Mike Simms had laced up his shoes and sat resting his forearms on his thighs. "I let my opponents make all the faces," he said. "I'll be the one smiling. So when I get into the ring, I let my hands do the talking." His hands had spoken well for him on nineteen occasions, but on nine others they hadn't been as eloquent. "I don't think about the knockout seriously until late in the fight."
I can imagine a journalist or a bookie predicting that a fighter would get a last-minute knockout, or even a fighter, having studied his opponent, deciding that a knockout in the eighth or tenth was more likely than the first, but for a boxer to plan generally on knocking a man out late suggests less that he is passing up early opportunities, and more that all fighters are more susceptible the more exhausted they are. And it seemed, based on his recent form (which I would read about later that afternoon) that Simms was confusing his results and his plan. In his first twelve fights as a professional, he was undefeated. And other than his first and eighth bouts, he had won by knockout, and of those, only two in the late rounds. In his next seven fights he drew once in Chicago, then lost a majority decision in Reno, won with a late, technical knockout in Tahoe, lost a majority decision near Chicago the day his manager Sid Tenner died, knocked a man out in the first round at Arco Arena in Sacramento, and finally knocked out another man in Sacramento two months later in the eighth round. Since then he had fought every scheduled minute of every fight he'd taken, and had been beaten seven out of eleven times, including, most recently, a string of five consecutive losses.
"Rather than knock him out," Simms was saying, "I want to soften the guy up and make him look bad." I wondered then if he thought leaving an opponent on the mat weren't the ultimate humiliation, but I refrained from asking.
"Anyways, if you knock your opponent out early, you might get a day or two off, and then you're right back there in the gym. So I figure, if I put some rounds in the bag, I can work my way to a week off at the gym." He laughed and I laughed and I felt for the first time that I was beginning to understand his vacillations.
"But I've never been kayoed," Simms said. "Not as a pro, or as an amateur." Whether or not he believed in putting his opponents to sleep, he wanted to make sure I understood that under no circumstances did they ever knock him out.
"What was your amateur record?" I asked.
"132 wins, 32 losses, and 64 KOs," Simms said. "In 1999, I was number one in the state, number one in the nation, number one in the world. I went 22-1, and the only fight I lost was the National PAL Tournament. Otherwise I would have swept the whole year. I won the Golden Gloves, the US Nationals, the World Championships—I became the second light heavyweight in US history to win a gold medal at light heavyweight, and Antonio Tarver was the first one to do it. It was weird because I'd never been to the Worlds, and there I was, the best against the best."
I was struck first by the scope of his success as an amateur, and secondly by his nonchalance. There was nothing braggadocious about his statement. Perhaps it was because he was speaking about his amateur days, but it seemed as if he were talking about another fighter.
"The first night," he continued, speaking of the Worlds, "I fought a guy from Azerbaijan, and I knocked him out in the second round, I think it was. The second night I ended up fighting David Haye from England. He'd never lost to a US fighter then, and now he's the top Cruiserweight Champion. He's the WBO and WBC Cruiserweight Champ."
"And he's moving to heavy," I said.
"Yeah, he'll move to heavy. And when I fought him, we were about the same height. He had a good jab. He was a strong puncher. I think he lifted weights a lot because after a while I saw him shaking his arms out. That's always a sign of a fighter who's too tight and tense. Later on in the fight I started picking it up more on him, started running away with the score, and I beat him. And then I fought a guy from Cuba. He had over 200 wins, no losses, and he'd just won the Pan Am games. Before I went in there with him I'd just been toying around. But I beat the snot out of him so bad." This was the first time, I realized, that Simms had cursed. "Everybody asked me afterwards, how would you rate yourself, and I said, '9.9.' They said, 'Why not a 10?' I said, ''Cause I ain't finished him off.' I just wanted to display my skills on how bad I could just beat guys. I don't want to go ahead with a punch and have people say, 'That was a lucky shot.' When I fight somebody I want them to wake up and be sore all over, like they just been in a car wreck, not wake up with a headache and one black eye. I wanna beat you so bad that you don't want a rematch. Then I beat a guy from Russia in the semi-finals, and a Frenchman in the finals. We fought to a draw, but because of my punch rate, I won the fight for throwing more accurate punches. Then I went to Puerto Rico for a mini World tournament, and I beat a guy from Mexico, and a guy from Brazil. I wanna say Brazil, but it wasn't Brazil. It was another strong guy, but I beat him.
"When I came back to the states, probably like within a couple of weeks I went straight to Florida for the National PAL, and that was the last qualifying tournament for the Olympic trials. In the semis I knocked off the number one guy, Atlanta Anderson, who was an army sergeant. He was the favorite to make it to the Olympics at light heavyweight. The last guy from the service to make it was Ray Mercer. And then I found out that the government funds the service branches' boxing programs, and every four years, all they're asked to do is produce one fighter at least for the Olympic team to represent the branches. So they really wanted Anderson on.
"The assistant coach for the Olympic team was also the army coach. So it was kinda like they were saying, 'Anderson is our son.' They're gonna try and get their son in before they take me in. But I'd beaten Anderson at the PAL tournament. So at camp they had to come up with all kinds of stuff saying I was out past curfew, late to meetings, out arguing with officials, and that I was bad for the team. But in 1996 Antonio Tarver came up missing during one of the weigh-ins, somebody else went to jail, and they kept all that quiet from the media. Everyone stayed on the team in 1996. But in 2000 they kicked me off, and they kicked off Angel Martinez from LA. Now, when they kicked Martinez off, they said he quit for personal reasons. But when they kicked me off, they bad-mouthed me throughout the whole media. It was on the front page of the Sac Bee, and on a whole page inside, about me getting kicked off the team. I could write a book now, like José Canseco, and everybody'd be in trouble.
"When I went to arbitration I talked about the coaches that were married sneaking out with women, coming back in drunk. Some of them were allowing us to go out at night. They knew what we were gonna do. We were grown men. And the coaches would be drunk and say, 'We don't see y'all, you don't see us. I don't care what y'all do or where y'all go as long as you're back to go run in the morning.' So we were sneaking out every night—everyone was—and they put it all on me, that I was the bad guy. And I'm thinking, "If I go and sneak out, who do you think I learned it from?' The guys that've been here already," he answered rhetorically. "And then they're talking about how I'm so bad, and I told them, 'Who do you think was picking us up from the strip clubs?' Atlanta Anderson, the guy you put in my spot. If he was picking me up, that means he was sneaking out. There were 24 guys—12 Olympians and 12 alternates—and only two guys were being pretty good. This guy Dante, because his son had just died, so mentally he wasn't gonna be out playing around at all. And one other guy, but he had a volleyball girl at the Olympic training camp—you got all different girls there—so he would stay in the dorm, and the girl would come over and they'd sneak up to an empty floor. We had housekeeping people who would leave doors open for us so the rest of us could sneak out and do whatever.
"But we all came back in time to go run in the morning and everything. It was just crazy," he concluded, almost sentimentally. He was reminding himself of what should have been the precursor to his greatest moment, and it all sounded pretty grand to me, too. But he hadn't intended to digress. "I could go on forever talking about how bad it actually was."
