Hernandez’s only other loss was to Oscar De La Hoya after a total of 41 pro bouts.
A few months back, the humble former world champion was diagnosed with a form of cancer detected behind his right eye. Hernandez is now undergoing both chemotherapy and radiation treatments in hopes of eradicating the deadly tumor.
The World Boxing Council and a number of other boxing organizations are hosting a benefit on Saturday, Jan. 17, at the WBC Legends of Boxing Museum in San Bernardino. An auction, dinner, and entertainment are planned.
WBC representative Rudy Tellez said that a number of artifacts will be auctioned and hopes that people can bring canned goods and other donations to raise money for the now retired fighter.
Hernandez was working as a color commentator for both boxing and mixed martial arts. Then, last October a bump near his eye formed and when he saw a physician it was diagnosed as a rare form of cancer.
Many people like his easy-going demeanor and humble personality and when word spread of his ailment, the boxing world has rallied on his behalf.
Inside the boxing ring, he slugged it out with a number of the biggest names in boxing, such as Mayweather, De La Hoya, Jorge Paez, Carlos “Famoso” Hernandez, and fellow Hall of Fame inductee Azumah Nelson.
Hernandez, 42, was voted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003.
Now Hernandez is battling the effects of the cancer treatment and hopes it can eliminate the disease.
“One of the top promoters in Japan is even coming out,” stated Hernandez in a press release. “To me its heartbreaking to know that people want to help out. It touches me.”
Sugar Shane Mosley, a good friend of Hernandez for almost 20 years, said the stricken fighter is one of the good guys of the sport. He called Hernandez to talk about his condition.
“I’ve known Chicanito since we were kids,” said Mosley from his Big Bear training camp. “We used to spar at the Brooklyn Gym in East L.A.”
The museum is located inside American Sports University 399 N. D Street in San Bernardino. Ticket donations are $50. For more information call Tellez at (323) 229-1694 or Jaime Ochoa (951) 230-9157.
Mexico’s Leonilo Miranda (30-0, 28 KOs) of Sonora faces undefeated Puerto Rican Orlando “The Olympian” Cruz (15-0) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The winner moves on to contention while the loser faces going back down the ladder.
The fight card will be televised on Showtime on Friday.
WBC title fight
Andre Berto defends the WBC welterweight title against Brooklyn’s Luis Collazo on Saturday Jan. 17, from Biloxi, Miss. The fight will be shown on HBO Boxing After Dark.
Berto’s last fight was a win over Steve Forbes at the Home Depot Center. Collazo also fought on the same card. Now they’re facing each other.
Hector Camacho Jr. will fight Sammy Sparkman in a middleweight contest at Kissimmee, Florida on Sat. Jan. 17. The son of Hector Camacho was facing suspension for not showing up to a fight card in Mexico where he was allegedly facing Yory Boy Campas. But he denied signing any contract and accused the promoters of forgery. The matter is under investigation.
Fights on television
Fri. ESPN2, 6 p.m., Eromosele Albert (21-2-1) vs. Saul Roman (29-5).
Fri. Showtime, 11 p.m., Leonilo Miranda (30-0) vs. Orlando Cruz (15-0)
Sat. HBO, 9:45 p.m., Andre Berto (29-0) vs. Luis Collazo (29-3).
The training facility for the Tuesday night workout is far removed from the plush gymnasiums that populate the MMA hotbed of Henderson’s home in Southern California. The Kokoro gym in Dublin has no ring or cage, is devoid of changing rooms and is situated adjacent to a construction site.
The surroundings make an instant impression on Henderson.
“It’s old school,” he remarks. “But I like it.”
Dan Henderson speaks his mind and is unaffected by the trappings that come with being one of the premier fighters of the last decade. He appears at ease in the low-key gym, free from the distractions presented by the rabid Irish MMA fans who bought all 10,000 tickets for this weekend’s UFC 93 event in less than two weeks.
Yet fighting in foreign surroundings presents numerous challenges for the Temecula native.
“It’s so cold here,” says Henderson, a two-time Greco-Roman wrestling Olympian. “I have to be careful in these temperatures because it’s easy to catch something and get sick.”
The time difference is also a factor. Henderson arrived in Dublin last Friday to allow his body clock to gradually adjust to the eight hour differential. But his first few days in Ireland were frantic as within 24 hours of arrival he was whisked off by the UFC to Manchester, England to watch the U.K. team tryouts for The Ultimate Fighter reality series.
“It’s hectic, but it’s been the same for Rich Franklin too,” admits Henderson.
The busy travel schedule will continue for whoever wins Saturday’s 205-pound contest, since the victor will act as a coach to the U.S. team on the TUF television show which begins filming in Las Vegas on Monday.
Henderson has prepared himself for that scenario, fully convinced that he will defeat Franklin, the 26-3 former UFC 185-pound champion.
“I think I can beat him in every department,” he predicts. “I’ve got more power than him, I’m a better wrestler and better in the clinches.”
Henderson’s skills have been honed over a 23-7 MMA career that has seen him capture two titles in the PRIDE Fighting Championship. His battle-hardened face attests to the tough struggles that have encapsulated his career; his ears roughed into rock-like bubbles, while his profile is smoothed by a nose curved where it should be straight and flat where it should be curved.
He has travelled to Dublin with three other fighters from the Team Quest gym and has been sparring primarily with TUF 8 alumnus Krzysztof Soszynski. The bulky Polish born fighter is a natural southpaw, ideal for mimicking Franklin, who also likes to strike from the portsider stance.
The chilly Irish climate means Henderson must wear extra layers of clothing while warming up for his training session. A heavy hooded sweatshirt and thick hunting cap provide protection from the cold air in the gym.
He begins moving around the mats slowly, his limbs turning in a restricted, almost creaky motion.
As the minutes progress the movements become more fluid, the layers of clothing are steadily removed and the punches are snapped out with forceful torque.
Just as the sparring is about to begin, one of Henderson’s team realize they are short a pair of MMA gloves. A member of the Kokoro gym grabs a packet containing a fresh pair.
“No, no,” shouts Henderson. “You don’t need to open new gloves for us. An old pair will do fine.”
When the round begins, Henderson wastes little time imposing himself on the 225-pound Soszynski. Despite appearing to be relatively small for a light heavyweight fighter, Henderson displays immense strength in controlling his opponent in the clinches and effortlessly implementing takedowns.
A range of elbows and punches stifle opponents on the ground, while a heavy right hand is used to control the stand-up action.
That right hand, which felled Wanderlei Silva in 2007, will be used regularly against Franklin, who as a southpaw is considered vulnerable to the straight right.
While Henderson, who has battled Vitor Belfort and Anderson Silva, is no stranger to lefties, Franklin holds some key advantages. The 34-year-old Ohio native is regarded as the fresher fighter, while his rangy strikes move with greater fluency than Henderson’s cruder blows.
And despite the fact he has only recently began campaigning at light heavyweight, Franklin figures to be the naturally bigger fighter, as he is still a few pounds above the limit, while Henderson has been virtually at the weight for a week.
But Henderson feels his experience and extensive preparation can help him overcome any challenge.
“I’ve felt great here the last two days,” he says after the workout. “My body is getting used to the time change now and I’m ready to go.”
“Dan was amazing tonight,” adds Soszynski. “He was taking me down with ease.”
But Henderson has one body part that isn’t supremely tuned.
“My feet feel numb from the cold,” he quips. “I’ll never complain of being cold in California again.”
Tickets for UFC 93 are sold out but the event can viewed on pay-per-view at 10pm ET / 7pm PT or live at 3pm ET / 12pm PT / 8pm GMT.
