Friday, March 14, 2008

By The Way, Pacquiao vs. Marquez 2 Saturday

Is it just me, or is there a surprisingly little amount of buzz for Saturday’s long-delayed rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez? There has been the requisite number of news releases, teleconference calls, e-mails, articles, and even a countdown show, but the anticipation you would think a rematch involving these two top ten fighters, who fought to a split draw almost four years ago, seems lacking.

Perhaps it is because we are still awed by Vazquez-Marquez 3 just two weeks ago, or still disgusted at the two recent heavyweight title fight stinkers. Maybe the incessant use of nationalism to hype fights like this has dampened the enthusiasm of those not from the Philippines or Mexico. Maybe it is a regional issue, with more build-up out West than in the Big Apple, where I roam.

Their first fight, from May 8, 2004, will be replayed in the U.S. on HBO2 Friday, March 14/early Saturday morning March 15, at 12:30 AM (ET/PT), and Saturday, March 15, at 9:30 AM (ET/PT). The rematch, from Las Vegas, is on HBO Pay-Per-View, Saturday night, March 15. It may be expensive, but it should get interesting.

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Disappearing Gyms

“It’s a proper gym.” — Harold Knight

When I first started working out with Gerry Cooney a couple of years back, we trained at a small gym called the Shadow Boxing Academy in Fanwood, NJ. It was just a converted commercial garage, barely big enough to house a small ring, four heavy bags, a couple of speed bags and some clanky barbells. But it was, surely and purely, a boxing gym. Fight posters adorned the walls, hand wraps and skip ropes hung from various hooks, and a bell sounded in the obligatory three-minute, one-minute pattern. Owned by former junior lightweight contender Harold “Shadow” Knight (19-1 as a pro; had to retire when he failed a CAT scan at age 25; worked with Lennox Lewis for many years), the “Academy” usually seemed fairly busy: a few serious-looking teenage amateurs, preparing for cards in Paterson or Newark; younger kids just learning the moves; a regular trio of sweatsuited women working off the pounds on the heavy bags; our group of middle-aged klutzes. It wasn’t Stillman’s in the 1940s, but it was earnest and legitimate.

But then there were the leaks in the roof and the heat going off and then one Saturday morning we learned that the landlady had chosen not to renew the lease. The next Saturday the gym was locked and dark and a couple of weeks later it was closed for good. We sparred for a couple of weeks in Cooney’s backyard, learning to spin and grab when our backs hit the garage door, and then relocated to a store-front “martial arts facility” in a nearby town. There were bags and mirrors on the wall and room to skip rope, but no real ring. We settled in, but we’re still looking for a real gym.

And that brings me to the point: There aren’t a lot out there any more. Not news, I know, but it seems worse than ever. I work in New York. I used to be able to go down to the Times Square Gym and hang out on my lunch hour, or, even just a few years ago, to Michael Olajide’s gym near the Port Authority. Now, there’s Gleason’s and Church Street and a couple of others, but it’s not all that easy to get there – and half the time when you do somebody’s closed off the gym to shoot a fashion spread or a commercial. And that’s New York. Where do you go in New Jersey, or Boston (Carlo? Charles?) or anywhere else, if you want either to learn how to box or to learn about boxing?

There’s a web site,, that lists gyms by state, but it appears to be — while well-intentioned — woefully out-of-date. Shadow Box Academy is still on the list for New Jersey. It’s probably hard to keep up with the closings. My local gym — a New York Sports Club — offers a weekly “boxing” class (right next door to the spin classes), but I’ve never been to it. I wonder whether any of the participants would even consider going to a real boxing gym.

Thinking about all this today, I tracked down a number for Harold Knight. I reached him as he was leaving for work. He’s a corrections officer now, over in Pennsylvania. We talked about gyms. He said he’d just read that Jimmy Montoya’s place on the west coast was closing, and so was another big one. “It’s tough,” he said. “There’s not enough serious boxers out there.” He said he hung in as long as he could. “But then I started dipping into my daughter’s college fund to pay the upkeep and I knew I couldn’t go on.” He still works one-on-one, he says, and runs an occasional training camp in the Poconos. He has visited Larry Holmes’s Gym as well (“It’s a proper gym.”) and says he hopes maybe he can contribute to Holmes’s amateur and professional programs. “I’m a survivor,” Knight said. “And I love boxing. It’s what I do.”

