grade to live with Andy’s family. He was welcomed with love by Andy’s wife June and their two young children. The stable family life that had eluded him for years was now his.
Four years of tranquility passed as Michael and Andy’s relationship deepened into a son-father relationship. With his mother’s blessing, Michael was legally adopted by Andy as he prepared to enter 10th grade. He changed his surname to Faragon and became part of very large, extended family. “I was embraced by the Faragon family immediately,” Michael recalls.
The father-son bond began in the gym and evolved as Michael took to boxing, with Andy by his side as trainer. Michael had his first bout at 14 and when his amateur career ended in the summer of 2007, he had received numerous national awards, befitting his 85-15 record. With a pro career around the corner, Michael stepped up his training regimen: running five miles at 6am, followed by alternating days of grueling wind sprints and double sparring sessions. “The sprints give my lungs extra energy for the final 20 seconds of each round,” Faragon commented. Weight hasn’t been a problem. He walks around at 145 lbs and has no trouble getting down to the “catch” weight he’s been fighting at, 137.
Although Faragon is a natural righty, he fights with power from both hands. He showed some of this power in his pro debut in November with a convincing four round unanimous decision over Javier Garcia. He describes himself as an “inside” fighter or as his dad calls it “belly-button to belly-button in-fighting” which he unfortunately deviated away from during his second pro fight on Friday’s Telefutura card in Cicero, Illinois. After dominating the opening two rounds by throwing numerous combinations against Heriberto Ponce, Faragon began the third, according to his father, by going “head-hunting.” Lunging and throwing off balance head shots allowed Ponce to get back into bout, but Faragon went back to the body in the 4th and won a majority decision.
Andy Faragon gave his son a “B” for his performance. Michael, a self described “mellow man”, was happy with the win, but disappointed that he didn’t stick to his game plan. Yet, only two fights into his pro career, he hopes to share his success with GBP potential stable-mate Danny Jacobs, a friend from the amateurs. “It would be sweet if Danny and I can fight on the same cards as we move up,” Michael told TSS a day before the fight.
The biggest decision facing Michael Faragon is whether to fight at 135 or 140lbs. If this is the only problem on his plate, good for him. His answer when asked what he enjoyed most, from turning pro with the backing from Finkel and Golden Boy, was quite simple. “Doing something I love and getting paid for it,” he said. He paused a moment, then let his guard down, sounding like a normal 20 year-old. “And I don’t have to get a job,” he quietly said, chuckling.
We should all be so lucky. But the reality is Michael Faragon is a casebook study of a young man who overcame the stacked odds dealt him. And with the support of his “new family” and mother Kim, he seems poised to begin the climb up the ladder as all prospects must do. Upon hearing that Oscar, his promoter, had won a title in his 12th pro fight, Faragon pondered this for a moment and said calmly, “Talk to me about it after 20 fights.” Regardless of what happens in his boxing career, Faragon has more than enough victories outside the ring to make his supporters quite proud.
But after seeing Chambers, on the cusp of earning a heavyweight title shot against Wladimir Klitschko, throw away an early lead, refuse to fight with an ounce of passion or urgency for long stretches, and throw a paltry 16 punches in the twelfth and final round of a title-shot elimination match against Alexander Povetkin in Berlin, Germany, I cannot dial back my disappointment.
Perhaps Chambers has a viable excuse for his showing, but even a world-class explanation would be moot when that contract to fight Klitschko is handed to Povetkin, who took a unanimous decision on Saturday in Germany, and will hand tight while Klitschko meets up with heavy underdog Sultan Ibragimov next month in New York.
The scores read 117-111, 119-109, and 116-112 for the 2004 Olympic super heavyweight gold medallist, Povetkin.
I suspect this outing will haunt Chambers for the rest of his life, because based on talent alone, he should have been the one exiting Germany with the title shot. He has a snappy jab, and showed in the first few rounds that he has acceptable pop, even if it isn't top-tier. At the end of the fight, though, I found myself comparing Chambers to Dominick Guinn, who perpetually underperformed, then overpromised, then underperformed again.
This is Chambers' second straight outing where he faded down the stretch and essentially gave the judges every excuse to give the fight to the other guy.
Is he afraid of success? That armchair psych assessment leaps out at me, because had he kept on doing what he was doing early, Chambers would be talked about as a legitimate American heavyweight hopeful. Maybe that could still come to pass. But I fear that we need only look at Guinn's career arc, if we want to predict Chambers'. I hope I am wrong, I really do, because as a fight fan who is eager for heavyweight talent to emerge, I really did think Edie Chambers had a shot at stepping up. Sorry to use the past tense, I really don't want to come down to hard, but that man has promise, and I fear some mental block will keep him from realizing it.
The 25-year-old Chambers came in with a 30-0 (16 KOs) mark, while the 28-year-old Povetkin came in with a 14-0 (11 KOs) record.
