Saturday, March 01, 2008

Why Can’t They All Be Like Vazquez and Marquez?

After watching this Friday’s televised mismatches and mediocre fights, and still fearing brain atrophy from witnessing last week’s Klitschko-Ibragimov rock-paper-scissors contest, we finally have a delicious fight on tap after all this junk food.

Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez will show ‘em how it should be done, again, for the third time tonight at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Showtime has the honor of telecasting it in the U.S., while various Internet pirates will attempt to stream it to people in areas where it is not available, or who just want to pilfer it.

The technique, poise, courage, strategy, valor, and aggressiveness of both fighters put so many of boxing’s paycheck-collectors to shame, especially among the guys who weigh about what both of these super bantamweights do together. The first two fights between Vazquez and Marquez, both last year, with Marquez taking the first and Vazquez the second, were surely the best of 2007, although somehow the Boxing Writers Association of America members voted for Pavlik-Taylor 1 over Vazquez-Marquez 2.

Whether or not this third affair between these two Mexico City champions becomes a third classic will soon be evident. As usual, most of the American boxing media has been rather ho-hum about all this. Perhaps they will instead be tuning into ESPN Classic, which will be showing tonight – seriously – the “Best of Butterbean 1”.

Let this be the start of our Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez 3 thread. The show starts fairly early, at 9 PM ET, so you can watch it, post here, and still get down to the barroom and tell everyone what they’ve just missed.

PS -- Showtime has made the video of the first two Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez fights available, online and for free, here:

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Great Writer Goes Down for the Count

WC Heinz, the great boxing writer, and a role model for Howard Cosell, has died.
I post this not only to pay tribute to an important figure in our field, but also
to make an observation. With AJ Leibling and Bill Heinz gone, is not the best
boxingwriter alive our own Carlo Rotella? If so, what is interesting is that if
I am not mistaken, Rotella's first boxing publication was in a Bill Heinz book.
And Rotella hates Cosell! The circle goes around.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Monday and Saturday

Monday the sun didn’t shine – anywhere. Earth stopped rotating on its axis and revolving around the Sun. Rivers ceased to run, while smoke and dust and grime filled the air. Nocturnal vermin prepared to swoop up our last remaining scraps of foods, while howling mobs set each other afire in the streets.

It was all over, wasn’t it? There were no more heavyweights. Boxing was dead and gone. Klitschko and Ibragimov, with their murderously awful non-fight Saturday night, had killed them all, and civilization along with it. It was the end of history.

Then, in a barely visible ray of dim light which had not yet escaped to other galaxies, I saw some words on a television listing. There in barely legible type, in the listings for Showtime for this coming Saturday, March 1, read the words: “Boxing: Rafael Marquez vs. Israel Vazquez.”

Could this be true? Was there actually going to be a third fight between these two warriors who had put on the best fights of 2007? Was this planned show not wrecked by the worldwide destruction of everything else by the Klitschko-Ibragimov disaster?

Suddenly the sun began to shine anew. The air started to clear, the birds started to chirp, the kids started to laugh, and the engines started to hum. People smiled at and greeted each other cordially, while lovers held hands and smooched.

Life, alas, had returned to normal – the good with the bad, the beautiful with the ugly, the roses with the rot. It wasn’t all over after all, although it had seemed that way early Monday.

I guess you have to wait a bit to avoid jumping to conclusions about the end of the world.

Hopefully, after next Saturday, we won’t feel like we did this Monday.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

What The HBO Joe Louis Documentary didn't tell you

The recent HBO documentary Joe Louis, "Anerican Hero Betrayed" was unlike the others we've seen on "The Brown Bomber." He was as great a man as he was a fighter. No way should a man like him have to endure the public humiliation he had too. I guess the Army had no clue how bad they messed up when they said to Muhammad Ali, "we'll afford you the same treatment we did Sgt. Joe Louis." I know Louis' life outside the ring is important, historically. However, the documentaries produced on Louis always leave out what made him perhaps the greatest heavyweight champion ever.

They always focus on his power, but omit that he was a great boxer. He was much more than Max Baer with two hands.