In terms of the panoramic picture of the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s ongoing recovery from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster ever to hit these United States, Saturday night’s HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” telecast of the defense by WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto (23-0, 19 KOs) against Luis Collazo (29-3, 14 KOs) is no big deal. It’s strictly a made-for-TV production, a single bout to be staged in a side room at the restored (at a cost of $550 million) Beau Rivage Resort Casino in Biloxi.
But the mere fact that a world title fight is coming to an area that has known more than its fair share of death and destruction is a microcosm of what Biloxi, and the other 10 communities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, are all about. If you were to compare those gleaming casino resorts that rose from the ashes – or, more accurately, from the receded floodwaters of Katrina -- to an actual boxer, the names that might come to mind are never-say-die scrappers Matthew Saad Muhammad and Arturo Gatti.
HBO, which loves to provide its viewers with the perspective of back stories, is almost certain to frame Berto-Collazo within the context of a Biloxi that just 3½ years ago looked like a war zone. Think Berlin, 1945.
You want stories of miraculous recoveries? How about the fact that the opulent Beau Rivage, built on floating barges at the juncture where the Gulf of Mexico meets land, opened exactly one year after Katrina laid waste to it and pretty much the rest of Biloxi’s prime shoreline real-estate. It was almost as if the town’s citizens answered the knockdown blow they had received with a furious assault of their own. Go ahead, Mother Nature. Hit us with your best shot. We can take it, although we’d rather not have to. Haven’t you learned by now? Like that old wristwatch commercial, we can take a licking and keep on ticking.
Lou DiBella, who promotes Berto, recalls coming to the area as a senior vice president of HBO Sports for the April 25, 1998, matchup of Roy Jones Jr. and Virgil Hill at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum in nearby Gulfport. Even then, nearly 29 years after a more compact but even more powerful hurricane, Camille, nearly obliterated the region from the face of the earth, there was evidence that not all of the scars upon the land had been fully healed.
Katrina, in effect, was like the delayed payoff of a 1-2 combination from a power puncher, the devastating overhand right that followed Camille’s jolting jab.
“The fact that the Beau Rivage is beautiful and up and renovated and is hosting a title fight on HBO, that’s a very good symbol,” DiBella said. “It shows that life is going on down there post-Katrina.”
Vincent Creel is the public information officer for the City of Biloxi and he said such signs are popping up all over, like daffodils in the spring. He said he isn’t the most astute fight fan, but he does know his history. Don King staged a show at the Beau Rivage on Sept. 13 of last year, in which Timothy Bradley defended his WBC super lightweight title on a rousing unanimous decision over Edner Cherry, and the Gulf Coast’s rich tapestry of boxing dates back to 1881, when John L. Sullivan slugged it out with Paddy Ryan in Mississippi City.
Since casino gaming invigorated the region in 1992, much as it did for Atlantic City beginning in 1978, Biloxi and other Gulf Coast communities are far less likely to be dealt a mortal blow from a soft economy or killer hurricanes.
“What the return of these casino-resorts meant to us was people going back to work,” Creel said. “Prior to Katrina, the casinos employed 15,000 people. These are full-time, salaried employees; the total doesn’t even count the supply houses and the restaurants in the area that benefit from visitors coming in. During the rebuilding, that number shot up to 17,000. It’s down to 12,000 now, in part because of the economy, but it’s rising.
“After a year, all of the casinos were back up and running. The first one opened in December 2005. Two others came on-line by the beginning of 2006. And you know what? We did more gaming revenue in 2007 than we had ever done. Casinos grossed more than $1 billion that year, and that was just in Biloxi.”
In essence, the casinos – some of which have sought to make big-time boxing a staple of the entertainment experience they provide patrons – accomplished more in a relative short period of time than was achieved in the decades that preceded it.
“Some people will tell you – with a degree of accuracy, I might add – that Biloxi and the Gulf Coast did not fully recover from Hurricane Camile in 1969 until casino gaming was legalized in 1992,” Creel said.
No wonder Gulf Coast residents, at least those who don’t equate slot machines and blackjack with the evils posed by demon rum and painted hussies, offer daily thanks for gambling palaces and, one supposes, the fights that were and are subsequently lured to the area.
“Even Nostradamus could not have predicted what the gaming industry has done for us,” Creel said.
Berto, in his own way, is reflective of the power of determination and redemption. He has his own Mississippi story to tell, and his appearance at the Beau Rivage is something of a homecoming.
The son of Haitian-American parents, Berto was born in Miami and he resides in Winter Haven, Fla. He ventured to the casino town of Tunica, Miss., about 30 miles south of Memphis, in 2004 to try to earn a spot on the United States Olympic boxing team that would compete in Athens, Greece, later in the year.
Heavily favored in his weight class, Berto – a two-time National Golden Gloves champion, two-time National Police Athletic League champion and three times a U.S. Amateur championship medalist – was winning his bout with Andre McPherson, at least what little of it that actually transpired, when he threw McPherson to the canvas late in the first round.
Berto was disqualified for having committed the flagrant foul and, just like that, one of America’s best hopes for an Olympic boxing medal saw his dream dashed before it had much of a chance to even take shape.
Fortunately for Berto, his heritage allowed him to make it to Athens on the Haitian team. Because of his pro-influenced style he didn’t medal, but his disappointment proved short-lived.
“Interestingly, I don’t think (not making the U.S. team or getting a medal) cost him very much because he’s got a world title and has been paid better than the gold medalist for the American team, Andre Ward,” DiBella noted. “If you gauged worldwide interest, I think Berto’s recognition is greater than Ward’s.
“And Berto’s style – whether he fought for Haiti, America, Great Britain, Ireland or whomever – is so pro, with an emphasis on hard shots and a lot of body work, is not the style to score a lot of points in international amateur boxing.”
DiBella believes that Berto, just 25, has a chance to evolve into the sort of star attraction to keep interest in boxing alive after the familiar but aging names finally fade from view.
“I think he’s one of them,” DiBella said of Berto’s potential to fill the charismatic void that is sure to come when the old standbys exit. “And by the way, we’d better stop looking to the old guys or we’re going to have no fans left. We are not developing the next generation of boxing fans. This idea that a sport that’s fading domestically should concentrate heavily on foreign fighters and guys that are totally at the tail end of their careers is preposterous.
“It’s one of the reasons I’m not a big proponent of the Paul Williams-Winky Wright fight. You have Paul Williams again extending himself to fight a bigger guy, but an old guy who should frankly be gone and nobody really cares about anyway. And as great as Bernard Hopkins is, he’s 44 bleeping years old. His beating Kelly Pavlik didn’t do anything positive for the sport. What we need to do is build young stars.”
DiBella said HBO, whose stable of fighters is graying like the populace of a Florida retirement community, has the clout to again develop a farm system of up-and-coming attractions.
“Arturo Gatti was never one of the big pound-for-pound guys, but he was tremendously exciting,” DiBella noted. “He was, in essence, a made-for-HBO star. HBO built him. How many `Boxing After Dark’ appearances did Gatti make? Enough so that he broke through to become bigger than he otherwise would have been.
“Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Junior Jones, Naseem Hamed, Kevin Kelly – that whole slew of little fighters got giant paydays, and now Manny Pacquiao has jumped ahead of where any of those guys were. So don’t tell me it can’t be done, and don’t tell me that Berto can’t become one of those have-to-see fighters.”
If there is a difference between Berto and Biloxi, it’s that Berto, disappointed though he might have been by his Tunica misadventure, is undefeated. Biloxi knows defeat, and how. But it also knows about fighting back, about spitting into the eye of adversity.
