Saturday, December 31, 2005

Mormeck-Bell: The battle for cruiserweight supremacy

When WBC/WBA cruiserweight titlist, France’s Jean Marc Mormeck, engages IBF belt holder, O’Neil Bell, the winner will emerge as the first undisputed champion in that class since Evander Holyfield. The winner will also become the first such champion since the sanctioning bodies moved the weight limit from 190 to 200 pounds.

The usually moribund weight class has had few bright spots since Marvin Camel and Mate Parlov inaugurated the division in 1979. Despite the obvious need for a division between light heavyweight and heavyweight, the cruiserweights are regularly derided as either fat light-heavyweights or tiny heavyweights. Former champions such as Carlos DeLeon, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Vassily Jirov, James Toney (ever so briefly), and of course the shining star of the division, Holyfield, have been joined by dozens of transient belt holders, many of whom are not famous even in their hometowns.

Mormeck is quietly reenergizing the cruisers and building a name for himself along the way. Dual victories over perennial title-holder Virgil Hill and a climactic unification win over Wayne Braithwaite have established him as a solid campaigner. Only two losses very early in his career scar an otherwise impressive slate.

Bell has also had his moments. Stoppage wins over Kelvin Davis and Derrick Harmon added credence to his reputation as a big hitter. Unfortunately, his decision win to capture the IBF belt was far less than stellar. Canada’s Dale Brown clearly outworked and outboxed Bell only to witness the worst title-fight decision of 2005 when Bell was announced as the unanimous winner. The scores were so widely at variance with what happened in the fight that even the Bell-friendly crowd was stunned.

That bout was followed by a defense against Sebastian Rothmann, in a fight that also appeared to have Bell slipping behind. This time, however, Bell beat Rothmann to the canvas for a clean knockout victory.

Both bouts also provide Mormeck with the roadmap to follow in their unification match. Mormeck has much better skills than either Brown (a fighter he has already stopped) or Rothmann, and the chin to withstand the considerable power of Bell. Mormeck’s all-round talent will offset the one-dimensional, knockout hunt that Bell brings to every fight. Unquestionably, Bell has the power to level anyone in the division and Mormeck will have to handle this case with care. He will. Look for Mormeck to confuse and frustrate Bell down the stretch.

Mormeck wins by decision.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ruiz-Valuev: A titlist in the wilderness comes upon a giant

The fight between on-again-off-again WBA heavyweight titlist John Ruiz and Russian Nicolay Valuev was considered a non-US televised sideshow. It was, that is, until a knee injury suffered by Vitali Klitschko canceled his scheduled Nov. 13 WBC title defense against Hasim Rahman, and eventually led to his retirement.

Kltischko’s retirement, however, casts a new light on the Ruiz-Valuev fight, which is set for Dec. 17 in Berlin. Ruiz, you see, is now not only one of the four belt-wearers known by at least some of the public, he is promoted by Don King – the promoter of all of the other belt wearers.

That of course means that should he prevail against the towering Valuev, he will almost undoubtedly cash in as a participant in an eventual title unification series.

The imposing figure of the 7-foot, 320-pound Valuev presents a seemingly mountainous obstacle to riches that Ruiz was ready to give up on just months ago, when he lost to James Toney. The fight was of course later ruled a no-contest due to the discovery of steroids in Toney’s blood, and presto, Ruiz was given back his title without a fight. His original talk of retirement was immediately rescinded.

Ruiz will enter the ring in Berlin as a decided outsider. Despite Valuev’s Russian citizenship, his last 10 fights have been in Germany and his manager is the German Wilfried Sauerland.

Ruiz is hardly on a hot streak. He lost his only fight of 2005 to Toney. The self-nicknamed “Quietman” was out-speeded and out-slugged by the former middleweight and cruiserweight champion.

In the Toney bout, Ruiz abandoned his infamous stab-and-grab style and threw punches with more bad intentions than in many of his other recent fights. In the end, whether it was skills supplemented by steroids or not – the debate is endless – Ruiz simply could not match the talent level of Toney.

Before that fight Ruiz engaged walking enigma Andrew Golota, and it was an ugly sight. Not just for the fans, but for Ruiz. He was decked twice and had a point deducted, yet managed to capture a controversial (to say the least) decision over the Pole. No one was pleased except Ruiz.
Of course many boxing insiders jump right from that series of less-than-stellar performances to his loss to Roy Jones Jr. Such is the animus against his painful-to-watch, clutch-and-mauling approach, that many are quick to overlook a substantial win over new WBC titlist Rahman.