Joe Louis was the quintessential Boxer-Puncher. However, because he had dynamite in both hands and scored some picturesque knockouts, most categorize him as being a catch and kill puncher who always won because of his power. However, there's so much more to Joe Louis the fighter. Fundamentally, Louis was absolutely faultless. He carried his hands high with his elbows in and his chin down. He threw short and concise bombs, and never wasted a punch. He also put together five and six punch combinations with speed, power, and accuracy better than any other Heavyweight in history.

Louis was a stalker who pressured his opponents, but his pressure wasn't overwhelming. While stalking his foe he would inch closer and closer, but he did it in a way that would mislead his opponents into thinking it was safe for them to go on the offensive, just so they could move to one side or the other in order to get away. When his opponent went on the offensive, they played right into Louis' hands. Louis understood that he could tag his opponent harder and cleaner, IF the opponent was coming to him, even IF only briefly. One thing former heavyweight champion, George Foreman, said while providing color-commentary for HBO was, "never follow a puncher." Foreman never spoke truer words, and Louis lured and set his opponent up to follow him when they were getting ready to strike. Due to Louis setting the pace and dictating the ring geography, he maneuvered his opponent to be in range for his explosive combinations.

Most of the time when an opponent came to Louis, it was really a defensive move so they could get away as he stalked them. As his opponent came to him, and tried to lead, Louis would strike with short straight punches. Couple his explosive power with his great hand speed, especially in short burst, and you have one of the greatest offensive fighters the heavyweight division has ever seen.

Over the years it has often been said that Louis was vulnerable to quick footed fighters with lateral movement. Although there is some truth to this, it's not nearly to the degree in which it has been over-stated. This analogy is based mostly because of three fights during Louis' title tenure. His two fights with Jersey Joe Walcott and his first bout against Billy Conn. Walcott had good feet, and moved in and out and side to side doing what was termed the Walcott shuffle. However, his feet weren't what troubled Louis. It was more his head and shoulder feints along with his dips and twist that bothered him. Conn extended Louis to the 13th round. Conn was slightly ahead in the scoring on two cards and even on the other after 12 rounds. It was the lateral movement of Conn that befuddled Louis for a while. This was mainly because Louis wouldn't chase a runner or a mover. He would bide his time and draw them to him. Which is what happened to Conn. In the 13th round, Conn caught Louis and shook him with a beautiful combination as he was lunging in, this ultimately cost him the fight. When Conn saw Louis shook, he went in for the kill, only he was in range for Louis to put him away, and he did.

Throughout Heavyweight history, there may have been a few harder punchers and better boxers than Joe Louis, but he combined them better and more perfectly than any other heavyweight who has yet lived. He could adjust and adapt to any style he was confronted with. It was suicide to move towards him, and it was almost next to impossible to win rounds with steady movement trying to survive him. He was dangerous inside and outside, he could win by slugging and trading, and had the ring savvy to out think and Box his opponent. Joe Louis combined the art of punching and boxing as well as they've ever been combined. He was in fact one of the best boxers, and punchers in heavyweight history.

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With seventeen seconds left to go in a fight he had done virtually nothing to win, Sultan Ibragimov feinted. And Wladimir Klitschko, on his was to an effortless win and with nothing to fear, flinched. Could it have been more hopeless?

Before the fight, I tried to frame things in an optimistic light. Thus the following rationalizations: These guys weren’t great fighters, but we weren’t looking at them through the prism of pure boxing history, so their relative mediocrity wasn’t too important. They were doing something culturally significant—two fighters from the former Soviet Union moving toward a heavyweight title unification. And it might be an interesting fight.

I thought it curmudgeonly to judge these guys by the yardstick provided by the fighters I grew up watching or the great fighters of still earlier eras. “See them for who they are,” I told myself. “They don’t have to be Ali, Holmes, Liston, or even Page or Tubbs to be worthwhile.”

Who was I trying to kid? They’re horrible. The only enjoyment I got during the fight was in the brief period of time I was able to doze. I woke up exactly where I’d left off, except that it was a round and a half later.