Camille, the second of three catastrophic Category 5 hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. in the 20th century, blew into the Gulf Coast near Bay St. Louis, Miss., on Aug. 17, 1969, packing sustained winds of 190 mph and a storm surge of 24 feet. By the time it moved out of the area, it left in its wake 259 dead and $1.42 billion in property damage which, adjusted for inflation, would be $21.2 billion today. It was the second-strongest hurricane in recorded history, behind only the Florida Keys Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.
Katrina was less powerful than Camille – it was “just” a Category 3 when it made landfall near Buras, La., on Aug. 29, 2005 – but it was considerably wider, doing damage from Texas to Florida. Most notably, it submerged large tracts of New Orleans as the fragile levee system constructed to protect the below-sea-level city was breached in 53 places.
Most Americans, when they think of Katrina, recall the misery of the people trapped inside the Louisiana Superdome or the Ernest Morial Convention Center. The prevailing images are those of the ruined Lower Ninth Ward, hammered home by a Spike Lee documentary that was televised by HBO.
Only 80 miles to the East, the Mississippi Gulf Coast took a less-obvious and not-quite-direct hit, which is not to say it escaped major destruction.
“A number of people were killed here by Katrina because they refused to believe any hurricane could be as bad as Camille,” Creel said. “That was a fatalistic attitude; 53 died here in Biloxi alone. Had the storm hit during the night, we would have lost 10 times that many, and maybe more.
“We took a backseat to New Orleans because the story in New Orleans had every bell and whistle you could imagine. It was an absolute train wreck. There were so many failures of governmental agencies. Over here, we didn’t have a lot of those issues. We also are not below sea level.”
What Biloxi did have was debris, so much of it that, if placed in an area the width of six football fields, it would have risen the height of a 200-story building.
“And that’s just in the City of Biloxi,” Creel said. “But it’s like our governor (Haley Barbour) likes to say. We got knocked down, got back up, hitched up our britches and went to work rebuilding.”
Again with the boxing references, but they do seem to apply, don’t they?
Perhaps a more fitting quotation to describe the latest rebirth of the Gulf Coast comes from the late Nobel Prize winner for literature, William Faulkner, a Mississippi native who understood the depths to which mankind can sink, and the heights to which it can ascend.
“Man will not only endure, but he will prevail,” Faulkner wrote.
Last week a female teenager took her eyes off the road for a split second and found herself plummeting down the steep mountain upside down in a Volkswagen. Somehow she escaped with minor cuts and a totaled vehicle.
Few are that lucky.
This was about my 15th drive in nearly 10 years up the mountain road for a visit to Sugar Shane Mosley (45-5, 38 KOs), who is less than two weeks away for his bid against WBA welterweight titleholder Antonio Margarito (37-5, 27 KOs) at the Staples Center on Saturday Jan. 24.
The Pomona native has been using the tourist resort of Big Bear for his training camp for more than nine years and now has a ritzy cabin of his own that harbors a boxing gym, numerous rooms and three floors. He also has the biggest, meanest dog you’ve ever seen. Though the dog took a chomp of me in my last visit, he still wants more. Not today buddy.
Photographer Paul Hernandez agreed to meet me in the mountain area beforehand so we hooked up a block away from the cabin. In front of Mosley’s cabin, I pumped on the horn a couple of times and someone opened the automatic gates for us to enter. Snow and ice are everywhere.
Those readers from the Midwest and East coast probably laugh about our concern over driving in winter conditions. But growing up in East L.A. where it almost never drops below freezing and snows once every 100 years, both of us are not accustomed to driving sideways on icy streets. Don’t even talk about chains.
Inside the cabin, three of Mosley’s sparring partners are wiping the morning sleep from their eyes and trying to force a smile at 10 a.m. They had been told that they were getting the day off from training. They’re ecstatic. We’re a little disappointed. We had made the mountain trek to watch them spar but somehow the p.r. people got their signals mixed up.
First to greet us is Enrique Ornelas, the middleweight from La Habra, California who has served as Mosley’s sparring partner for more than two years. He’s big, strong, hits hard and is a sincerely nice guy. He tells us that his brother Librado Andrade was sparring too a few weeks ago but has returned to Canada.
Andrade is the guy that knocked down IBF super middleweight titleholder Lucian Bute in the last round when they fought. The Canadian referee gave the fallen fighter 17 more seconds to recover by halting the action inappropriately and saying Andrade was not in the neutral corner. It was one of the worst robberies since Mando Muniz was denied the world title against Jose Napoles back in 1975, when “Mantequilla” could not fight after the 12th round due to cuts and a beating from the California based welterweight.
Also in Mosley’s camp is San Diego’s Eddie Sanchez, a tall and lean junior middleweight who made a name for himself several years ago when he took attended a pre-fight conference at a casino to get free grub and ended up taking a fight with two days notice. He lost nine pounds and fought and beat J.C. Candelo for the GBU Americas light middleweight title.
The final sparring partner for Mosley is Philadelphia’s Gabriel Rosado, another big middleweight fighter who looks like he could fight light heavyweight without a problem. Rosado recently handed Ireland’s James Moore his first defeat and now is going after another undefeated fighter in a few weeks.
All three boxers are sitting around, drinking juice and killing time around the pool table in the cabin. First to speak is Ornelas, who tells us what’s been happening in the sparring sessions. Usually when he spars with Mosley the blows sound like a bat hitting a big heavy bag. There’s almost a concussive feeling.
Mosley walks down the stairs and invites me and Hernandez up to go to the adjoining cabin where he has a nice warm loft that has a couple of couches and a sofa. That’s where we talked about his upcoming fight.
“I like sparring with bigger guys cause I don’t have to hold back,” said Mosley, who during sparring against the big guys likes to rear back with a slight smile like a youngster hitting off a batting tee. “They can take it.”
Mosley usually has to look up to his opponents, except in his last fight against Ricardo Mayorga. But in that fight, the tricky Nicaraguan prizefighter changed tactics and boxed and held successfully for nearly 12 rounds. It was the last minute change in his plans that led to his downfall.
“As soon as he tried to fight his old style that’s when I knocked him out,” says Mosley laughing. “He ran right into it.”
Fighting bigger guys is almost a ritual for Mosley. There were two battles with Vernon Forrest, two with Winky Wright and two with Fernando Vargas. Now it’s back to norm.
“The strongest guy was Winky Wright,” said Mosley, who lost big in their first encounter but a narrow defeat by split-decision in their rematch. “Winky walks around at 190. Vargas walks around at 220.”
Mention of Margarito causes a brief twinkle and smile in Mosley who is sitting back on a couch with ESPN running on a big screen TV as we talk about the upcoming fight.
Mountain preparation is engrained in Mosley. I remember back in October 2000 when he trained at a facility called Big Bear Training and Fitness for an upcoming world title defense against Antonio Diaz. It was the strangest thing because both he and Diaz used the same gym to prepare and would see each other every day. First Mosley’s team would work and would cross the little five-feet corridor as Team Diaz would walk in. Both guys would greet each other amicably and proceed peacefully. Their fight took place 2,500 miles away in New York City and where they bludgeoned each other for six rounds.
This is a different fight. Most boxing followers wonder how Mosley will survive against the murderous body punches of Margarito.
“I’m a pretty good body puncher too,” said Mosley, who dropped David Estrada with body blows in their encounter several years ago. “I may be older but I keep in pretty good shape. I work hard so I can take body blows.”
Ornelas, Rosado and Sanchez agree that Mosley can give Margarito problems he hasn’t encountered before.