Through all of this he sounded almost wistful. It wasn't evident to me that he harbored any malice towards the coaching staff or the Olympic committee. It is possible that he knew his behavior had compromised his opportunity to fight in Sydney. Or maybe he remained unaware of the part he'd played in his own collapse. But as I sat across from him, he appeared to me a man undone by a temper he'd long since lost.
Then he became suddenly serious, and returned to thinking about the fight that was a week off. "The guy I'm fighting, Harmon, he's been off for the last two years. He done lost to Roy Jones—got stopped I think in the eleventh round. I don't know what other names he got under his belt, but he's a key name to have under mine, as far as a victory."
If Harmon had beaten Roy Jones, Jr., I can see the logic in wanting to assimilate his record, but I can't rationalize what exactly is gained from inheriting another fighter's loss. Perhaps if he beat Harmon, who had almost gone the distance with Jones, it suggested that Simms would have put up an even better fight against the ex-champ.
"I think this time, though," Simms said, "I'm definitely gonna try to blow someone out of the water." His tone was almost melancholy. He was no longer the crafty boxer intending to humiliate Harmon by not knocking him out, but the thirty-three year old man on a five fight slide who needed to win or find a job with union hours.
"You're going to go hard?" I asked.
"It's like, you know, I'm on the losing end right now."
"But you've only lost decisions," I said.
"Yeah," said Simms. "Never got knocked out. Only been down once, and that was like in my third pro fight, against Marcus Harvey, and Harvey just happened to catch me with a lucky punch." He paused for a few moments, then went on. "I've been doing this for seventeen years, now," he said. "Since '91. I'm kinda like Holyfield and them guys: I'm gonna stick around probably till I'm 40. I never abuse myself." Across the gym another fighter came in and crossed the floor. "Oh," said Simms, "here comes Otis right now." Otis was, apparently, whom we'd been waiting for.
Is he the best prospect in the game today? Not in our books. He’s 27, and his bad habit are deeply ingrained. But could he be a champion for a spell, yes, we think so. After all, he may hit the floor but he shakes off cobwebs right quick. There may be a full court press to get him with a Freddie Roach or Nacho Beristain, to see if they can’t tame his wild ways.
The 27-year-old Gamboa (126 pounds) entered with a 12-0 record, with 10 stops, and the 30-year-old Gonzalez (127 pounds) was 27-2, with 18 knocks. The Cuban beat a Frenchman to snag gold, at 112 pounds, in 2004. He had an itch to leave Cuba after he felt he wasn’t treated like a champ, and when training in Venezuela, he bolted. He went through Colombia, and ended up in Miami. Gamboa was more patient than we’d seen him previously in round one. His lightning hands got going in the last 15 seconds of the round. In the second, Gonzalez caught Gamboa with a monster right, and the Cuban went down. He was up with clear eyes and strong legs. It was his fourth trip to the mat in his short pro career. In the last minute, Gamboa got cooking and had Gonzalez holding on. In round three, Gamboa’s hands were scraping the floor a couple times. Hey, he is what he is, he acts how he acts…In the fourth, he leaped in recklessly, but Gonzalez couldn’t pin the tail on the donkey. The middle rounds, it became clear that Gonzalez would likely not be able to replicate his second round stunner shot. He ate mucho leather in the seventh. He tried to close it out in the tenth, but the underdog still had enough energy to slip shots. He lost his mouthpiece, and his left eye looked to be bothering him, so the ref Robert Byrd stopped the show, with just 48 seconds remaining. Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas weren’t sure if the stop was justified; I had zero problem with it, as he was eating clean strikes.
Odlanier Solis (13-0; 6-2, 259 1/2), who won gold for Cuba in the 2004 Games, took on 26-year-old Kevin Burnett (13-2-1; 6-6, 268 pounds) in a heavyweight scrap. The 28-year-old Solis and Burnett both sent out signals that they aren’t serious about performing to their potential, with their jelly bellies. No excuse for either man, frankly. It’s one thing for a keyboard tapper, quite another for a man aspiring to climb a ladder in the fight game. Pat Burns trains Burnett, and he couldn’t get Burnett to really use his height advantage. Nor could he get him to use uppercuts to target Solis, who tends to lean forward and place his head on a platter for a smart foe. Solis tossed bombs in the eighth, and forced a stop, as ref Jay Nady stepped in to save Burnett further punishment. The end came at 2:00 of the eighth. He won the WB something Intercontasomething belt in the process.
In the season opener, Lefty Erislandy Lara, age 25, took out Rodrigo Aguiar in a junior middleweight scrap. Lara, another Cuban expat, went to 3-0 with a TKO1 off a straight left.
Bernard Hopkins joined Brian Kenny in studio. He will be a semi regular on the show, along with BJ Flores, and he told viewers that he is looking for another fight or two before he transitions to his life’s third act. He turns 44 next Thursday, he reminded us, and is looking forward to fighting someone closer to his own age, so as not to taint the crop of younger stars to be. He said he would go to Wales to take another crack at Joe Calzaghe.
Just as with their male counterparts, not all female boxers are exciting, but in most instances the women fight at a faster pace because of the two-minute rounds.
Here is a list of the best female fighters that I’ve seen in the ring or on television that you probably don’t know about. If you like women’s boxing these are prizefighters you should watch if they’re fighting on a boxing card near you.
Hopefully, some promoters can take a look at this list to add to one of their shows. It won’t cost much and you’ll be attracting a different fan. Boxing fans who follow female prizefighting are willing to travel more than 300 miles to watch female boxing.
Here’s my list in alphabetical order:
Jennifer Barber (8-1, 4 KOs) – Barber, 26, fights out of Los Angeles and is a classic boxer with power. She uses her height and jab to punish opponents. She recently fought in France where she lost by decision. No surprise there. When an American fighter goes to Europe, you better knock them out or down a few times. Otherwise you’re coming home with an L. Barber is talented nonetheless.
Carly Batey (4-4-2) – Batey, 28, is a former amateur star out of San Diego. Whenever she fights it's fast-paced and toe-to-toe. Don’t go by her record. She’s faced good fighters and always gives a good account of herself.
Terri Blair (10-13-2, 6 KOs) – Blair, 33, has a deceiving record too. She captured the IBA lightweight title by stopping Sumya Anani twice in two fights. That’s a tremendous feat considering that Anani couldn’t beg somebody to fight her. She was the most feared female fighter at the time but Blair stopped her twice. Blair doesn’t play around. She fires bombs.
Lisa Brown (15-3-3, 4 KOs) – Brown, 37, has a slick counter-punching style. The Canadian is the current junior featherweight champion. It seems every fight she’s in turns into a life or death battle that’s difficult to determine who wins. But she will not quit even when tagged on the chin.
Melinda Cooper (19-0, 11 KOs) – The petite Cooper, 23, is a former flyweight world champion and wants to add a couple of more world titles. She’s one of the few electrifying boxers who light up an arena once the bell rings. Cooper has blazing speed and heavy hands. She’s one of the few women who possesses knockout power.
Stephanie Dobbs (25-26-4, 14 KOs) – Dobbs, 28, has proven she will fight anywhere against anybody between featherweight and minimumweight. With 55 pro fights under her belt, she’s one of the most experienced prizefighters in the country. She’s a wee little Oklahoma girl with a big heart.