Add in a real knockout over Fres Oquendo – in a fight that was incredibly dreadful until the moment of the knockout – and it is clear that painting Ruiz as an incompetent is not only unfair it is plainly inaccurate.

However, the Chelsea, Massachusetts, native’s career has been full of ups and downs. There’s a 19-second knockout loss to David Tua; a win, a loss and a draw against Evander Holyfield; a knockout of a depleted Tony Tucker; and losses to Sergei Kobozev and Danell Nicholson.
Despite the mix of results, Ruiz (41-5-1, 1 NC) remains an experienced battler who usually finds a way to win.

Finding a way to win is something none of Nicolay Valuev’s opponents have found a way to do. Only his record exceeds his mammoth height and reach. At 42-0 and 1 NC (31 KOs) one would expect the world to be standing still as he rumbles past.

Of course the details are necessary when evaluating his relative stature in the division and that’s where he runs into problems.

The 32-year-old built his record largely in Europe and Asia (with two fights in the U.S) against a group of opponents that could charitably be labeled as modest in ability.

His most recent win, a 12-round majority decision over the 38-year-old American Larry Donald in Germany, is by far his most important victory to date.

However, Donald, and many others in attendance, would differ sharply as to calling it a win. Indeed, a review of the highlights provided on, by Valuev’s promoter, presents a picture that is less than favorable to the big man.

What the tape shows is a man who is fairly skilled, though slow. He’s also extremely easy to hit as Donald, who is an inch taller than the 6-foot-2 Ruiz, demonstrated repeatedly. Most of Valuev’s punches are thrown from the shoulder and rarely does he get his weight behind his shots. Perhaps Valuev poked enough with his long punches to win, but it was not impressive.

His other notable victories include knockouts of former fringe contender Cliff Etienne, Attila Levin, and current EBU titlist Paolo Vidoz. Nothing in any of the victories gave particular insight into his ability at the highest level, but in each case he won handily.

Other than his 10-inch height advantage and the likelihood that he will enter the ring almost 100 pounds heavier than Ruiz, Valuev will enjoy a hometown crowd that is free of criticism of anything he may do against Ruiz. If Valuev looked somewhat dispirited at the end of the Donald bout, he almost undoubtedly has revised the history of that fight and will enter the ring against Ruiz with the confidence of an undefeated boxer.

Ruiz will have the confidence that comes from experience against top competition and perhaps the contempt he held for Valuev’s fellow European (and formerly Germany-based) contemporary Klitschko.

As Ruiz indicated in a recent rambling statement denigrating the then-soon-to-be retired Klitschko, it comes down to character.

“He doesn’t have the heart and soul of a world champ,” said Ruiz of Klitschko. “It’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s inside that counts.”

Against Valuev that test may be applied to him.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Harrison-Williams Prediction

A fairly significant heavyweight contest occurs today in England between former Olympic gold medallist Audley Harrison and one-time Mike Tyson conqueror Danny Williams. The two giant Brits will not engage each other for any titles but bragging rights are clearly on the line. Harrison is undefeated and some would suggest untested. Williams followed his defeat of Tyson with a stoppage loss to Vitali Klitshko. He subsequently won a minor contest and this will be only his second bout in the last year. Look for the quicker, more skilled Harrison to chop-up the charging Williams. His southpaw-based right jab is as accurate as any in the division today. Expect Harrison to stop Williams by round 9.

Wright-Soliman Prediction

Winky Wright’s bout tonight with Sam Soliman, ostensibly setting up a near-term contest with middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, is testimony to what is wrong with boxing. Soliman is a tough and ready top 15-type fighter who is somehow rated number 1 by the IBF. He is in fact nowhere close to the caliber of Winky. Indeed, he has never beaten a consensus top-rated fighter. Winky will zoom past Soliman to a shutout 12-round decision.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ikeke vs. Abraham: The middleweight title fight you didn’t know about

In recent months we have turned the microscope on the strange activities of the world sanctioning bodies. This is no investigation that relies on anonymous sources or interviews with disgruntled ex-employees. One needs only to examine the public actions of almost any of the organizations. View their websites. Read their rules. Then compare what they say and what they do. We don’t need to eavesdrop or conduct late-night operations to see the peculiarity of their doings.