The trouble, of course, is that it’s not what a lot of other people do anymore. I asked him whether, with all the boxing programs popping up in the mainstream health clubs, he saw any chance for a crossover. “They more or less go for the cardio,” said Knight. “They’re not hard-core boxing people.”

And so the vicious cycle continues. Fewer hard-core boxing people means fewer gyms means still fewer hard-core boxing people, and so on. All this is obvious and, as I said, far from headline news. But I started thinking about it today. And when you actually go out and try to find a gym, it starts to hit home. Knight took down my number and email address and said he’d like to keep in touch. I’ll be interested to learn where he goes from here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fight Films

When I was about 11 or 12, newly absorbed with boxing and hungry to learn anything I could about the sport and its history, I discovered Ring Classics, a mail-order company (owned, I believe, by Everlast) that sold 8-mm films of historic fights. The first one I bought was Dempsey-Willard. I must have screened it (or “sheeted it,” given that I used an old white bed sheet tacked up on my bedroom wall in place of a screen) a thousand times. As I sat there in the darkness, the scorching heat of Toledo on July 4, 1919 was palpable, even in the washed-out black and white footage (especially when my cheap-ass Bell&Howell projector would jam and a frame would singe and bubble and, literally, go up in smoke before I could rethread it properly), and Dempsey’s punches seemed to thud against Willard’s vast flank, even though there was no soundtrack. It was a revelation to realize that I could actually see a fight that I had already read so much about. And one that had taken place 40 years before I was born.

I started saving up and ordering new films whenever I could, poring over the Ring Classics “catalogue” — basically a printed list of the available fights — going down to the post office to buy a money order (the plodding, yet fulfilling, mechanics of those pre-Internet days!) and then waiting (weeks) for the arrival of the familiar flat, yellow box (each one, no matter the fight it contained, bearing a black and white photo of Rocky Marciano clubbing Roland LaStarza). Dempsey-Carpentier, Dempsey-Willard, Louis-Schmeling, Moore-Durelle, Robinson-Turpin, Graziano-Zale, and on and on. They filled up my shelves and they filled up my head. Even as I was watching the current Ali against the likes of Bob Foster and Joe Bugner on Saturday afternoon TV, I was watching and rewatching the old Ali against Liston and Cooper and Cleveland Williams in the whirring darkness of my room every night. (So taken was I with the kinetic brilliance of Ali’s knockout of Williams that I wrote an essay for my no-doubt mystified English teacher entitled “The Greatest and the Big Cat.”)

I had a friend, Carl, who was also into boxing. He was a year older than me and we’d met one spring Saturday when I was in seventh grade. And when I say met, I mean stripped to the waist and wearing eight-ounce gloves — pitted by kids from our respective neighborhoods in a three-round “boxing match” in his front yard. (Nowadays, of course, that would never happen: a) kids don’t care about boxing b) nobody leaves their Xbox long enough to go outside and c) even if they did, some asshole adult would put a stop to such barbaric behavior.) Carl, not only older, but bigger and stronger, if just as white and untutored, poleaxed me with a right hand early in the first round. I’d never been knocked down before and it seemed a colossal embarrassment, a social gaffe, really, in front of all those other kids. I got up and the bout went the distance, but it was clear who’d won, and it was a long walk back to my block.

Thankfully, no films exist of that ring classic, but Carl and I would eventually become fast friends, with boxing — and boxing films— a big part of our bond. We’d coordinate our film purchases and share the viewings and together we developed a substantial historical archive. Partly because of those fight films, Carl started to make his own movies, and he went on to study film in college. He’s a computer guy and a professional musician now, living in the Bay area and, I am happy to say (and this is the point of this whole rambling post), is still very much into fight films. Everyone here should check out his Youtube site ( It is a treasure trove of boxing on video, from Sam Langford vs. Jim Flynn to Chuvalo-Quarry to Liston-Westphal. Browsing through Carl’s stuff is a far cry from those old days beside the projector, but the thrill and the satisfaction is the same.