“Shane can change up in the ring without hesitation,” says Ornelas, who has regularly sparred with Mosley during the past several years. “He’s very strong.”
Sanchez, who has a six-inch height advantage and an extremely long reach, says the smaller Mosley can fight in a variety of ways if he chooses.
“He’ll adapt to any fighting style,” says Sanchez, who also has served as a training partner in previous Mosley camps. “He can turn it on in a split-second.”
Can he adapt to the endless volume punching of Margarito who follows in the footsteps of many other great Mexican fighters?
“Since I was a kid I was facing tough Mexicans in the gym who fought the same style,” says Mosley with a slight chuckle. “Guys like Zack Padilla, Julio Cesar Chavez and Genaro Hernandez.”
Mosley said he realized as an amateur he would need to learn how to fight toe-to-toe against guys who cared less about jabs and more about punishing.
“I had to adapt to the Mexican style of fighting,” Mosley says laughing. “They’ll take a punch to give you two in return. They don’t care about getting hit. They want to hit you.”
Mosley explained how East Coast boxers differ drastically from West Coast fighters.
“In the East they don’t want to get hit at all,” Mosley says. “In the West they get insulted if they don’t get hit. They don’t care.”
Throughout his career he’s shown an aptitude for the Mexican fighting style, from fighting early on against roughnecks like Mauro Gutierrez in 1993, to fighting elite junior middleweights like Fernando Vargas and Winky Wright.
Mosley talked about his travels to East L.A. gyms early in his career when he battled against Padilla, who was much like Margarito a nonstop punching machine. There was also Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez who though tall as Margarito, preferred to fight inside like the Tijuana Tornado. And there were also sessions with the real Chavez, not the sons.
“Those guys didn’t take it easy,” says Mosley with a chuckle. “I held my own.”
Now the question is not about his ability, but his age.
“I train hard so I can fight at this level against the best,” said Mosley. “I think I showed Margarito how to beat Miguel Cotto. Margarito probably saw the tape of my fight with Cotto.”
It’s another perilous road for Mosley. At age 37, the Pomona prizefighter wants to prove that like Bernard Hopkins, age is not a factor.
“I still got some tricks up my sleeve,” he laughs.
It’s a safe bet that Cosell would be aghast at the sports television industry as it exists today, with retired or even active athletes all over the tube in commentating roles for which some, alas, are ill-suited. But the same so-called “jockocracy” that temporarily foisted Johnny Unitas on viewers – the legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback was one of the best passers ever, but an absolute disaster as a color analyst – has created crossover successes such as Terry Bradshaw, John Madden, Len Elmore, Tim McCarver, Charles Barkley and, if early reports are to be believed, possibly longtime former middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, who made his debut as a studio analyst alongside host Brian Kenny for last Friday’s 2009 debut of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.” In attempting the transformation from “The Executioner” to “The Elocutioner,” Hopkins offered his take on separate bouts involving Cuban prospects Yuriokis Gamboa, Odlanier Solis and Erislandy Lara.
It was the first of a possible 18 contracted appearances on “FNF” for Hopkins, although the actual number is apt to be less as he rotates with three other analysts (ESPN.com writer Dan Rafael, former Solo Boxeo broadcaster Bernardo Osuna and fighter BJ Flores) who’ll be seated alongside Kenny at ESPN’s desk in Bristol, Conn.
“They told me I was a natural,” said Hopkins, who first chatted up Kenny as a guest on “FNF” three years ago.
“He gets it,” Kenny said of Hopkins the emerging television personality. “There is a warm, funny, bright person inside `The Executioner.’ He has a great desire to learn, and I think in time he will develop into something special.”
The major obstacle that Hopkins has had to overcome in his new gig is his proclivity for answering every question with rambling, stream-of-consciousness replies that touch on any number of topics, even occasionally the one related to the original inquiry. It’s been a chore for him to master the art of the quick but relevant sound bite.
“I always wanted to do this,” Hopkins, who remains an executive with Golden Boy Promotions, said of his expansion into TV boxing commentary. “Whether I fight again or not, I’ve got, what, maybe one fight left? Or maybe none. If a meaningful fight isn’t there for me, it might be time to go.
“I’d like to get it on with Joe (Calzaghe) again, but it doesn’t seem like he wants it. Some people are talking about me fighting Jermain Taylor for a third time. But it has to be something that really interests me, you know? I’m not going to stick around to fight Joe the Plumber.”
Hopkins’ nature is such that he almost certainly will work as hard at mastering broadcasting as he did at mastering the intricacies of boxing. He wants to be the very best he can be at whatever venture he attempts. But hard work isn’t all there is to making it on TV, nor is a melodious voice or wealth of accumulated knowledge. Trainer Teddy Atlas has developed a large following as “FNF’s” ringside analyst, despite a Staten Island accent so thick you couldn’t cut it with a chainsaw. Bradshaw, who won four Super Bowls as quarterback of the “Steel Curtain”-era Pittsburgh Steelers, found his niche on CBS as an arm-waving goof, and Barkley, recently suspended by Turner Sports following a driving-under-the-influence arrest, has fans that can’t wait to hear the next outrageous statement to pop out of his well-fed mouth.
Even televised boxing, which for so long was the province of easily identifiable, singular voices such as Don Dunphy’s and Cosell’s, has become a tag-team proposition, with multiple broadcasters jumping in and out.
But if there is a downside to all that wretched excess, so, too, was there when one guy commanded the microphone as if it were his own personal bully pulpit. Larry Merchant, the former sports editor and columnist who for so long has graced HBO’s “World Championship Boxing” telecasts with measured civility in contrast to Cosell’s bombast, said even Cosell, who would have been loath to admit it, could have and did benefit from partnering up with accursed jocks who did not feel obliged to sign off on his talking points.
“With Cosell, there were a number of things he just missed because he really wasn’t an expert,” Merchant said of Cosell’s long run as the Lone Ranger of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” boxing telecasts. “He had his own point of view as to what was going on, and something he was flat-out wrong.
“He created incorrect impressions of what was happening in certain fights, I thought. Once of the advantages of having a second and even a third guy at ringside is that it gives a different vision or visions, because so much is open to interpretation.”
Merchant and blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley have worked with any number of former fighters and trainers who have filled the role of third man-with-a-microphone. All have brought instant credibility to the role because they were well-known; only a few had staying power because, ultimately, discerning viewers can determine for themselves whether a superstar is working hard at his new craft or simply mailing it in.
Among those who have passed into and out of Merchant’s domain are Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman and Roy Jones Jr. Still on HBO’s payroll are Lennox Lewis and Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward.
Even Hopkins, whose gift of gab is as obvious as are his technical skills in the ring, was among those who auditioned as a color analyst for HBO telecasts. He didn’t make it, in large part because he still was struggling with the time constraints placed upon commentators.
Sometimes even Merchant can’t explain why an ex-fighter connects with the viewing audience or doesn’t. Is it mostly a personality thing? Ability to convey information in a timely manner? Something about the voice? All of the above, or maybe even none?
“Some guys are very good about talking about themselves, but not necessarily about others,” he allowed. “What happens is that they’re good as long as they are familiar with contemporary athletes, coaches, theories, et cetera. But if they don’t keep doing their homework as new people and ideas come in, they fall by the wayside.
“Others don’t have the capacity or the motivation to make that type of commitment, and it’s obvious in the quality of their work. You can only live off of what you know for so long. Then there are the guys who find it difficult to be objective because they’re hesitant to offer legitimate criticism, or at least criticism that isn’t self-serving. They’re not mentally equipped to second-guess coaches they played for or against, athletes they played with and against. Those are the ones that quickly get weeded out.”