Hollie Dunaway (21-7-1, 10 KOs) – Dunaway, 24, has improved greatly since beginning in 2003. The junior flyweight now fights out of Las Vegas. She’s a strong fighter who boxes smartly in the ring. She’s about to fight in Korea in a few weeks.
Jeannine Garside (7-3-1, 3 KOs) – Garside, 30, will fight anybody at any time. The Canadian boxer is always in brutal battles. Her manager Jackie Kallen said her loss to Bosnian boxer Irma Balijagic-Adler for the WIBA featherweight title by split-decision in that fighter’s country was a travesty. But not unusual. Garside has three losses in a row but all to top tier fighters. She’s a must if you like action.
Chevelle Hallback (27-5-2, 11 KOs) – Hallback, 37, is probably the most exciting female boxer in the world. Her fights are always considered for Fight of the Year. In 2008, her fight with Garside was a brutal affair with Hallback’s power proving the difference. Hallback was in another Fight of the Year in 2007 when she fought Blair. She shows no signs of slowing down.
Melissa Hernandez (9-1-2, 3 KOs) – Hernandez, 28, is one of the slickest boxers in the world. The Bronx fighter is the current featherweight world champion and has the guts to match the skills. The Puerto Rican boxer will fight anybody. Some of the male fighters say they’ve seen her knock down guys in sparring sessions. Look out.
Holly Holm (22-1-3, 6 KOs) – Holm, 27, is a very athletic boxer who uses speed and agility to pummel her opponents. The New Mexico redhead boxer is the welterweight world champion. For several years she mostly fought in her home state where questionable decisions are common. But during the past two years Holm has ventured to other states and proved she’s ready for any challenge. A win and draw against Mary Jo Sanders has given her big time credibility.
Kelsey Jeffries (41-9-1, 4 KOs) – Jeffries, 33, has been boxing for quite a while. She has great ring skills and endurance. Jeffries fights out of Northern California and has no problems fighting as long as she gets to fight. One of the masters of the craft.
Mariana Juarez (18-5-3, 9 KOs) – Juarez, 28, currently fights out of Mexico City. Now fighting at flyweight, she plans to move back to California. That’s good news for boxing. She does things in the ring that are hard to teach. Only real skilled boxers can do what she does in the ring. Plus, she’s willing to fight anybody.
Ana Julaton (4-1-1) – Julaton, 27, proved she doesn’t want to dawdle. The Bay area fighter has bigger plans for more fights in 2009. Her loss to Domingo Oliva was not an embarrassment. Every round was competitive and in the end it was experience that prevailed. But Julaton doesn’t want easy matches. She’s going for the prize as quickly as possible. Her fans will follow her anywhere.
Belinda Laracuente (23-24-3, 9 KOs) – Laracuente, 29, has fought seemingly every top prizefighter in the world. It seems like yesterday when she fought Christy Martin in front of more than 12,000 fans. Though very skillful, she relies on counter-punching too much. Most of her losses could have been wins. But fans love her bravado, win or lose.
Rhonda Luna (13-1-1) – Luna, 30, returned to boxing after attending graduate school in San Francisco. She wants another shot at a world title. The brawler recently pulled out a close decision after a long layoff. She’s ready to fight for a world title soon.
Layla McCarter (31-13-5, 7 KOs) – McCarter, 29, is a lightweight world titleholder. She may be unifying the titles this year against Ann Saccurato. The only way to describe McCarter is to compare her to James Toney. She’s got skills and know-how inside the ropes. Her fight against Hallback five years ago is one of the greatest female fights of all time.
Carina Moreno (20-1, 6 KOs) – Moreno, 27, has been blowing by opponents the past three years. She defends her world title next month in Lemoore, California. Too bad there are only a few women in her weight class that can run with her. Maybe it's time for Moreno to head for Europe or Asia?
Dominga Olivo (7-4-1) – Olivo, 37, captured her first title last year. The New Yorker has plans to add a world title in 2009. Her fight against Ana Julaton was a showcase of women’s boxing. Too bad it wasn’t televised nationwide. Look for Olivo to make big strides in 2009.
Elizabeth Quevedo (1-0, 1 KO) – Quevedo, 24, fights out of Los Angeles and could probably beat any junior welter in the world today. She just can’t seem to get a fight. The problem is she won four U.S. National titles in four successive years and that probably scares away the competition. Just get her several fights to shake out the rust and she could fight for a world title within a year. She’s that good.
Elena Reid (19-4-6, 5 KOs) – Reid, 27, now fights out of Phoenix, Arizona. She currently holds a flyweight world title. She is one of the more experienced boxers in the world. Despite her good looks, Reid loves to fight and will jump in the ring against any body in her weight class. But she needs a decent payday for her sacrifice. She’s been fighting for peanuts. Promoters take advantage of her good nature.
Wendy Rodriguez (19-4-3, 3 KOs) – Rodriguez, 30, injured her shoulder and has not fought since this past summer. Plans for a rematch with Carina Moreno are on hold. Inside the ropes, Rodriguez is a canny boxer who can fight inside or out. She’s the current IFBA and WIBA minimumweight world titleholder and one of the top fighters in any weight class.
Ann Saccurato (14-3-2, 6 KOs) – Saccurato, 31, is a pressure fighter out of upstate New York. Her bout against Holly Holm proved she can give anybody trouble. She’s close to a fight with Las Vegas wiz Layla McCarter in the spring. It should be fireworks.
Mary Jo Sanders (25-1-1, 8 KOs) – Sanders, 34, got tired of ho hum wins and went after the glory in two fights with Holly Holm. A loss didn’t deter her so they fought again to a draw a couple of months ago. Sanders is a strong fighter who always moves forward and has a lot of fighting spirit.
Melissa Shaffer (10-7, 5 KOs) – Shaffer, 30, is a southpaw from Van Buren, Arkansas who takes no nonsense in the ring. She displays good skills, a killer instinct and good power in her fists. Never boring.
Jeri Sitzes (14-8-1, 6 KOs) – Sitzes, 29, is a former kick boxer from Missouri who ventured into pro boxing. It’s a good thing. She gives everybody a tough time. The first time I saw Sitzes she was banging with Melinda Cooper in a hell of a fight. All of her featherweight fights are compelling.
Kaliesha West (10-1, 2 KOs) – West, 20, has an aggressive and pleasing style that attracts boxing fans wherever she fights. A world title bid could come this year for the Moreno Valley boxer. West lost her first fight in Northern California a few months ago. No shame in a loss. It only proves she’s willing to fight anywhere against anybody. West aims to please and has the talent to excite fans.
Here’s a list of 15 female prizefighters I’d like to see one day:
Crystal Delgado (7-0) of Houston, Sandy Tsagouris (9-1) from Toronto, Jackie Nava (19-2-2) from Tijuana, Marcela Acuna (31-5) of Argentina, Vanessa Juarez (9-0) of Fort Worth, Ava Knight (5-0-2) of Northern California, Zulina Munoz (19-1) from Mexico City, Ana Marie Torres (16-3-2) of Mexico City, Susi Kentikian (23-0) of Germany, Jelena Mrdjenovich (23-3-1) of Canada, Melissa Fiorentino (17-2) of Rhode Island, Franchesca Alcanter (18-8-1) of Missouri, Maureen Shea (13-0) of New York City, Chika Nakamura (8-0) from L.A., and Ana Pascal (11-1) of Panama.