For other oddities on the workings of sanctioning bodies of late see the following articles: WBC makes Toney mandatory in bizarre ruling and An insult to my intelligence.

In the piece below we take a look at the upcoming IBF middleweight world title bout between Arthur Abraham and Kingsley Ikeke. You read that right, a “world” title fight. You know without a doubt that Jermain Taylor is the undisputed king of the middleweights. His two title fights with Bernard Hopkins settled the issue.

How then, can the IBF see any fight that doesn’t include Taylor as being for a world championship?

Everyone in the boxing world was well aware that Saturday night the undisputed middleweight championship of the world was on the line as Taylor and Hopkins engaged in close quarters combat in Las Vegas. Right? Wrong.

No, it seems there is a dispute as to who the “world champion” is.

The International Boxing Federation, for reasons known only to the chieftains of that squeaky clean sanctioning body, have deemed that this Saturday in Leipzig, Germany, Abraham and Ikeke will vie for the New Jersey-based sanctioning organization’s vacant title.

Let’s leave to the side for a moment that a group of men and women could somehow conclude that by facing Hopkins, Taylor was fighting someone who was of lesser qualification than either Abraham or Ikeke – we’ll come back to that later.

Focus for now on the relative worthiness of Abraham and Ikeke to be in a title contest. The starting point of the evaluation is the IBF’s ratings.

First, neither fighter is rated number one in the organization. Sam Soliman is number one, Ikeke’s number two and Abraham is number four. Number three, and excluded from the title picture, is none other than Winky Wright, a recent winner over Felix Trinidad and a two-time conqueror of Shane Mosley.

So what have Soliman and Wright done to find themselves on the outside? They had the temerity to sign to fight each other on December 10th. That’s right, the number one and the number three contenders are not qualified to fight for the belt. Neither fighter is squawking because they’re fully aware that the big cash will come by fighting Taylor.

Wright is number one in the latest WBC and WBA ratings. Soliman is number four in the WBC ratings, and unrated by the WBA (in the top 15 of the organization’s published ratings). A win over Wright – though highly unlikely – would almost undoubtedly lead to a bout with Taylor.

Of course there is not much squawking from the Hopkins camp either. He, as an officer of Golden Boy Promotions, is happy to see one of his charges, Ikeke, fighting for any kind of belt. You see, the Nigerian, 23-1 (13 KOs), recently signed with the company.

Abraham, an Armenian living in Germany, has amassed a respectable record of 18-0 (16 KOs). His decision win over Howard Eastman, a consensus top-10 fighter, is his only noteworthy victory.

In any case, however significant his win over Eastman, it is not at all clear how the IBF could have decided that he is better than Hopkins. It should be noted that Hopkins’ first title, and the only belt he defended all 20 times, was the IBF’s. Included in that list of victims was Eastman.

(Hopkins is number two in the latest WBA and WBC ratings behind Wright, and number two in the WBO ratings behind, gulp, Felix Sturm.)

Even more astounding is the fact that Hopkins is not rated anywhere in the organization’s top 15 (though you will find such stalwarts as Evans Ashira, a recent loser to a one-handed Joe Calzaghe, for the WBO super-middleweight belt).

For his part, Ikeke gained his spot with a recent victory over Antwun Echols. You may remember Echols from his title shot against Hopkins in which he was stopped in 10 rounds.

Of course while Wright’s bona fides are above reproach, it is useful to look at the Australian Soliman’s record to find out just how he squirmed ahead of not only Wright, but also Hopkins and everyone else on the planet.

He gained a victory in an eliminator over Raymond Joval. It has to be noted that Joval has never defeated a consensus top-10 fighter. In fact, his primary claim to fame is winning a couple of rounds against Fernando Vargas, while losing a clear-cut decision.

Soliman, Wright, Ikeke and Abraham are solid contenders (Wright of course is a proven world champion). But, only Wright has fought the best available fighters and proven himself worthy of mention in the same breath as Hopkins and Taylor.

The trouble in the ratings – as we discussed in the article about the WBC’s leapfrogging of James Toney into a “mandatory” slot – is that the organizations are exponentially widening their credibility gap – if they ever had any.

Before anyone says that it does not matter, we should all consider that the sanctioning bodies are reaping huge windfalls of money from their various title fight and eliminator fees (a subject that we will take up in the near future). This is a consumer issue, and is undoubtedly detrimental to the general health of the sport.