Barkley is a prime example of someone whose analysis might not be the most prescient, but can cover it with an outsized personality and ability, to paraphrase Cosell, to “tell it like it is,” or at least as he thinks it is.
“Barkley is all about personality, candor and general presence,” Merchant said. “He’s not intimidated out of being who he is by being in a studio, speaking into a microphone and looking into a camera when that red light is on.”
Hopkins is pretty much the same way, but whether he can convince viewers of that remains to be seen.
“You get what you get with Bernard Hopkins,” B-Hop said. “You get with you get with Charles Barkley. He always says what’s on his mind and I always say what’s on my mind. I won’t hold back.”
If only it were that easy.
“We’ve had other glib guys who were not as good (at commentating) as you might imagine,” Merchant noted. “Antonio Tarver is an extremely well-spoken and sometimes funny observer of the fight scene. He didn’t make the cut, just as Hopkins didn’t, when HBO held those trials.”
Then there was Roy Jones, who figured he could slide by on natural talent, much in the manner he has tried to do so in his career as a fighter.
“Roy was a very astute observer of that dynamic in a boxing context,” Merchant said. “But he had no desire to go to production meetings or to ask questions to see if he could glean some nugget of information that would be revealing about the character or personality or plans of a fighter. His way was to simply show up and wing it.
“It was extremely unprofessional, which is why he’s not doing it for us anymore. In a sense, he disrespected everyone he was working with.”
Sugar Ray Leonard was better at putting in the time, but there was a barrier through which he never seemed capable of breaking through.
“Ray, to my recollection, did all the things he should have done,” Merchant recalled. “He was a superstar who did offer some interesting observations. But – and maybe this is a little unfair – he was not as electrifying a broadcaster as he was a fighter. His personality was more low-key.”
Foreman, who sold millions of grilling machines because of his smile and jovial good nature, certainly was not lacking in the personality department. His shortcoming was a tendency to flip-flop in his analysis, jumping from one fighter to another with every shift in momentum.
And what of Lewis, who’ll again be at ringside as an analyst for HBO’s Saturday night “Boxing After Dark” telecast of WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto’s defense against Luis Collazo in Biloxi, Miss.?
“Lennox … it’s hard for me to say anything about Lennox,” said Merchant, who only sporadically pulls duty on B.A.D. telecasts. “He was the heavyweight champion of the world and a credit to boxing. He does come to the meetings and asks questions of the fighters. He’s curious. He’s professional in that respect.”
ESPN, though, is the world-wide leader in ex-jock talking heads employed at any given time. Such is the reality when you’ve got 24 hours a day of sports programming to fill.
“They have former athletes talking on every subject imaginable,” Merchant said. “Some of them are very good.”
The implication, of course, is that some are not so good. But the voracious TV monster needs to be fed daily, and there seems to be no end to the trend of ex-jocks, the more famous the better, getting the inside track to those lucrative analyst spots.
“Fame opens the door,” Merchant said. “Some guys walk through that door, some run through it and some, for whatever reason, can’t even cross the threshold.
“We’ll see how it goes with Bernard Hopkins. He’s being given the opportunity to do multiple telecasts. He can look at his work alongside real professionals and say, `This is good, this is not so good, this is what I need to work on.’ I think he’s a smart guy. Now that he has more time to devote to it, you’ve got to conclude that, based on his record as a fighter, he’ll give it his very best effort.”
In a week in which boxing could joyously announce the long-awaited first appearance on American television of the Indonesian mystery man - featherweight champion Chris John - as well as a showdown between present and former lightweight champions Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz on the same card, fight fans were also subjected to another heavyweight disappointment.
What the boxing world wanted to see was a showdown between World Boxing Council belt holder Vitali Klitschko and the former cruiserweight champion, David Haye. Instead they got a slowdown between Klitschko and another former cruiserweight champion, Juan Carlos Gomez. In this case, not better late than never.
In fairness, Gomez (44-1, 35 KO) fought two “elimination’’ fights to reach the WBC’s mandatory challenger position. Unfortunately, the people he eliminated were about as challenging as a sparring session. First he defeated aged former champion (which is worse than HBO Boxing’s operative phrase for a title contender these days, which is “aging former champion’’) Oliver McCall a year and a half ago. Then he outfoxed and outboxed Vladimir Virchis (if you wonder who he is call one of his relatives) last September to cement his right to fight Samuel Peter for the WBC branch of the title.
That never happened however because Peter fought Klitschko first even though Klitschko had been in retirement for nearly four years before the WBC simply handed him a title shot. Peter then handed him the title by fighting as if he was the guy coming off a nearly four year layoff. So it goes in the heavyweight division, which is the most consistent division in boxing in that you can always expect to be disappointed no matter which two slugs they put in there with a belt in between them.
Some energy in the division had begun to surface when the brash young Haye followed Klitschko to Germany and loudly kept challenging him until he thought he had an agreement for the two of them to fight. Whether he did or not didn’t matter because the WBC immediately waded in waving its rule book (which is about as honest a document as the accounting ledgers of Bernard Madoff), insisting, “Wrong cruiserweight! Wrong cruiserweight!’’
Enter the 35-year-old Gomez. Once there was a time when the former Cuban cruiserweight could have made a loud case for himself after defending that title 10 times before moving up to heavyweight on Feb. 19, 2002. Only problem is over the next seven years the best he could come up with as opposition was to face McCall (twice no less) and Virchis. What was the matter? Dickie Ryan wasn’t available?
While U.S. fight fans should rejoice over the arrival of John on their television screens against the oft title challenged Rocky Juarez (0-4 in title fights and counting) as well as being ecstatic that it is being coupled with the Marquez-Diaz lightweight title fight so that the people who really pay these guys are actually going to get two matches worthy of their attention on the same night, they have every reason to continue to bemoan the way things are done in the Land of Boxing’s Giants.
The Land of Boxing Giants (aka Fantasyland) is where the heavyweight division has gone to die. It’s been on life support so long one can think of only one last thing to do – pull the plug already.
Klitschko-Gomez will, thankfully, at least be in Germany, where they can apparently sell anything to fight fans as long as some Eastern European giant is one of the participants, rather than polluting an American arena. If it ends up on your television screen here in the States, as it very likely will, remember this – the TV comes with a channel changer and an ON/OFF switch. Use them.
The only way these dopes are going to give you the fan heavyweight fights that you may want to see is for you to stop watching the mismatches and boring non-events you keep being handed. To your credit, you have already begun this process, as proven by the most recent TV ratings for heavyweight fights last year.
This is a trend that should continue until the few guys in the division who can fight (do you really want to see overweight Chris Arreola, who gained 20 pounds in five months last year without apparent use of a barbell, or Odlanier Solis, who stands 6-1 and weighs 259 ½ again?) actually choose to face each other. Of course, the problem may be two such guys do not presently exist.
Ironically, Ahmet Oner, who promotes Gomez through Arena-Box Promotions in Germany, told ESPN after the fight was signed that, “Recently we have seen some boring heavyweight championships because there seem to be very few worthy challengers for the Klitschkos.’’
He can add his guy’s name to that list.
Meanwhile, back in Houston on Feb. 28, the undefeated John (42-0-1, 22 KO) will face Juarez while Marquez, whom John beat in a controversial decision, fights Diaz in the main event. Two things immediately crossed my mind when I saw this.
Is this an attempt to create interest in a Marquez-John rematch now that Manny Pacquiao is off fighting at 140 pounds and promising to stay there or go higher?