The 2004 Olympic gold medalist is only 12 fights into his professional career but each one has been the kind of affair that piques the interest of fight fans and even a veteran trainer and boxing analyst like Atlas because everything Gamboa does has a recklessness and a willfulness to it that demand attention be paid. Yet the same things that are making him one of the fastest rising names in the sport are also bringing him perilously close to being someone who could fall as fast as he’s risen.
That’s why ESPN2 figures to have a strong audience tonight when he fights the main event against a very likely non-competitive journeyman named Roger Gonzalez to open their new season and why when his already planned title challenge against once-defeated Elio Rojas for the WBC interim featherweight title comes around there will be heightened interest among boxing loyalists.
But will the four-time Cuban national champion who defected to search for his fortune in a boxing ring become a fighter whose legend lives long after he’s gone or will he be another shooting star who flashes across the sky for a moment and then flames out of his own volition?
“That’s what you don’t know about him,’’ Atlas said of Gamboa. “I see him becoming a world champion but I don’t know how long he’ll stay a world champion.
“He’s reckless in his approach and in his regard for the game. He has tremendous speed and power but he doesn’t pay tribute to good habits inside the ring like keeping his hands up.
“He knows he has skill and he knows how hard he worked in Cuba to hone those skills and that has given him a fighter’s confidence but his talent and that confidence have also combined to lead him to a place where he thinks they can override other things that have to be paid attention to, like fundamentals and the technical side of boxing.
“Regardless of your talent you have to practice those things to have longevity. You can have success with what he has – talent and a great fighter’s temperament – but his strengths are also his weakness. Confidence becomes arrogance and arrogance becomes foolishness and that can become a disaster.’’
Gamboa has already been down several times, having been dropped by guys he was dominating because too often he has his hands slung low and leaps forward without maintaining proper distance. What that has led to is Gamboa being timed perfectly by opponents with the inclination to fight back and a resulting unscheduled and unexpected trip to the floor.
Those have thus far been only brief stops on his way to having his hand raised but they are also warning signs, alarming reminders that someone who doesn’t respect what can happen inside the ring may one day learn how harsh its realities can be.
“He has beyond good talent,’’ Atlas said. “He has almost extraordinary talent. Hand speed. Strength. Power. The mortar that holds all that together is supreme confidence, that belief that he will always win, and he has that too.
“That confidence is as noticeable in the ring as his hand speed and his explosiveness. It makes him an exciting guy, a guy who will make money in boxing, which is what he wants of course. People will want to see him because he has a ring presence. He makes you believe when he’s in there that you’re watching someone special, which you are.
“Because he has confidence that borders on arrogance he’ll take chances he doesn’t need to take to prove his point. He’s gotten away with it because he has good instincts but he does what a lot of young guys do who have too much youth for their talent. He’s reckless in a way that could get him hurt one night.
“It’s a little like giving a kid a powerful sports car before he knows enough about driving to respect it. He’s gonna run red lights. A gifted fighter like Gamboa is gonna jump in from too far away instead of working his way in and because of his talent he’ll get away with it most of the time. But one night you do that with the wrong guy, maybe a guy not as talented but somebody who is sounder in his fundamentals and just confident as you, and that’s the night you run the sports car into a telephone pole.’’
Gamboa has already experienced that but emerged only with a dented grill or a bruised ego. Although he’s been knocked down several times always he’s gotten up and made opponents pay dearly for their moment. To Atlas, that is a sign that his chin is not his problem. His problem is, well, fundamental.
“There’s a reason why people with less talent knock off people with more talent,’’ Atlas said. “It’s not going to happen Friday night and it may not happen for a while but there are ways to even the genetic playing field if you can grab other areas. That’s the downside for Gamboa.
“The negative is he’s been down already. The positive is he gets up and wins. You can’t really say a guy has a bad chin until he doesn’t get up. I’ve seen him get hit clean and hard and he got up so I’d say he has a good chin. It’s not like he’s been dropped by glancing blows.
“The reason he’s been in those situations can be corrected because it’s his fundamentals not his chin. When he’s gone down it was because coming in he left too much of a gap and usually his hands were too low. He was disrespectful of what can happen in the ring and the guy timed him because instead of getting defensive and backing out when Gamboa attacked, the guy stood his ground.
“Nobody’s been able to take advantage of that yet. They haven’t been able to land a second shot. But one day there will be a moment beyond where he’s been. Some place, some time, there will be a going beyond that moment when a guy hits him with two instead of one. If his people are cognizant of that – and not many are these days in boxing – that’s where they need to lead the way.
“If they do, he could be a great champion. If they don’t how long he keeps a title will be up for discussion.’’
The difficult thing for his trainer, Ismael Salas, is to impart those lessons without restraining Gamboa’s aggressiveness or stunting his natural confidence. There is a thin line in a boxing ring between wisdom and wariness, a line that once crossed alters forever the kind of fighter you are. It is that line where Gamboa now stands.
At the moment, he is all about bold aggression. He wins in the same overwhelming way Mike Tyson once did, making fans care less about the quality of his opponent because they are more focused on the spectacular way he gets rid of the problem in front of him.
The trainer’s delicate balancing act with such a talent must fall somewhere between the danger he knows lurks inside the ring and the bold confidence required to succeed in such a place. That is the side of Yuriorkis Gamboa’s development that Atlas finds most intriguing and believes is most imperative.
“From a trainer’s perspective his greatest strength is his attitude,’’ Atlas said. “I know a lot of guys with speed and power but they don’t try to shove it down your throat. This guy does. He wants to use what he has.
“You’ll never have a night where you leave the arena and say you didn’t see Gamboa’s speed tonight. You didn’t see his ability tonight. He comes to the arena to show off what he has.
“That’s why he practiced all those hours in those hot gyms in Cuba. He knows he invested that time and he wants the world to see what he got back. But he also learned pretty quickly over here that there’s a lot of competition out there for who is going to get paid.
“I think that forces him to be a little bit undisciplined. He wants to show off that pure talent because he has a stage here that didn’t exist in the amateurs and he sees that over here the more you show off the more you get paid. That kind of thing is airborne. It’s understood among these kinds of guys.
“The same hunger that made him sell his gold medal in Cuba so he could pay for his daughter’s birthday party has created a dangerous hunger in him to make money. It’s dangerous to you and it’s dangerous to him.’’
That side of Gamboa has left Atlas feeling two ways about him. On the one hand he is always anxious to see him fight but when he sees that dangerous side emerge, that disrespectful side for the most dangerous sport in the land, it irritates his professional sensibilities.
“I dedicated my whole life to boxing,’’ Atlas said. “You look for a special guy like this guy. I enjoy watching him but the trainer side of me gets irked when he takes chances he doesn’t need to take because I know where that’s going to lead one night. It irks me when he ignores the basics of boxing because I know what’s coming with that too.
“You see a diamond like Gamboa you want it to be polished perfectly. You don’t want any rough edges. He deserves to be every bit he can be, which is a lot. But he won’t be if those flaws aren’t polished out.’’
And so you watch and wait to see who wins this race – Yuriokis Gamboa’s great gifts or boxing’s cruel insistence that it be respected even by those whom it has blessed.