Taylor ekes out decision win over Hopkins

LAS VEGAS --- Jermain Taylor, 24-0 (17 KOs) Little Rock, 159, won a razor-thin 12 round decision over Bernard Hopkins, 46-3-1 (32 KOs), Philadelphia, 160 in Las Vegas Saturday night, to retain the undisputed middleweight championship of the world.

In a bout that had drama leading up to the opening bell, there was little to cheer about as the pair of counter-punchers rarely engaged in spirited exchanges and left no one with the belief that one man was the dominant figure.

Just as in the first meeting between the two, the first part of the fight belonged to Taylor despite a clear intent by Hopkins to press the action.

Taylor swept the first 4 rounds working behind a much more effective jab than was in evidence in July.

Unlike the first fight, however, Hopkins captured round 5 – indicating a much earlier start than the first go-round. Taylor squeaked past Hopkins again in round six.

Rounds 7 through 10 saw an invigorated and cagey Hopkins making the champion miss and effectively countering, though rarely with combinations.

The key round in the fight for the judges was round 11. Taylor took the round on all cards, scoring solid combinations and appearing to stun the ex-champion.

Round 12 was all Hopkins as Taylor appeared spent and intent on lasting the round. Hopkins was able to throw and land enough single punches to make Taylor repeatedly clinch without returning fire.

Scoring at ringside: Chuck Giampa, 115-113; Patricia Jarmon 115-113; and Dave Moretti 115-113 all for Taylor. JEBoxing scored the match 114-114.

Hopkins, the 40 year-old grandmaster of the sport, entered the ring fully vested in the belief that this bout did not represent redemption so much as rectification. He clearly thought, and will forever believe, that he won in July.

Such is the way for a long-term champion – a champion who labored through 20 successful title defenses, multiple management problems, and a cast of promoters. He seemed to hold to a view that anything short of a devastating knockout was insufficient grounds to remove his crown.

Despite his unparalleled training ethic and a body, even the four-decade old version, that appeared impervious to the ravages of time, it was clear – to some at least – that the other grandmaster, Father Time, was starting to pull ahead.

Hopkins and a great many boxing observers were reluctant to admit what will likely appear in retrospect as obvious. Letting go of a legendary fighter’s status is tough to do.

At the truly elite level of boxing, perhaps more so than in any other major sport, the slightest slippage in skills, reflex, execution or speed is the difference between champions and former champions. Even the tremendous advantage of experience begins fade.

Taylor, it appeared on the night of their meeting in July, lacked only the experience of a multi-defense champion. His physical powers – speed, combination punching, chin etc… combined to overcome the ever so slightly diminished Hopkins. It was the disparity that explains why 40 year-old men so rarely hold boxing championships.

On this December night, Hopkins may have slipped but he certainly retained his competitiveness throughout.

Young Jermain Taylor is now a champion who may move out from the shadow of the great ex-champion but still must prove himself as worthy a champion – a champion for the ages like Bernard Hopkins.


Israel Vasquez, 38-3 (27 KOs), Mexico, 121, stopped Oscar Larios, 56-3-1 (36 KOs), Mexico, 120 ½, due to a massive cut in the third round to add the WBC 122 pound title to his IBF belt. Vasquez knocked down Larios early in the first round but the rangy Larios recovered quickly. In round two, Larios boxed and moved perhaps edging out Vasquez to win the round. Round three was more of the same until a right hand by Vasquez ripped a gash above the left eye of Larios. Referee Tony Weeks, acting on the advice of a ringside physician elected to the stop the bout immediately. The end came at 2:52 of the round.


Ike Quartey, 36-2-1 (30 KOs), Ghana, 155, scored a 10th round stoppage over willing Carlos Bojorquez, 25-7-6 (21 KOs), Mira Loma, Calif., 157, in a featured undercard bout.

In this, his third fight this year that followed a more than four-year layoff Quartey figured to use this fighting as a conditioning venture and it served the purpose well.

Each round resembling the one before it with Quartey peppering Bojorquez as if hitting the heavy bag. Although Quartey allowed himself to be pushed to the ropes on occasion, at no time did it appear Bojorquez was in the fight. Indeed he appeared at times to be punching as if underwater.

In round ten, referee Joe Cortez saw enough at 2:12, stopping the bout following repetitive sharp punches from the former welterweight champion to the head and body of Bojorquez.

JEBoxing had the bout scored 90-81 through nine rounds.