Secondly, would it have ever happened if Golden Boy Promotions didn’t buy the U.S. promotional rights to John? You couldn’t find a path on which John could shotgun his way onto U.S. cable television until suddenly he signs with Golden Boy Promotions. Then, boom, he’s on HBO, accepting what he claims is less money than he took for his last title defense in Japan to appear in the U.S.
Not that there’s anything incestuous going on between HBO and Golden Boy but how soon before HBO breathlessly announces boxing’s golden calf, Oscar De La Hoya, is coming back again to fight Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. in a “revenge’’ match with 24/7 not-quite-reality TV (with surround sound) to promote it?
The one thing about boxing that it seems you can always count on is that it is a strange, and uncomfortably unseemly, business. Promoters, fighters and even network executives come and go but that never changes.
But for now, at least, the sport is at least still in business. Too bad the heavyweight division isn’t.
Fans can take in the headline bouts on the pay per view, which will cost $44.95. The first three bouts will emanate from MSG, climaxing with the Cotto fight. Then, the broadcast will transfer to Ohio, for the Pavlik-Rubio scrap. Fans at MSG will watch Pavlik, and fans at the Chevy Center will watch Cotto, on closed circuit.
Will you be buying? The consumer who is looking to cut costs in these uncertain times certainly wishes these bouts would not be on PPV, and I admit I am somewhat surprised that Arum is going in this direction. Are Jennings and Rubio of a caliber to warrant these fights being offered at a premium? The PPV buyrate will ultimately answer that question, of course.
Now, please don’t feel bad if you don’t know Jennings…I do this for a living, and I was only aware of his name, nothing more, until I Boxrec’d him.
Yikes. His record looks like some of these condos that flew up overnight in Manhattan as real estate prices flew to the moon over the last few years. It is built with flimsy material, and the defects are easy to spot with the naked eye. It doesn’t take much scrutiny to determine that Jennings is a toothless non-threat, who has next to zero hope of derailing a Cotto-Margarito early summer redo. The Brit talked tough in New York, at a Tuesday press conference to hype the event.
“I'm not coming here for a holiday,” said the 31-year-old hitter at Madison Square Garden. “I am coming to fight and to take full advantage of this opportunity.” By full advantage, the cynic in me says, he means he will take pleasure in spending the cash he accepts in exchange for taking a full dose of Cotto’s fury.
The 28-year-old Puerto Rican, whose identity as a boxer and man was thrown into question when he signaled to his corner that he didn’t want to eat any more Margarito leather in the 11th round of his welterweight title defense in July, didn’t seem overly worried that his chops had left the building in the ensuing six months.
“I don't know anything about my opponent,” he said. “I have not watched any tapes of him.” And he will not have to. Basically, he could sub in a tape of Pavlik’s June 2008 bout with Gary Lockett if he wants to evaluate his foe.
Cotto spoke about his desire to re-enter the fightgame after he took some time to lick his wounds and see how he handled his first pro loss. “Right now I feel good, but I miss the gym and the fights. I am hungry to get back. I have walked around at about 176 or 178. The people in Puerto Rico have made me feel real good, as well as my family. In New York there is a strong Puerto Rican population and Latin community and to fight here makes me feel at home.”
“I would like to get the rematch right away with Margarito, but I have to wait for the company to decide then we will see. It is a rematch that I want,” he said, and then added a parenthetical that may well speak a bit louder than he intended. “Not badly (laughing), but I want it. When I fight him again, I will try to be a better boxer.”
That rematch figures to take place in NYC, coinciding with the Puerto Rican Day Parade, on Saturday, June 13. The parade always takes place on the second Sunday in June, and draws about 2 millions spectators. Cotto has scrapped at MSG in concert with the parade in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Cotto was asked if he’d watched the Margarito scrap, and showed an admirable looseness. “I never watched the fight,” he said. “I've been there, so I don't need to see it (laughing).”
Beyond Margarito, what else is out there for Cotto? “If Manny Pacquiao wants to stay at 147 and fight one of the biggest names in boxing - I am available,” he said. Who wants to bet me on a gentleman’s basis that fight WILL NOT happen. I still think Cotto’s strength and style will make Freddie Roach steer clear of that pairing for Manny.
For the record, for those dwindling number of folks who care about such matters, the vacant WBO 147 pound title will be up for grabs on Feb. 21. “When I win this title (WBO welterweight), I will feel like a champion,” Cotto said. “We want to give the people a good show. I am going to work hard. I want to be champion again and I am going to be champion again on Feb. 21.”
For the record, Jenning’s lone loss came to one Young Mutley—who takes my vote for 2009 Fightgame Name of the Year—in January 2006. Mr. Mutley’s current record stands 25-3, but 15 of those wins have come against guys with sub .500 records. Take from that what you will.
We can expect the Pavlik-Rubio main event to feature 90% more back and forth action than Cotto’s get-back-on-the horse tussle. The Mexican Rubio will be a pretty heavy underdog when he meets the Youngstowner, who like Cotto has had to wrestle with self doubt after getting a schooling from Bernard Hopkins in October. Rubio’s record is crafted from material of a bit stronger fiber than Jennings’ (wins over solid vets Fitz Vanderpool, JC Candelo, Jose Luis Zertuche) but we can expect Pavlik to screw up Rubio’s nine-fight win streak. The Ohioan’s power will come into play against Rubio, who too often resorts to a plodding one-at-a-time rhythm that will leave him open to Pavlik combos.
In NYC, Rubio talked the talk. “This is a great opportunity for me and I have to take advantage of it. Like any fighter in the world, my dream is to become champion of the world and on February 21 I will realize that dream when I beat Kelly Pavlik.”
Pavlik, who got the royal treatment from the media leading up to the Hopkins bout, as some anointed him boxing’s next big thing, said he was excited to get back to work.
“This is a great show and I'm excited to be a part of it,” Pavlik said. “I've been a big fan of Cotto and he puts on a great show. Rubio's a tough kid. He's got a lot of heart and he's determined. He is dangerous and has a lot of power. We both have a lot a stake here. This will probably be his last opportunity for a world title. But this is a do-or-die fight for me and I will take nothing lightly.”
Pavlik talked about his reaction to the Hopkins stunner.
“It took about a week to get over the loss. I talked to my wife and my dad. Then we moved on.” The fighter made clear that his loyal fans didn’t jump ship just because Hopkins showed he isn’t a finished product. “The fans have been very supportive as you can see by the ticket sales of this fight,” Pavlik said. “I still feel like a champion but I feel as if I need to go in and shine on February 21. I need to dominate. There are some nay-sayers out there, which will make me want to win even more and show them that I am still the best fighter in the room.”
TSS Universe, will you be buying the show? Or is this one event that should have been slotted for premium cable, not PPV? Weigh in!
Over the past few years, there has been copious criticism of HBO – world-class boxing’s home since the late 70s – and its executives for hurting the sweet science through poor matchups and unwise budget spending. Fans and pundits alike continue to complain about HBO’s boxing program, and lower ratings indicate that some fight fans are going as far as cancelling their subscription to the network.
“HBO’s boxing program is crap,” said one Internet blogger in October. “Serve people crap and they’ll find other things to eat.”
In terms of numbers, 2008 was an up-and-down year for HBO’s boxing program. Despite the low Nielsen ratings, many of which fell between 1 and 2, HBO’s pay-per-view station did manage to hype and sell the third biggest non-heavyweight pay-per-view fight in history this December when Oscar De La Hoya met Manny Pacquiao in a welterweight bout. And that was during an economic crisis.