“Pacquiao-Hatton is probably the biggest junior welterweight fight that I can recall,” Merchant told TSS. “It is a great contrast in styles, in and out of the ring. Who woulda thunk two small guys from outside America would meet in America for a big prizefight? I don’t recall that happening.”
“They both have rabid supporters, so it figures to be a big event.”
The bout, co-promoted by Bob Arum and Golden Boy Promotions, will land in Las Vegas on May 2, with the venue and mode of television delivery still up the air.
“If Pacquiao wins, that could lead to another super event, and end of the year fight with Floyd Mayweather. Or, the winner fighting the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz (Feb. 28 in Texas) winner is also a big event.”
“I don’t recall Pacquiao having to deal with someone quite like Hatton,” Merchant continued. “The thinking in some corners is, sooner or later PacMan will land shots, as Hatton is moving in. He’s got that lefty power Hatton won’t be prepared for. But Hatton is a bright guy. We saw in his last fight he was willing to modify his style to be effective, under Floyd Mayweather Sr. Also, Pacquiao showed his willingness to make modifications under Freddie Roach. That was a big surprise for many, how skilled Pacquiao was, how complete he was, against Oscar. He now throws rights more, and we hadn’t seen that so much when he arrived and was blowing through people. Also, his poise and discipline versus Oscar, his ability to avoid being careless or overzealous, was impressive. That’s unusual for a fighter to be able to make changes like that, after being so successful and making so much money. Hatton also made modifications, though that was against Malignaggi, who was not as strong as Oscar, but was certainly given a chance to win. He showed with one training period with Floyd Sr. more head movement, and that he was not just a one-speed, marching forward type fighter. We can expect he try to continue to evolve. Given his physical and mental and emotional makeup and grit, there’s a chance he can make it a serious fight as the underdog.”
I told Merchant I am predicting a Pacquiao win, a narrow victory by a margin of one or two points.
“If it goes the distance,” he replied. “It should be a hell of a fight.”
I do expect it will. We tend to play down Pacquiao’s ability to actually get buzzed by a shot, since he’s been on such a hotstreak. But you will recall, Rustico Torrecampo knocked him silly in 1996, and Medgoen Singsurat kayoed him, with a body blow, in 1999. But he was struggling mightily to make weight then, and his chin since then hasn’t betrayed him. Sure, he was buzzed against Marquez in 2004, momentarily against faded Morales in 2006, was in danger in the third against Larios, and Marquez wobbled him in the second round of their rematch. Much as we might think, right after his steamrolling of Oscar and off his three-year win streak, that Manny’s chin is impenetrable, history says the Filipino is actually a mortal in that department. But does Hatton have the pop to stop Pacquiao? No. And can the Hitman revamp his game in such radical fashion that he will be the slicker boxer come May 2nd? Doubtful. Will we be in for a good show on May 2nd? Yes.
Now the WBA welterweight titleholder trains in the lower middle class area of Montebello, California in a gym that was formerly a warehouse and now has been converted to a fulltime boxing gym. Margarito tears through sparring partners like it’s a challenge to his manhood.
He means business.
It’s all business now for Margarito (37-5, 27 KOs) who prepares to face legendary Southern California prizefighter Sugar Shane Mosley (45-5, 38 KOs) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 24. A sold out crowd is expected at the venue that houses the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers.
Gone are the days he would sit around clowning with guys like Alejandro “Cobrita” Gonzalez, Chino Garcia, Hector Lopez and Astro Boy in the dark second story boxing gym behind the Olympic Auditorium. One is retired, one is incarcerated, another reportedly expired and Garcia is on the last lap as a prizefighter.
Margarito is the man now.
The crowds gather around the Montebello gym hoping to get a glimpse of the boxer known as the “Tijuana Tornado.” They take turns peering through the window to see Margarito run through his daily regimen.
Just a year ago the crowds were much smaller. But a year ago Margarito hadn’t decisively beaten Puerto Rico’s undefeated Pound for Pound fighter Miguel Cotto. That win catapulted him to mega star status from every point in the country of Mexico, not just Tijuana.
“You should have seen the crowds for him,” said Sergio Diaz, who co-manages Margarito and accompanied him to Mexico City to receive his belt and recognition. “It was crazy.”
Even sparring sessions bring dozens of onlookers eager to see Mexico’s new favorite son. It’s all new to Margarito.
Though fans are kept out of the boxing gym, the number of journalists and other boxers and their entourages packs the spacious gym that also serves as a Police Athletic League boxing facility for youths. One of the boxers who emerged from the area is Sergio Mora, the former WBC junior middleweight titleholder.
Margarito could close off the gym. Most of the elite boxers don’t allow journalists. It’s one of the reasons that professional boxing is dying out. Elitism has no place for a sport that needs publicity.
Before the days of pay-per-view fights, most major newspapers had a beat reporter that would generally live in the gym looking for a story or talent. Some gyms even had offices for the boxing reporters and photographers.
Those days are gone now. Today the elite boxers make millions of dollars and lose touch with reality.
Not Margarito. He knows most of the boxing writers by face whether they write for a rag tag quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 500, obscure web sites that pop up almost weekly, and the major newspapers from Mexico to England. It’s just the way he is.
The Tijuana fighter has that gutter to glory machismo that drives him every day to the gyms for a hard days work. Early in the mornings he runs more than most fighters run.
“I ran with him one time and almost died,” said one fighter who is a world titleholder. “He’s an animal.”
Margarito has that look of prizefighters from the 1950s minus the cauliflower ears and re-arranged noses. Though the lanky Tijuana boxer has absorbed massive blows from opponents throughout his career, it’s the other guy who’s taken more punishment. Remember Sebastian Lujan’s bloody dangling ear after he fought Margarito?
Sparring sessions are just like real fights, Margarito expects no quarter.
On a Friday afternoon three prizefighters warm up to prepare for war. First up, Pomona’s Ivan Stovall, a hard-hitting middleweight who has a blend of quick hands and powerful blows. For three rounds Stovall fires combinations and moves around the ring so that the Mexican fighter can’t unload bombs from a set position. Every so often Stovall lands a good blow, stops, looks, and realizes that it’s not a good idea as Margarito keeps coming forward winging his own punches like some kind of punching robot.
“He’s like a punching machine,” says a smiling Stovall. “It’s not that he has the fastest hands, he just never stops punching. He never gets tired.”
Stovall, a good friend of Mosley, shakes his head at the prospect of the future match up. He doesn’t know what to think of his buddy’s chances.
“Shane’s my boy,” says Stovall who is hoping to fight on the same card. “It’s going to be a good one.”
Next up is Jesus Soto Karass, a stable mate of Margarito and somewhat a clone of the Tijuana fighter. The boxer from Los Mochis could be fighting Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto, who lost his intended opponent to injury. But right now he’s just helping put his buddy.
Karass and Margarito are very familiar with each other’s style. For three rounds they go through the motions with the younger fighter landing lead right hands and moving away before Margarito can retaliate with his best.
It’s a mere three round formality with Margarito simply expending energy as Karass moves and fires. Outside of the ropes, looking up at the action, a young fighter out of Hollywood has a smile on his face. He’s next and likes what he sees.
Henry Mitchell has quick feet and quicker hands and has never been stopped despite a 50-50 record of eight wins and eight losses. After watching Margarito and Karass lumber for three rounds the 24-year-old Mitchell looks confident.