The comebacking Quartey scored a significant win in June over former belt holder, and highly ranked, Verno Phillips.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Audley Harrison: The complete package or completely packaged?

In the current crop of heavyweights there are four semi-recognized belt holders, and a series of worthy and not-so-worthy mandatory contenders, but in almost every quarter one name is conspicuously absent from mention for true contention: Britain's Audley Harrison.

Harrison, set to take on onetime Mike Tyson conqueror, Danny Williams in London on December 10th, is rarely mentioned as a future titlist and is on no one’s shortlist to challenge for a belt despite his unbeaten record and an Olympic gold medal in the 2000 games. He has regularly been savaged by the British press and boxing fans for the conduct of his career – the issue which is likely the central factor resulting in being largely ignored, particularly by the American sporting public.

The 6’5½” southpaw has admittedly fought infrequently for a fighter rising to contender status. His 19 fights have spanned the four years since his 2001 professional debut. Harrison is currently on the fringes of contention by the alphabet organizations: WBC #14; WBO #14; IBF #13 and he is inexplicably unrated in the top 15 of the WBA. (Harrison remains at # 8 in the monthly Grant Top 25 Heavyweights based largely on his potential).

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Hopkins - Taylor II Prediction

In the first fight Bernard Hopkins drew on all his considerable talent and mental toughness and did the best he could with what he had. But something was clear for the first time – Bernard was and is a fighter in decline, however slight. Yes, he can meet and beat almost every top middleweight in the world even now. And yes, his level of conditioning is light years better than most 25 year old men anywhere on earth. Unfortunately, at the most elite level of boxing even a slight loss of a fighter's physical powers is enough to result in him being pushed out of the championship. Jermain Taylor has perhaps the best vision of where this fight will go. He knows what Bernard has left and he knows he can handle it. Further, despite the fact that Bernard is a physical dynamo by any measure, in Jermain Taylor he is meeting another special athlete and one who is in his physical prime. Moreover, Taylor undoubtedly is continuing to improve his game and it is highly likely he learned a great deal from the old master the last time out. Don't look for Bernard to be overwhelmed by anyone, however, even if he continues to do battle into his 50's. Taylor will be better, stronger, faster, and way more confident. Hopkins will be cagey, strong, well-conditioned, and mentally tough – but it won't be enough this time. Taylor by a much clearer 12 round decision.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Top 25 Heavyweights (As of December 1, 2005)

As of December 1, 2005 -- See the complete list

The sudden departure from the scene by Vitali Klitschko has just as suddenly generated interest in a unification series – at least that’s the talk of Don King, the man who holds promotional rights for all four of the current titlists. That applecart can be upset soon, however, as WBA belt holder John Ruiz meets “The Beast from the East” Nicolay Valuev in December. Additional talk of Chris Byrd trying to fly the coup could also mean trouble for DK.

However, don’t bet on outcomes that will derail a Don-only tournament. Ruiz will likely be favored against Valuev despite the big man’s 42-0 record. When the big men rumble in Berlin in December anything can happen.

As for Byrd, don’t count on seeing King losing in any court action. He is the heavyweight champion of the courtroom. Also don’t plan on ever seeing Byrd take on his number one challenger, Wladimir Klitschko. Byrd, who recently came oh-so-close to accusing Wladimir of being on steroids going into their 2000 bout, has been grasping for years to explain that loss. It is at least possible that he lost because he is not as good a boxer, he’s not as fast, he can’t punch as hard, he’s smaller etc… Maybe, just maybe, he’s just not as good. Despite all of that, Byrd is still a top fighter and not many contenders can find a way to beat him.

Hasim Rahman has shown no reluctance to meet fighters who present a threat to his well being. He may be a long-term project for Klitschko, however, because talk is shifting to a James Toney defense. Don’t be surprised to see Klitschko agree to a fight with winner with the stipulation that he enters a King tournament and a defense or two.

Of course Toney should not be able to jump over Klitschko (or Oleg Maskaev the ostensible number one WBC contender with his recent win over the then-number 1 Sinan Samil Sam) but don’t try to get there through any kind of logic. Read more on this debacle at WBC makes Toney mandatory in bizarre ruling.

Not talked about enough is Lamon Brewster. Brewster has a personality and style that excites all who witness it. His last fight, a successful defense against Luan Krasniqi, was not televised in the U.S. If this type of situation persists it dooms the division’s marketability in the states. Brewster deserves better.
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