Friday, March 31, 2006

Young heavyweight Kevin Johnson makes successful TV debut

By JE Grant

UNCASVILLE, CONN. --- Young heavyweight Kevin Johnson, 9-0-1 (5 KOs), Asbury Park, N.J., 237 ½, won his first televised bout with a near shutout 8-round decision over old warhorse Robert Hawkins, 21-6 (7 KOs), Philadelphia, 260 ¼, on the Montell Griffin – Norman Jones undercard.

Johnson, boasting that he possesses the best jab in the heavyweight division, relied almost exclusively on that punch throughout the contest. Clearly Hawkins, who came into the bout the heaviest of his career, was nearly stationary and hard to miss.

Hawkins trudged forward and attacked with slow, pushing punches that occasionally found the mark. Johnson move away often, choosing to shoot jab after jab and showing very little other offense.

While the 6’5” Johnson showed some hand speed his almost total reliance on the jab will not dazzle the top heavyweights. His occasional right hands were thrown awkwardly and some missed wildly. Combinations were almost non-existent.

In fairness, Hawkins, 36, did not bring enough offense to force Johnson, 26, to exhibit a world-class arsenal.

Time is on Johnson’s side given the collective ages of the top fighters of the division. He is likely two-three years away from cracking the upper echelons of the division.

Scoring of the bout was 80-72, 80-72, and 79-73. JEBoxing had the bout 80-72.

WBC mandates another shot for James Toney: What’s it really all about?

By JE Grant

The WBC has once again declared that James Toney somehow deserves a mandatory shot at the organization’s heavyweight title.

In a press release posted on the WBC website, the organization “decided by majority voting, to confirm Oleg Maskaev as the official WBC challenger to fight next against world WBC heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman.”

Never mind that Maskaev had to wait for his chance while sitting as the number one contender only to watch the then-number five contender Toney become the mandatory challenger.

For his part, Toney showed up grossly out of shape in his meeting with Rahman and salvaged a draw as the result of an Atlantic City decision.

Perhaps more significantly, the organization’s action essentially precludes the possibility of a unification series for the rest of this year.

Even the bosses at the WBC have figured out that a unified champion can tell any one or even a combination of the organizations to go jump in a lake for a specific defense and that means no money for the home office. Further, a unified champion who resists long enough to be stripped of the title will still be considered the real champion – Antonio Tarver comes to mind – and he siphons off the big money while the new paper champions pull in smaller paydays thus smaller sanctioning fees will go into the coffers of the sanctioning body.

Consider the following fees for heavyweight contests according to the WBC’s rules posted on their website: (click here to see rules for yourself)

Promoter: “In Heavyweight championship bouts and bouts of any other division with a combined purse of US $1.5 million dollars and over:........…US$ 25,000.” Also “the promoter must have paid his annual registration fee, which is $7,000.00, in order to promote a WBC sanctioned bout.” Promoters get a $2,000 discount if they pay before March 31st. What a bargain, huh?

Here is where it gets really interesting. The boxer’s fee is where the real cash resides.

Fighters: “Boxers’ Bout Fee. Three percent (3.0%) of all gross amounts received by the boxers as compensation for a bout, as stated in the Bout Agreement and any other agreement, including but not limited to compensation derived from Pay-Per-View, Cable or satellite transmission, Television Broadcast, or Internet distribution, including amounts calculated and paid following the Bout. This includes all sums of money paid from all national or international sources.”

But we’re not finished with fees (although it isn’t clear who pays). There’s $2,000 for a belt if a new champion is crowned; $1500 for insurance; referee fees ranging from $1600 to $8150 depending on the size of the total purse; judges fees ranging from $1300 to $5150 depending on the size of the total purse; and $500 for WBC representative incidentals.

Want more? Consider this weird one. If a fighter contests for a non-WBC title in a higher or lower weight class there is still a WBC fee:

“In the event that a WBC champion fights for another organization’s title in a higher weight class, or in a lower weight class in a bout in which his WBC title is not also at stake, the champion must pay to the WBC 50% (fifty percent) of the WBC sanction fee, as stated herein, in view of the market value brought to the bout as a result of his standing attained as a WBC champion.”