Once inside the ropes, Mitchell immediately uses his swiftness to move around the ring as Margarito trails him. Quick darting jabs shoot out but every time Mitchell punches he takes one in return. By the end of the first round Margarito has gauged the distance and increases the volume of punches fired. The look of confidence in Mitchell has been replaced with puzzlement. For the next two rounds the youngster absorbs a multitude of snapping uppercuts from different angles that send his head backward like a bobble-head doll. To his extreme credit, Mitchell never crumbles but the look in his eyes after the pounding he withstood is a sight. I guess he realizes why Margarito is a world champion.
The next day, Mitchell returns. He’s one of the few to return to spar with Margarito who has blown out several sparring partners in the past two weeks.
“He was supposed to spar with Sergio Mora but he couldn’t make it today because of an eye infection,” said German Villasenor, a spokesman for Team Margarito. “Tony has been destroying sparring partners.”
Will he be able to destroy Mosle, a three-division world champion?
“He has a lot of experience,” says Margarito.
According to Top Rank, co-promoters of the world title fight, tickets are going briskly so they opened up the upper levels beginning at $25. The event is expected to attract more than 18,000 fans. For more information go to www.ticketmaster.com.
That is the position taken by Pacquiao’s trainer and confidante, Freddie Roach, who said from his gym in Hollywood Wednesday afternoon that boxing’s most popular fighter has no intention of ever again fighting at 135 pounds.
“If Marquez wants to come up to 140 we’ll fight him again,’’ Roach said of the man who fought a draw and lost a razor-thin split decision to Pacquiao and then moved up to 135 pounds to pursue him further only to see Pacquiao move on up to welterweight.
“We won’t fight at 135. Manny’s natural weight is 140. We came in at 142 for the (welterweight) fight with (Oscar) De La Hoya. Manny had to lose two pounds the day of the fight last June against Diaz. He’s not a lightweight.
“He’s just as fast and much stronger at 140 as he was at 126 and 135. Manny won’t see 135 again.’’
Whether or not that means he won’t see Marquez again only time will tell, but Roach said the final small negotiations over a venue are being worked out for Pacquiao to challenge 140-pound champion Ricky Hatton (he must hold some belt with so many of them out there) May 2 so his short-term future is finalized. Although Hatton would have to be considered the naturally bigger man, De La Hoya had an even larger advantage in that regard over Pacquiao and it made no difference so Roach has no concerns over talk of natural strength and all of that.
In fact, Roach sounded as if he had few real concerns about what Pacquiao can expect from the aggressive Brit with the ever expanding and contracting waist line. That includes Hatton’s new trainer, Roach’s own arch nemesis Floyd Mayweather, Sr.
“I think it’s a real good fight for us,’’ Roach said. “Hatton will help draw a big crowd and it’s another title for Manny.
“The weight is not a problem for Manny. His natural weight is 140 now. He’s not going up in weight. That’s what he weighs walking around.
“Hatton is a tough guy and a pretty good puncher who likes to mug you if he can trap you on the ropes so footwork will be important in this fight. Manny will need a lot of side-to-side motion. I think it will be an exciting fight but it’s one I see Manny winning.’’
It also is a fight Roach believes ultimately can lead them in only one direction – the direction of still self-exiled Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
“Most likely this fight is leading to that,’’ Roach admitted of the consequences of a Pacquiao victory over Hatton. “Mayweather is the only one to beat Hatton so if Manny can knock him out in spectacular fashion it makes a Mayweather fight realistic and logical even though his style is a tough style for us.’’
Floyd Mayweather, Jr.’s style is tough for everyone, which is why when he sent himself into premature retirement he was both undefeated and universally acclaimed to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. That mythical title now belongs to Pacquiao but perhaps before the year is out it will be decided not by people’s opinion alone but by the two of them.
If so, Roach believes it will be a risk worth the reward that could come with it, both financially and fistically.
“I think Manny is the only guy out there who can beat Mayweather,’’ Roach said. “After the Hatton fight, who else do we have to fight? (Former welterweight champion Miguel) Cotto is already booked to fight the (Antonio) Margarito-(Shane) Mosley winner so we really don’t have a lot of other options.’’
Left to his own devices Pacquiao might dispute that however. He has already told Roach in fact that he has a proposal, one that even Roach had to laugh about.
“Manny wants to fight Margarito,’’ Roach said of the iron-chinned, long-armed welterweight champion who stopped the previously unbeaten Cotto by grinding him to dust in 11 brutal and bloody rounds last year. “Manny thinks he can outbox him.
“Margarito is a big welterweight. He’d have a lot of advantages physically but Manny doesn’t really worry about that. I don’t know but he believes he can beat him. He believes he can beat (Wladimir) Klitschko, too!’’
While Pacquiao is uppermost on Roach’s mind, his Wild Card Gym in Hollywood is one of the busiest boxing venues in the country. Next week Roach will begin working there again with former Olympic silver medalist Amir Khan, who came to Roach after being knocked cold in less than a minute two fights ago.
Roach has won with him once since and believes he is a vastly talented fighter who has been improved by spending time in the ring sparring with Pacquiao, a fighter against whom one learns to protect your chin or pay the price for not doing so.
Where that knowledge ultimately leaves Khan not even Roach can know but off of what he’s seen he believes there is enough talent there to make Khan a champion if he can simply adhere to a regimen designed to improve defense of a chin that has shown some cracks in it.
“Amir will be here on the 10th to start training again,’’ Roach said of the British-born Khan. “He’ll fight again in late February or early March. I want to step up the quality of his opponent.
“I know there are people who question his chin but a lot of that has to do with confidence. I think working with Manny helps a lot. The fact is if you don’t have a good chin it just means you have to work harder on your defense.
“Amir has a lot of talent. He really does. He just has to settle down a little bit. I think getting knocked out actually could help him. He was a little bit cocky before, always coming in looking for the knockout. You can’t just go out there throwing right hands thinking you’re going to stop everybody.’’
Manny Pacquiao showed the wisdom of that advice when he first outboxed and then outfought Oscar De La Hoya in December. By May 2 he’ll be looking to do something similar to Ricky Hatton, a tough brawler who believes he can win because, after all, who has beaten him outside of the bets fighter in the world?
If Pacquiao can show him there is a new best fighter in the world who knows what could follow? Unless Juan Manuel Marquez wants to do some extra dining what seems most likely would be a showdown between the two best pound-for-pound boxers in the world – Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
If it happens this year boxing fans should consider themselves blessed.
But by talking with Holm (22-1-1, 6 KOs), you’d never know that female prize-fighting is a near-dead sport. Despite performing in front of humble crowds and making pennies in comparison to most star male fighters, Holm is almost indifferent to the state of her craft. She is instead focused on wiping out competition to satiate the appetite on her provincial fans.
“I’m from New Mexico, and we have great, loyal fans here in boxing and MMA,” said Holm, whose boyfriend is MMA middleweight and fellow New Mexico native Joey Villasenor. “They’re very supportive, and when they talk about me, I want to live up to what they say.”
Holm’s fight with Lamare is her first since a draw with fellow star Mary Joe Sanders in October. That bout was a rematch of a June showdown that saw Holm prevail via comfortable unanimous decision.