But in terms of the quality and quantity of HBO boxing programming, 2008 may have been the best year boxing’s seen since Mike Tyson’s glory days nearly twenty years ago. Call me crazy, but as a die-hard boxing aficionado, I’m finding the “crap” HBO serves us to be quite delicious.
We live in a new, on-demand world where if one wants something – be it information, entertainment, or even a romantic partner – a click of the mouse is all that’s required to obtain it. What impresses me most about HBO is how the network has kept up with the times. No longer is HBO a place where fight junkies can get their boxing fix only through the occasional Saturday-night fight; the channel has warped into a multi-media powerhouse that delivers quality fight programming on a slew of forums.
HBO On Demand, which is available to HBO subscribers for a small monthly fee, features recent HBO fights, fighter profiles, past fights, fighters’ “greatest hits” (quick clips of the significant matches of a fighter’s career), and much more – all at the click of a button.
Much of what HBO features On Demand is on HBO’s YouTube channel, Youtube.com/HBO, which, needless to say, is free to even non-HBO subscribers. The site features over 70 top-notch boxing videos, and the number grows by the month. Videos range from the first episode of “De La Hoya-Pacquiao: 24/7” to actor Mario Lopez and De La Hoya talking about whether sex before a fight weakens legs.
2008 also saw HBO debut their new online series “Ring Life” which follows the lives of world-class and journeymen fighters in and out of the ring. The heart-warming and inspirational tales of boxers like Edvan Barros, the 9-6-1 Brazilian who fights to support his sick mother thousands of miles south, remind fans of boxing’s essence. And they’re free on HBO.com.
The aforementioned “24/7” series, which follows and spotlights fighters and their personal lives throughout training camps, is breathing new life back into pay-per-view fights. The two-year-old show allows fans to see their favorite fighters spar, run, and most importantly talk about their opponents before mega showdowns. Nothing gets me more fired up for a fight than seeing the combatants preparing for battle.
HBO’s upgrade into the 21st century has made me, along with countless other fight fans, love boxing more than ever. So much of the sport stems from within the fighters’ personal battles, and seeing into those battles through HBO’s new programming brings fight nuts closer to the sport they love.
So why the hell is everyone complaining?
The current criticisms of HBO are unwarranted and, quite frankly, a bit whiny.
Recently, boxing scribe Thomas Hauser expressed his concerns about HBO and its methods of televising and promoting boxing. He condemned everything from the fights the network televises to the promotional shows hyping them.
“De La Hoya-Pacquiao: 24/7, while pretending to be sports journalism, was primarily an effort to engender pay-per-view buys and, secondarily, an exercise in image-building for Oscar coupled with a product placement tool for Ring sportswear,” said Hauser. “The issue of De La Hoya trying to lure Pacquiao away from Top Rank and signing him with Golden Boy by giving him a briefcase filled with US$300,000 in cash and the ugly recriminations that followed were never discussed.”
While offering suggestions to improve boxing is something all fight scribes should do, disparaging “24/7” is unnecessary. Boxing is a business that makes its money off of entertaining people. Fans watching “24/7” aren’t concerned about sports journalism; they watch the show to get amped for fights. Aaron Cohen, who writes the shows with beautiful, captivating prose, isn’t a journalist; he’s a wordsmith, and a damn good one. HBO televises the show to generate hype and buys, which subsequently raises boxing’s popularity. And it works. I brought two of my best friends from college to my house to watch “De La Hoya-Pacquiao: 24/7,” and despite the fact that neither had ever watched boxing before, both were anxious to watch the fight after seeing the countdown. Had something as mundane as the promotional battle over Pacquiao been discussed, I can’t say my friends would have had the same excitement.
Hauser continued his bashing by criticizing the relationship between HBO and Golden Boy Promotions.
“It’s hard to shake the belief that HBO is tilting the playing field in Golden Boy’s favor to the detriment of other promoters,” he said.
Hauser quoted Top Rank President Todd DuBoef to corroborate his statement. DuBoef called Golden Boy Promotions “stealers and poachers.” Hauser also quoted Top Rank Chairman Bob Arum saying how he would change HBO’s boxing program if in charge of it.
“Right now, it’s idiotic,” Arum said of the network’s pay-per-view system.
It’s hard to blame DuBoef and Arum for bashing boxing’s biggest network, especially considering Top Rank’s bleak future in comparison to their rivals at Golden Boy Promotions. While Golden Boy continues to sign hot fighters like heavyweight David Haye and (less recently) light-welterweight star Ricky Hatton, Top Rank’s stable of stars is diminishing year after year. Erik Morales retired in 2007; Jose Luis Castillo was blown away by Hatton in June of 2007; and superstar hopefuls Humberto Soto, Zahir Raheem, and Hasim Rahman have all been beaten or parted ways with Top Rank. Golden Boy, run primarily by Richard Schaefer and De La Hoya, is young, new, and exciting. Arum is 77 years old and not getting any younger.
Here’s a wakeup call to the boxing world: Golden Boy Promotions is the strongest promoter of today and tomorrow. They’re the ones with the best champions and prospects, and their collaboration with HBO will bring those world-class boxers to fans. Instead of viewing HBO’s relationship with Golden Boy as a conspiracy, fans should view it as a partnership between two boxing superpowers. Arum had the Versus network reserved for Top Rank fighters for more than enough time to prove the worth of his company, and the fights he put on were uncompetitive, insignificant, and boring. I sure as hell would rather see Golden Boy fighters on HBO than suffer through Top Rank battles on boxing’s biggest network.
Further criticism towards HBO lies in the quality of fights it broadcasts, both on regular cable and pay-per-view. Mismatches that feature prospects vs. no-hopers and mediocre fights being put on pay-per-view, fight critics say, are bringing boxing down. While some of this denigration is indeed called for, the boxing world is a bit too harsh given the sport’s modern state. Unlike five years ago, boxing doesn’t have a stable of stars and prospects to match against each other. Marco Antonio Barrera, Jose Luis Castillo, Erik Morales, and several others are no longer worthy of significant HBO matches, and exciting upstarts like Rocky Juarez have run their course been replaced by less talented pugs like Chris Arreola. Boxing’s depth is not the sport’s strong point. HBO is working with limited resources.
The unfair criticism is again evinced in Hauser’s article. In it, he asked: “Did HBO really need Paul Williams vs. Verno Phillips paired with Chris Arreola vs. Travis Walker?”
The answer is an emphatic ‘yes.’ Williams is one of the sport’s brightest young stars. But at 6’1 and with a extraordinary punch output, the world’s best 147 and 154 pounders want no part of him. Phillips, though a limited opponent, was willing to take the challenge. So should HBO not televise one of boxing’s best and most exciting fighters just because his opponent isn’t dynamic? That would be unfair to the sport’s fans. And Williams can’t wait around until someone like Miguel Cotto decides to fight him. He has a family to feed, a living to make. Regardless of who he is facing, I want to see him make that living.
Arreola, though flawed, is one of boxing’s hottest prospects, which, admittedly, isn’t saying much. But he’s exciting, big, and heavy-hitting, meaning he’s a perfect fit to be on television. Walker, a one-loss hard hitter who had beaten prospects Jason Estrada and Jorge Garcia, was a worthy opponent for a stepping-stone bout. And the fight was actually exciting.