And, really, is there any sport in which the viewing of historic action is as rewarding — as essential, really — as it is in boxing?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pound-for-Pound All-Time Lists

I think that there should be two forms of all-time
pound-for-pound and weight-specific ranking lists:

1) The traditional list that looks at fighters holistically
and assesses their entire body of work in comparison
to other fighters.

2) A new kind of list that ranks fighters according to their
abilities at their peak moment in history; their brilliance in
any given fight. Or better yet, their sustained brilliance over
a shorter period than an entire career.

If we were making top-ten or top-twenty all-time lists,
either pound-for-pound or for a given weight class:

Who are the fighters that would make the second list
but not the first?

Are there any fighters that would make the first list
but not the second?

What are the most obvious or glaring examples?

For me, one that jumps out is Donald Curry. Curry
would make the second list, all the way up to top-
ten for welterweights in terms of short-lived brilliance,
but should not be seen holistically as one of the ten
best-accomplished welterweights of all-time.

Archie Moore's record

Archie Moore-Top-fifteen all-time fighter. Agreed?

That said, my question: Does anyone else feel that Archie
Moore usually lost when faced with another great fighter?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Is James Moore the Next John Duddy?

The spotlight is finally on unbeaten junior middleweight James Moore (14-0, 10 KOs). The Irish-born Moore, now residing in New York, is headlining a card this Saturday, March 15, at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, on the weekend when many of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities will take place. He has fought at the Garden before, but never in a main event. In both 2006 and 2007, the headliner at this same building on this same weekend was the popular unbeaten middleweight John Duddy.

A new promotional company has been formed with the chief goal of promoting Moore. Known as Celtic Gloves (, they are undertaking this ambitious project of filling up the smaller room at the Garden on another St. Patty’s Day weekend in only their second outing. The previous two years, sizable crowds made up of mainly Irish-American fans filled this room in shows promoted by a company set up primarily to promote John Duddy, Irish Ropes.

Moore, now 30, is slightly older than the 28-year-old Duddy, but started his pro career in 2005, two years after Duddy made his first pro appearance. Both were amateur champions back home, both still speak with the tint of a delightful brogue, and both have been touted as future world champions who will bring back glory to the world of Irish boxing.

Duddy, however, as we know, has stumbled on the way up. While still undefeated at 24-0 with 17 KOs, he was badly hammered in his last fight by the unheralded Walid Smichet, now 17-4-3, a fighter based in Montreal who mainly fights there and who had lost two of his previous four fights. Smichet pounded Duddy in the early rounds of their Feb. 23 fight at Madison Square Garden, the co-feature to the Klitschko-Ibragimov non-fight. Early in the fight, Duddy suffered a huge gash over his left eye and was cut, bruised, and bleeding all over his face. Smichet, however, seemed to run out of gas after a few rounds, while Duddy’s corner worked miracles to stop the bleeding. Duddy was awarded a very unpopular majority decision, with two ridiculous hometown scores of 98-92, and one judge seeing it even at 95-95, which was more or less fair. Duddy’s cuts and gashes, and his disappointing performance in what was supposed to be a showcase fight, cost him a June 7 date at the Garden against middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, whose promoter, Bob Arum, had flown in anticipating to sign that deal.

After feasting on lesser fighters, none with more than a dozen wins, Moore, now in his fifteenth battle, is taking a step up in class. His opponent March 15 will be former world title challenger J.C. Candelo (27-9-4, 18 KOs). The 34-year-old Candelo, however, is 1-4-1 in his last six fights, with that one win coming in his last fight against a 7-22 fighter. Still, Candelo had a draw with Teddy Reid in 2006, and had those losses to notable fighters including Kassim Ouma, Verno Phillips, and Marco Antonio Rubio (along with an upset defeat by Eddie Sanchez).

Nonetheless, even a faded Candelo, who fought just once in 2007, twice in 2006, and once in 2005, represents a significant step up for Moore. In 2007, Moore fought five times, going 5-0 with 3 KOs against fighters with a combined record of 46-26-5 on club fight circuits.

At a news conference Monday at Jack Demsey’s (NOT Jack Dempsey’s) in New York, Moore acknowledged that he could easily build his record up to, say, 20-0 against lesser opposition. “I’m going to have to make this step sooner or later,” he said. “I’d much rather do it sooner.” After training at his home base of Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, he has just returned from six weeks in the seclusion of the Fernwood Hotel and Resort in the Pocono Mountains in Bushkill, PA. His trainer, by the way, is Harry Keitt, who until last year trained John Duddy.