Considering the severe lack of depth in women’s boxing, some pundits have already been clamoring for Holm and Sanders to throw bones a third time. But Holm, who has now been fighting for seven years, is in no rush to dance another ten rounds with the daughter of former Detroit Lions tight end Charlie Sanders.
“I don’t want to fight [Sanders] right now,” said Holm. “I think [a third fight] would be too much like the first two, and I just wouldn’t be motivated for it.”
Against Sanders, Holm, who started her career at light welterweight, moved up to fight at the 154-pound limit which she has trouble hitting “even as a walking-around weight.” So the southpaw will move back down to 147 pounds to fight Lamare, who has spent the bulk of her career at 140 pounds.
Holm said she won’t take Lamare lightly, meaning the holidays – and a visit to Villasenor and family in Farmington – didn’t get in the way of her training.
“I ran with him every day up there,” she said. “The only bad thing was that there wasn’t any sparring, but we have plenty of that in my gym.”
“Lamare’s a tough opponent, a strong opponent,” continued Holm. “We’ve fought some of the same opponents and she has a lot of KOs, so we have to be careful.”
Careful not to let down a New Mexico fan base that loves Holm, despite the poor state of her profession.
“I was a fat kid that was getting the crap beat out of me so my dad put me in the boxing gym,” remembers Ortiz, who has a professional record of 23 wins and 1 loss with 18 knock-outs. “I hated it at first.” After getting used to being punched in the face and a few bloody noses during sparring, he grew to love the competitive nature of the sport. He was happy to have found his calling. Unfortunately, things took a sad turn.
The Mexican American kid who grew up in Garden City, Kansas, of all places, got a harsh dose of life at the age of seven when his mother abandoned him and his siblings. “I thought we were a normal, happy family but I was wrong,” Ortiz said. A few years later his alcoholic father followed suit, leaving the family to fend for themselves. “We were left with nothing. My sister had to be a mom to us when my parents left.”
Putting himself in the role of a provider and needing to survive, Ortiz did what he had to do in order to help out the family. “I’m not going to lie. I dealt some ecstasy and some marijuana but I never tried it,” Ortiz said. “I just dealt it. It wasn’t a good thing to do but it got me my money when I really needed it.”
His brief stint as a dealer ended once he got a taste of legitimate success. Ortiz saw his image in the newspaper after winning the Golden Gloves and it moved him. “The photo came out all over Kansas and that’s when it hit me,” Ortiz said of the epiphany. “I realized that I didn’t need to be involved with selling drugs in order to make something of myself. I said screw this. I don’t need all this crap or this guilt.”
The first person he called was the guy who was wholesaling him the drugs he would later sell for a profit. “I called him and told him that this wasn’t for me,” Ortiz said. “I told him and everyone else that I was going to try and become a world champion and they just laughed. Eventually they said ‘cool, we have your back’.”
According to ESPN.com and SportsIllustrated.com, it may be “Vicious” Vic who gets the last laugh. Both outlets have just named the Golden Boy Promotions fighter as their prospect of 2008. The 140 pounder made sure he remained on everyone’s mind after coming off a devastating first round knockout victory over Jeffrey Resto on the De La Hoya/Pacquiao undercard.
Ortiz remains humble nonetheless. “I’m just one of many other prospects. Just another up and coming fighter,” he said. “I’m a guy that’s been working hard and hoping it pays off.”
Although a likeable person with a laid back demeanor outside the ring, Ortiz more than lives up to his moniker once he’s in battle mode. “I got that nickname at the Olympic trials. People were saying don’t let that kid fool you with that smile, he’s vicious,” Ortiz said. “I don’t see myself as vicious but everyone started calling me that so it stuck.”
He’s been refining his trade since he was a kid, winning one amateur show after the other. It was at the 2003 junior Olympics that former world champion and current trainer Robert “Grandpa” Garcia approached him. “I guess he liked my style and went back to Oxnard where he told his dad about me,” Ortiz said. Garcia’s father, Eduardo, was the trainer for well known champion Fernando Vargas. “Eventually he called me and asked me what I thought about coming to California to train and live with him. I said send me a plane ticket and I’m there.”
He went from the flatlands of Kansas to the beaches and hills of Southern California. It was a welcome change that helped boost his career. “In California you have a lot of choices when it comes to training and you have a lot of good fighters to spar with,” Ortiz said. “The move definitely helped bring my game up to another level.”
He recently got a taste of some big time sparring after helping Oscar De La Hoya prepare for his fight with Manny Pacquiao in Big Bear. Ortiz is rumored to have more than held his own against Oscar but chooses to keep quiet regarding details. Oscar’s eight round loss to Pacquiao came as a real shocker. “The Oscar I sparred with was not the Oscar that showed up against Manny on that night. I thought he was going to knock out Manny easy,” Ortiz said. “I can’t tell you what happened. The best that I can come up with is that he hit his weight too early and he was drained but I really don’t know. That wasn’t the Oscar I was expecting on that night. I don’t think anyone expected that.”
Although he’s highly touted, Ortiz feels he has a lot to prove. “If anything, I have to prove something to myself. I want to succeed very badly. I’ve seen people who have everything and yet they’re really unhappy and don’t appreciate it,” Ortiz said. “I don’t want to be like that. I want to reach all my goals in life and I want to be someone that truly appreciates everything I earn. I’ve been working too hard and too long for it.”
Will he fulfill the promise that boxing pundits believe he’s capable of or will he be another hot prospect that goes bust? Anyone remember Francisco “Panchito” Bojado? He too was a prospect of the year at one time. I think things will be different with “Vicious” Vic.
Unlike Bojado, the reports are that Ortiz is a gym rat and takes proper care of his weight. “This is all I know how to be good at and I take it very seriously,” Ortiz said. “I’ve got the dedication of a champion. I plan to work harder than everybody else. I’m smart enough to realize that I can’t rest on my current success. I know that the hardest part of the journey is still ahead of me.”
And that realization is what will make all the difference in the world.
Frankly, the biggest hope may be the faintest. It is that some heavyweight finally emerges from the dark cloud that has enveloped the division for so long and finally captures the imagination of the public. It has been so long since Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and, to a lesser extent, Lennox Lewis thrilled fight fans that one begins to wonder if the heavyweight division still exists.
This is not simply because all the reigning title holders are European (the Brothers Klitschko and Nikolay Valuev) although in a country as parochial as the United States that doesn’t help. It is rather that which ever one you’re watching at any given moment convinces you he’s worse than the guy you saw before him, who you were quite sure had to be the worse guy in the division. This is not a good thing for boxing.
The hope here then is that some time this year the brash Brit David Haye, the former cruiserweight champion who has charisma, crushing power and a cracked chin emerges to win one or more portions of the title and ends up in a showdown with Klitschko the Younger (Wladimir). That would at least be a fight of interest and if Haye found a way to win it, his personality alone would help revive the sport.
In this country the division will never really matter again until someone in red, white and blue becomes both a legitimate challenger and a fearsome puncher and that isn’t happening any time soon judging by the pretenders out there at the moment, but Haye would be a bombastic breath of fresh air…assuming his chin doesn’t implode when struck with authority by a true heavyweight. That may be a tall order but he has the kind of concussive one-punch power that can counter even a chin made of limestone…at least until the night someone hits him flush so we have to hope for the best there, but that’s part of what makes him interesting.