Both men had a win over once credible, but faded vets, to their credit in this IBF title shot eliminator. Chambers took down Cal Brock in his last dance, while Povetkin showed Chris Byrd that some younger guns are on the scene and to be reckoned with.
Here's the round by round breakdown, in reverse order.
In the twelfth round, Chambers again looked like he was the up 'n comer in the champ's training camp, giving the champ some rounds. His gloves protecting his face, instead of being launched with the intent of inflicting hurt, Chambers spent the last round of the biggest fight of his life looking like he was getting in some easy sparring work.
In the eleventh round, Chambers, who'd been told in between rounds that he needed a kayo, infuriatingly held back. Meanwhile, Povetkin piled up the hits. There would have to be a reaaaally strong excuse for Chambers to explain the lack of urgency he showed in the second to last round, especially after his corner gave him the business. I cringed as I listened in to his corner after this round. HBO, strangely, focused on the lamer corner for the first half of the break, and then went back to the Povetkin corner for the last 15 seconds! Chambers' corner demanded a KO, or KO effort, once again.
In the tenth round, read the review of the previous five or so rounds. Povetkin, the cruder, and slower-handed of the two fighters, gave notice that he desired a win more than Chambers.
In the ninth round, Chambers drew applause with a four punch combo. But then Chambers, gloves drawn tight to his head in defensive posture, went back into the shell for too much of the round. Message sent by Chambers: the other guy wants it more than I do.
In the eighth round, it was more of the same sad story, if you are a Chambers fan. Povetkin piled up punches, throwing multiple one-twos. Perhaps Chambers was waiting for Povetkin to tire, to get winded, drop his hands, and provide a juicier target. Chambers did end the round with a sneaky counter right to the chin. Chambers landed 60% of his tosses in the round, a superb margin, but he threw far fewer launches and thus, told the judges that he wanted it less. Right or wrong that's how the game works, most of the time.
In the seventh, the Russian landed a right that wowed the crowd but it didn't phase Chambers. Neither did it wake him up, and return him to his early-round state.
In the sixth, Povetkin looked stronger, as he perhaps felt comfortable that Chambers' best hadn't hurt him horribly. Chambers also reverted to his worst habit, which was being a fighter who waited, waited, waited for a perfect spot, instead of pressing the action, piling up his quick jabs, and setting the tone. Would he perk up, stop acting like he was getting some sparring in, and realize the opportunity at hand? Or would he channel Dominick Guinn, and disappoint his corner, and his fans, with a weak work rate?
In the fifth, Povetkin showed more urgency early, but he looked a bit worried about counters, and that kept him from piling doubles into triple and quad shot combos. The punchstat numbers said Chambers had the edge but I thought the Russian was busier, and Chambers let off the pedal. His corner gave him the business after, too, so I feel comfortable with my assessment. Sometimes stats, especially subjective ones, like punch counts, aren't the be all, end all.
A counter right in close started off the fourth, and Chambers spent most of the round up in the Russian's grill. If I were his trainer, I'd have told him to keep more distance, use his feet more, but then he dropped a right-left combo that reminded me why I tap the keyboard.
In the third, swelling that began in the second worsened, as Chambers' right found its mark several times on Povetkin's left eye. Chambers looked to be taking over somewhat, as he was slipping smartly and confidently, lessening the sting by moving his head just enough. If he had heavier hands, with the clean shots he landed, the Russian would've been on the mat. But if he had heavier hands, he would've already been in with Wladimir Klitschko.
In the second round, Chambers took the round with a sharp right, which jolted the crowd out of its lethargy. Til that point, with 20 seconds to go, it was a close round. Both men were reasonably active, picked their shots wisely, and looked evenly match. But that right, that came after he tossed a jab, feinted with another, and unloaded, took the round.
In the first round, Chambers showed he meant business, as he snapped off some meaningful tosses from minute one. Off the bat, neither man's physique sent out a positive message, and neither man will make the cover of Men's Health. Povetkin closed the gap with some punches landed in close, after Chambers had scored nicely with body work.
SPEEDBAG Not sure what was going on, but the production on the show wasn't up to par at several points. The action lingered on too-tight shots for too long, and viewers weren't able to decipher what was happening.
--Punchstats showed Povetkin an edge in throws (929-398) and hits (201-197). Chambers landed an amazing 49% of his shots. When he threw he landed. The question begs: why didn't he throw more? Let's not forget to offer the Russian ample praise--he warded off an early storm, stayed cool, stayed strong til the end, and threw like a maniac.
--Lennox thinks Chambers can still make some noise in the division. Max thinks he should go to cruiser. What do you think, TSS Universe? Can Chambers go back to the drawing board, and remake himself into a busier fighter? Or can a fighter not learn a killer instinct, and a nose for closing the show. Let's hear from some of you ex fighters out there, please.