Granted, putting fights like Roy Jones Jr. vs. Felix Trinidad on pay-per-view is unfair to fans, but every sport has flaws, and if boxing’s biggest flaw means putting extra cash into the pocket of a soon-retiring ring legend, then $50 for a fight every now and then is okay by me. And it’s not like HBO and Golden Boy aren’t making an effort; in 2008, they collaborated to bring us De La Hoya vs. Steve Forbes, Bernard Hopkins vs. Joe Calzaghe, and Ricky Hatton vs. Paulie Malignaggi for free.
In the past four months, boxing suffered two major programming setbacks. Telefutura cut their “Solo Boxeo” series, and ESPN2 ridded “Wednesday Night Fights” of their airwaves. The reduction in televised boxing will make HBO’s role within the sport even bigger. My advice to the network: market your multi-media features more, and continue to hype your fights. Your online and On Demand programming are a fight fan’s dream, and your “24/7” series deserves all the praise in the world. And hopefully, with more advertising, the boxing world will realize what a great job you’re actually doing.
An opponent that plays the role of gatekeeper is usually the standard barrier for the up and comers like Ward. But at this stage of his career the Oakland native feels little obligation to test the waters against anyone besides the best. Ward says he is prepared to confront the finest combatants the super middleweight division has to offer.
A proposed Jermain Taylor vs. Andre Ward fight was in the works. Dan Goossen, Ward’s promoter, spoke with Lou Dibella about a possible scrap between the two former U.S. Olympians to take place in early 2009. Talks were put to a halt between the promoters because Dibella has gone a different route for Taylor. There are rumblings that Taylor might take a bout against Glen Johnson, at a catch weight of 171 pounds.
Meanwhile Ward’s next fight is scheduled to be on February 6th in Lemoore, California against Henry Buchanan. Shobox will televise the bout. Perhaps is it not the marquee fight Ward was hoping for in early 2009, but at least it is the main event of one of the few consistent boxing shows on television, a showcase for him to display his talents in the ring.
Another knockout for Andre would make it eight straight. We spoke via telephone on Saturday morning. Andre was fresh off of a six mile run, which suggested to me that there is little hindering effect on the knee injury that required minor surgery in August.
Ward built the strongest momentum of his professional career in early 2008, with knockout victories over Rubin Williams and Jerson Ravelo. He was sidelined for much of the rest of the year with a knee injury that occurred during a pickup basketball game. After a five month layoff, the 24 year old returned to the ring in December and looked stronger. He used superior ring generalship during his easy victory over the rugged Esteban Camou in three rounds.
There is a buzz among boxing insiders that 2009 is an important year for Ward. The 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist has won his last seven fights by knockout. A fighter that lays out his opponents on a consistent basis normally obtains the attention of the boxing public.
Like him or not, a boxing scene searching for young talent to infiltrate the “old boys clubs” of boxing stars could use a fighter like Ward, who has been lumped in with Andre Berto, as one of the next stars in the sport.
No matter, on February 6th, business needs to be taken care of. And Ward professes the need to keep his priorities straight. “You have to beat the best to be the best,” Ward said. “I am just going to continue to work hard and when it is my time to shine I will to be ready to go.” Contact: Raymond.Markarian@yahoo.com
So what would happen if generations could merge and Hagler and Hopkins met in a middleweight showdown? Fans from both eras would undoubtedly pay to see the match happen. After all, Hagler and Hopkins both did everything they could to avoid defeat. And when two men who refuse to lose face off, fireworks often fly. Here's how the hypothetical matchup would have played out:
Round 1: Both Hagler and Hopkins are in dynamic shape (as always). The two men are cut, lean, and ready to rumble. Hagler is the aggressor to start. He chases Hopkins around the ring as Hopkins uses lateral movement in an attempt to thwart Hagler's punches. For the most part, Hopkins is successful. He slips around the ring and Hagler is unable to land any significant blows. Hopkins lands two emphatic straight right hands past Hagler's guard to end the round. 10-9 Hopkins
Round 2: Hagler comes out of his corner a bit more cautious. He tries to stand and box with Hopkins, sensing that his aggression won't work. Hopkins lands a solid left hook and jab throughout the round, all the while tying Hagler up. Hopkins lands a solid three-punch combination to end the round, and he walks into his corner with a big smile on his face. 10-9 Hopkins
Round 3: Hagler pins Hopkins against the ropes and lands several solid body shots. Not to be outdone, Hopkins fires back with straight right hands that send Hagler back. The fight drifts to the center of the ring where Hopkins continues to get the better of his foe. 10-9 Hopkins
Round 4: Goody and Pat Petronelli are upset and worried. In between rounds, they shared their sentiments with Hagler by telling him to step up his game. He was down on the cards, they said, and needed to turn the tide of the fight. That pace-altering blow lands for Hagler 1:26 into a slow-paced round. A big left hook rocks Hopkins who smiles and dances to the crowd's delight. Hagler pins Hopkins against the ropes and pounds away to the body. He comes upstairs and lands three solid head shots. 10-9 Hagler
Round 5: Much like his first fight with Segundo Mercardo, Hopkins realizes he is in with a live dog who can certainly hurt him at any point in the fight. Hence, he is even more cautious in round five. He clinches, holds, and throws few punches as Hagler continues to come forward and throw punches in bunches. Hagler's aggression alone gives him the round. 10-9 Hagler
Round 6: Hopkins opens up a bit to start the round, much to Hagler's liking. "Marvelous" smacks Hopkins with a robust left cross that sends "the Executioner" back into the ropes. There, Hagler opens up and cracks Hopkins with several strong combinations. Hopkins is able to fight his way back out to the center of the ring, where the fight turns into a technical snooze fest. Hagler 10-9.
Round 7: Hagler has figured Hopkins out. When Hopkins boxes, Hagler ups his aggression. When Hopkins fights back, Hagler has more openings to land bombs. Hopkins realizes his foe has the upper hand, so he does what any other tough guy from Philly would do when down: he fights street. While lunging in for a straight right hand, Hopkins' forehead collides with Hagler's eyebrow, opening a large cut. The butt is ruled accidental. Much like Hagler's fight with Tommy Hearns, the doctor looks at the cut and contemplates stopping the fight. Hagler convinces the ringside physician to allow the contest to continue. Hagler is now pissed, and he shows his anger through aggressive punching. Hopkins keeps his cool by moving side to side and effectively picking Hagler off with quick shots. But with just 15 seconds remaining in the round, Hagler scores a clean left uppercut that sends Hopkins back. The punch allows Hagler to steal the round. 10-9 Hagler.
Round 8: Neither man seems tired, but Hagler continues to pick his pace up. In round 7, he threw 98 punches. In the first minute of round 8, he throws 45. Hopkins struggles to neutralize his foe's output. Although Hopkins lands several straight right hands, Hagler has taken control. 10-9 Hagler
Round 9: Hagler bullies Hopkins against the ropes. The Brockton native's body work and combination punching is impressive. 10-9 Hagler
Round 10: The fight starts in the center of the ring where Hopkins makes a strong push to regain control of the fight. He is active and ably landing right hands and left hooks. Hopkins moves away from Hagler's left hand and clearly wins the round. 10-9 Hopkins
Round 11: In what is easily the best round of the fight, Hagler and Hopkins each open up and try to make a final impression on the judges and fans. Hopkins throws combinations like he hasn't thrown before; and Hagler takes the blows and comes forward with his own ammunition. Hagler lands several big left hands in the round's last minute. 10-9 Hagler
Round 12: As Hopkins continues to move laterally, it is obvious he has the fresher legs. Hagler makes one final push to knock his foe out, and Hopkins avoids him with pepper shots. For the first time in the fight, Hopkins pins Hagler against the ropes and pounds away. The two trade and Hopkins lands the final punch of the fight. 10-9 Hopkins