The news that promoter Bob Arum has found a new Spanish language television station for the boxing shows he used to showcase on Telefutura until that network pulled the plug at the end of the year was welcome, but do you have Azteca America on your cable lineup? At this point, it’s better than nothing, but it’s a step down from the ‘’Solo Boxeo” shows and seems another warning sign that if the people making the most money off the sport don’t begin to invest some of it back into the game at the grassroots level one of these days boxing will be like Oklahoma in the ‘30s – a dust bowl.
But wait a minute! This was supposed to be about good news so I digress. If 2009 is to be a good year for prize fighting the first thing the sport needs is a return of its greatest practitioner of the day – Floyd Mayweather, Jr. His self-imposed exile has achieved what he hoped – it cost his father a lot of money he would have made preparing Oscar De La Hoya to try and beat his son in a rematch. Now it’s time to get back to work in the hopes that he will face the winner of the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton fight in May, assuming it comes off as planned.
It seems Mayweather is too fast for Pacquiao and Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, really has no interest in the fight but wasn’t Oscar De La hoya too big for him? Not!
It is that kind of mystery and fodder for debate that fuels interest in a sport like boxing and so Mayweather’s return is crucial. So, too, is it that Pacquiao defeat Hatton spectacularly. If he does, Pacquiao may have no real choice but to face Mayweather because there will be a clamoring for that fight – a pound-for-pound showdown between Mayweather and the man who replaced him as that mythical champion – Pacquiao.
Frankly, I’d be just as happy to see Pacquiao face Juan Manuel Marquez a third time to unify the lightweight title though, assuming Marquez survives what could be a tough challenge from former champion Juan Diaz this year.
Diaz is neither as skilled nor as fast as Marquez but he is a relentless warrior who will make it a fight. If Marquez wins, a third match with Pacquiao would be one of the 2009 highlights because their first two matches were the kind of classics fight fans still argue about because no one can say for sure who won.
Speaking of lightweights, one would hope the sport is smart enough to get Nate Campbell into the mix as well because he is both a guy who can fight and an entertainer and there is a shortage of both around these days. Campbell, Pacquiao, Marquez and Diaz could fight a year long round robin and it would be compelling TV, although don’t count on it because it would make too much sense.
Like many fight fans, I could watch Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez fight every Friday night and be well satisfied but I’d like to see undefeated young Juan Manuel Lopez, Edwin Valero, Joan Guzman and even aging Joel Casamayor get into that mix as well. Get them all fighting each other and you’ve got good fights and growing interest if properly promoted and showcased.
Word is Paul Williams will end up fighting the well used up and seldom pleasing Winky Wright next. Explain to me why this is happening beyond the fact that Wright has connections with Golden Boy Promotions? Fans of actual fighting have little interest in seeing Wright any more and they didn’t have all that much interest when he was at the height of his skills. So why risk Williams, who has great potential, in what can’t be anything but a stinker fight?
Anyone who is paying attention understands HBO climbed in bed with Golden Boy some time ago but that match is ridiculous and does boxing no good. Williams against middleweight champion Arthur Abraham would for a lot of reasons and that’s where the promotional effort should be made but it’s not going to happen any time soon.
Despite the sad night Kelly Pavlik had against Bernard Hopkins he’s back defending his middleweight title early this year and one has to hope that Pavlik, Williams, Abraham and the often ducking Felix Sturm, who apparently hasn’t seen a leading middleweight contender his management wants him to fight, could create some buzz for that division if they’d just square off with each other and settle a few things.
That’s what makes the Vic Darchinyan-Jorge Arce Feb. 7 showdown on SHOWTIME exciting. It not only will be a concussive contest in which judges will not be necessary but counting to 10 will be, it’s also a reminder that a guy like Darchinyan, who beat down Crisitian Mijares in his last outing and is now taking on more heavy iron in Arce, is what drives boxing. At its best, the fight game is about confrontations between equals, not mismatches of young vs. aged, or talented vs. not so much. That is what we’ve gotten time and again in recent years and, frankly, the sport can’t take much more of it.
This brings me to Shameless Shane Mosley vs. Antonio Margarito. Why are we doing this? Mosley couldn’t draw flies when he was young and a dominant lightweight. Now he’s old, not dominant and appears to be heading for a fall if he keeps pushing his luck against Victor Conte and the BALCO scandal. It’s pretty obvious reading stories by folks with access to Mosley’s grand jury testimony that he’s a cheat and he knew it. So why does he get rewarded with a Margarito fight while Barry Bonds can’t get a job as a DH? Because it’s boxing, that’s why.
There are several things one should want to see this year, including the emergence of a challenger who doesn’t carry an AARP card for light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, a rematch between cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham on a network willing and able to showcase them, a rematch with Margarito for Miguel Cotto (assuming he really wants one) and a match between Jermain Taylor and Mikkel Kessler.
I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more of Michael Katsidis too, even though his defense is worse than Stephon Marbury’s. I’d like to not see Joe Calzaghe, who has no reason to press on, and I’d like to see a bit less waist line on heavyweight hopeful Chris Arreola. I’d like to see Don King use his considerable promotional gifts to make something big out of the talented but barely known Devon Alexander and wouldn’t it be great if the Western world got to know featherweight champion Chris John? Right now he’s a myth to most people, an Indonesian we know can fight but who is seen in the U.S. by so few people one begins to wonder if he’s really Sid Finch.
One of the beautiful things about boxing is when fresh faces start to rise. This could be the year for Victor Ortiz, Yuriorkis Gamboa, James Kirkland and the slow moving but talented Andre Ward. It’s also, we should all hope, the year young welterweight champion Andre Berto becomes a household name because he’s got the talent, the smile and the personality to become a star if he can get some exposure and the right fights.
In fact, as critical as I’ve been about Mosley, a proposed Berto-Mosley fight made sense because it could have been the classic case of the young star on the rise doing so at the expense of someone who used to be somebody but is now less of that than he once was. With Mosley unavailable, maybe promoter Lou DiBella should consider putting Berto in with Zab Judah, who is another guy who, like Mosley, still has some talent but is walking on the shady side of the street and so would be a good, hard test for Berto.
It’s the kind of fight Berto should win if he is who we think he is but it would also be the kind of hard test a young fighter needs to fulfill his true potential in sport’s harshest landscape.
Oh, by the way, wouldn’t you love to see another meeting between Kendall Holt and Ricardo Torres this year? Who knows what will happen but one thing is sure – somebody is going to end up on the floor. Let the winner fight Tim Bradley and the junior welterweights would be alive and kicking too.
The point in all this is to urge the people who finance the fights, profit from the fights and make or break fighters and the fight game – HBO, SHOWTIME, Setanta and Sky in England, ESPN, German promoters Peter Kohl and Wilfried Sauerland, England’s Frank Warren and the U.S.’ Richard Schaefer, Bob Arum, Don King, Lou DiBella, Dan Goossen, Art Pelullo and Joe DeGuardia – to dedicate one year of their life to a sport that has made all their lives far more comfortable than most of the fans who they keep asking to support them regardless of what they give them back.
Readers, please feel free to add your wish list for the Boxing Year 2009, and beyond, via a comment...