Moore’s handlers certainly expect that he is ready for clearing this hurdle. Whether or not he stumbles and stalls along the way as Duddy apparently has remains to be seen. Already there are many who are questioning just how good a fighter James Moore actually is.

And yet, except to him and his team, it ought not to matter as much as some think it should. If the likable Moore, like Duddy, can only go so far, but remains a local draw among both Irish fans and the general boxing and sporting public, he could still be an attraction on the local and club fight circuit.

Something valuable in boxing has been lost when popular fighters with loyal fan bases reach their talent limit and are unable to advance to winning a world title, even one of the far too numerous alphabet soup belts. Promoters tend to drop them, networks shun fighters with what they perceive as records tarnished by losses, and most of the boxing media merrily follows the script set out by the promoters and networks.

We cannot know for sure how far James Moore will go in his pursuit of a world title. We will have a good idea after Saturday night how many tickets on a card headlined by him can be sold. If it is a nice crowd which enjoys the show, even if Moore is not destined to be the next whoever, there still should be plenty of room for him in the sport.

Boxing without a strong club fight circuit is choking off its own developmental system. The sport needs not only Mayweather, De La Hoya, Calzaghe, and the rest, but also the local club or even B-level fighters who can provide an evening of boxing entertainment to local, ethnic, and casual fans.

In which category James Moore ends will be apparent to all quite soon. However his career unfolds, there should always be room for fighters like him in some arena and on some screen.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Bedtime Story

Recently I traveled to a distant city to report a story. I spent the day and evening going around asking questions, watching people do what they do, filling up a couple of pocket notebooks. Among other places, I visited the dog pound, a place of grimness even though--or because--the people who work there seem gentle and well-intentioned. All those pitbulls, muscled up with nowhere to go, flexing as you walk past on the other side of the bars. They're desperate and accommodating, and they know that something is wrong. They can smell all the dogs that came before them. Where have they gone?

Around midnight I retired to my dingy hotel. It had been a long day and evening, with drinking at the end of it. The pitbulls were on my mind. I don't have much use for dogs but I kept coming back to the sight of those animals lined up in their cages, going all rigid and alert and eager to please when visitors came by. They had thought something was going to happen, even if they didn't know what it might be, but it didn't happen. Life would go on like that for a while until, I guess, some were adopted and some were taken out and killed, and then other dogs would take their place, and soon it would be the new dogs' turn to win the lottery or die.

One thing to do in a dingy hotel is to watch dingy TV. There was lots of it--tedious sports shows and talk shows, unfunny comedies, dumbass celebrity updates, bad movies of the 80s, a charnel house of shitty writing and unfresh ideas. I ran aground for a while on an off-brand show or movie or something about the crew of a rocket ship who go around fighting space vampires. The heroes dashed from here to there shouting fakey jargon and toting futuristic weapons that looked like the weapons we have now with nonfunctional molded-plastic appendages glued to them. The vampires glowered, hissed, and suppurated. It kind of ruins the space-opera magic to wonder what the actors' parents think when they seem them on the screen, but that's what I usually wonder about. The talented darling who starred in school plays, municipal musicals, and expectant local fantasies back in Elk Grove Village or Mamaroneck or wherever is now wearing fangs and slathered in gory makeup and being blown unconvincingly in half by a plasmoid megablaster. I picture the parents thinking, "Well, at least he _is_ on TV."

The lameness of it all caught me just right--in that end-of-day, far-from-home, buzzed-from-work mood--and laid me low. Deep gloom descended.

I went through the channels a few more times, only growing more despondent, until I happened upon round one of the middleweight title fight between Marvin Hagler and John Mugabi--held 22 years before, almost to the day. Hagler had his hands full, but he knew what to do about it. He was settling in to cope with Mugabi's strength and power by taking him deep into the fight, wearing him out over the long haul and finishing him late. Mugabi, a blowout artist, had gone ten rounds just once and six only twice in his 25 fights, all wins. The turning point would come in the sixth round, when Hagler, having blunted the force of Mugabi's early-round assault, would take over the fight by giving his man a spine-jellying pounding, then settle in to finish him inside the distance, KO'ing him in the eleventh.

All of a sudden I felt a lot better. I turned down the sound and put out the light. On the screen, Goody Petronelli, Hagler's trainer, radiated calm and ease as he talked to his fighter between rounds. Everything was going to be fine; Petronelli's every gesture said as much. His main task was to pour oil on the waters for one minute out of every four, to create a recurring pocket of serenity to which Hagler could retreat between hard-fought rounds for rest and reflection. Demonstrating a for-example combination he wanted Hagler to throw, Petronelli moved his own hands as if arranging flowers. Let's just fix a couple of little mechanical things, he was saying, and it's your fight. Doesn't matter how strong the other guy is. Doesn't matter what he's done before this or who he's done it to. We know how to beat him. We know how to beat everybody. Hagler wasn't exactly looking at his trainer and he didn't exactly nod, but he heard him.

I put my head down on the pillow and was dreamlessly asleep before either fighter struck a blow in the next round.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Some Observations About Last Night's Fights

I'll get the little stuff out of the way first: Samuel Peter grabbed a share of the heavyweight title by knocking out former champ Oleg Maskaev in the sixth round of an inept, but not dramaless, struggle between two ponderously slow, unimaginative heavyweights. If Peter has any chance of establishing himself as a fighter worthy of public interest, he should insist on fighting the other champ (I can't include Ruslan Chagaev as a champion anymore; he simply doesn't fight anyone) Wladimir Klitschko within the next few months. That'll settle the world championship question once and for all. That said, do you have any doubt that John Ruiz, who professionally and with no undue effort, decisioned Jameel McCline in a near shutout, would force Peter into an oxygen-deprived coma eight or nine rounds in, were they to fight?

David Haye, with a "Gee, Ma, thanks for the chemistry set!" physique, billboard smile, and already in-place campaign strategy, did exactly what was necessary to springboard himself into some huge paydays. Haye is a perfect media construct. I couldn't tell much about whether he can fight; his opponent Enzo Maccarinelli so clearly can't that it was hard draw an educated guess. The big thing is that Haye can punch and will approach the big guys fearlessly. Showtime should find some recognizable heavyweights that they're sure David can beat and keep his face front and center while lobbying on his behalf for a heavyweight title shot (something he can't possibly win.)

In the evening's most interesting development, Juan Diaz got beat. More than beat. He got beat up. And he got beat up so thoroughly and so professionally by the totally well-rounded Nate Campbell that it puts him in a position where he needs to take stock of himself. This is exactly the kind of going over that forces a real fighter to evaluate his own talent, his own performance, and his own prospects, and then to figure out how he can correct the mistakes that made him lose. It's possible that Juan Diaz will never be able to beat Nate Campbell. But, in order to achieve what I'm sure is his goal of being a legitimately good fighter, nothing will do but that he come back to avenge his first pro loss. He needs better corner people, for starters. Although his corner can't be blamed for his loss (nothing he could have done last night would have bailed him out), sending Juan back out to do the same thing that was getting him shredded to ribbons while having the shit kicked out of him wasn't exactly yeoman service. Fire the bunch of them. But don't use them as excuses for the loss. Diaz, not surprisingly, showed not one trace of mutt during a fight that, realistically, should have been stopped by someone ten rounds in. If he's ever to develop into a genuinely good fighter, Juan Diaz has to be far less monochromatic. There was no Plan B option in place last night. That alone should be a big lesson to him.

Finally, a word on Nate Campbell. I’ve now seen him violently upend two undefeated prospects. The first, Almazbek Raiymkulov, took an even worse beating than Juan Diaz did last night. Campbell does some truly masterful work. He should be credited (at age 36!) for outworking one of the hardest workers in the business in Diaz. That’s a feat in itself. But more impressive still is the impassive economy of his working system. He uses his shoulders better than anybody currently boxing. Employed as forceful herding devices, he maneuvers his opponents into the exact position he wants them, then rocks back slightly and wings in pinpoint little hooks and uppercuts. He needs almost no space in which to work. This is Old-school stuff executed at its highest level. Nate’s been around a long time and really knows how to fight. He’s earned his paydays the hard way. I hope he’s able to really capitalize on his fine win over Juan Diaz.