That’s right, a fee for doing absolutely nothing. (Now you know why Floyd Mayweather so casually dumped his WBC super-lightweight belt as he prepares to try for the IBF welterweight title. I guess he didn’t know that the WBC increased his “market value”).

Of course that is almost all the fighters, managers, trainers, and even promoters get for the grand privilege of fighting for a WBC sanctioned “world” title bout.

So what does that translate to if two major league heavyweights bring in some pay-per-view kind of money?

Lets add it up.

* If a heavyweight titlist, is paid 10,000,000 gross his fee is a whopping $300,000. Let’s assume his challenger is paid half that amount, 5,000,000. His fee is $150,000.

* The promoter kicks in $25,000 more.

* If the challenger wins there is the belt fee, $2,000.

* Of course if the promoter has not already done so, his “registration” fee for the right to promote a WBC contest is at least $5,000 depending on the time of year.

*It’s a big gross so we’ll pay the referee $8150 and each of three judges $5150 (totaling 15,450).

* Life insurance for each fighter, $1500 (totaling $3000).

* And, then there’s that WBC representative’s fee for incidentals of $500.

In my rough math, that equals $509,100 for what really amounts to a really tacky belt.

So does the WBC really want a fighter lesser known that James Toney to be the opponent for Rahman? What would be the motivating factor? I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Top 25 Heavyweights (As of April, 2006)

By JE Grant

Most meaningful parts of the list below will change dramatically by the end of this month. Byrd meets Klitschko; Brewster faces Lyakhovich; plus Peter, Harrison, Skelton, and Krasniqi are all busy.

It’s clear that 2006 will not bring us a definitive and unified world champion in the heavyweight division. However, this division is not nearly as dreadful as it is being portrayed. There are youngsters on the way who show promise and the veterans at the top are active --- though this four-way split of belts is troublesome. Some of the bloggers of the world wonder why we should care so much about the heavyweight division given the highly talented champions in the lower weight classes. The plain fact is that with a heavyweight champion who is widely popular the entire sport is taken to a higher level. Titlists in all the weight classes benefit by the increased visibility of the sport.

The title split dilutes the possiblity of one man emerging as the obvious focal point. I list Rahman as number 1 but it could easily be Brewster, Klitschko or Byrd who belong there. There is only one way to know and that is through head-to-head competition. Some of that will be settled in April.

One thing to keep in mind, the four titlists are not necessarily the four best fighters in the division. Nicolay Valuev, though better than many of his critics will admit, is not one of the four best fighters in the division.

Also keep in mind that the sanctioning bodies have little interest in unifications. If a titlist wants to keep his single belt he must pay big in the form of sanctioning fees. A unified champion can afford to jettison one or more of his belts and still be seen as the true champion. That causes a couple of things to happen: 1. The sanctioning body has to vacate the title, which often delays getting fed from sanctioning fees, and 2. The new, usually lesser known, titlist has a lesser number of dollars to share with the sanctioning body because the really big cash is going to the man everyone else is calling “champ.” Case in point: Jermain Taylor. No one outside the IBF ratings committee (and a few Arthur Abraham fans in Germany) recognize anyone but Taylor as the world middleweight champion. Abraham is widely seen for what he really is – a good, solid contender, but not a champion.

* * *

1. Hasim Rahman, USA– WBC Champion (Last Month #1) Okay fight fans you can end the email stream of the “Toney will destroy Rahman” variety. The Rock won every facet of their meeting only to have it end in a goofy Atlantic City draw (not especially surprising). Rahman was far too much for Toney to handle – that’s clear – but his weaknesses were just as clear for all to see. Toney bounced counter rights off Rahman’s chin. Fortunately Toney can’t crack an egg at heavyweight. The “Rock” was also vulnerable to followup left-hooks, but Toney could usually throw only one punch at a time. You can bet the rest of the division was watching. Rahman better make a gazillion dollars his next time out – it may be his last big payday. So why is he number one? His seven fights since fatting his way through a loss to John Ruiz and a controversial draw with David Tua, have included wins over two ranked fighters and the dubious draw with Toney – a fighter widely lauded as the king-in-waiting. A fit and hard Rahman is going to be tough for anyone to take out.

2. Lamon Brewster, USA– WBO Champion (Last month #2) A win against Lyakhovich will allow him to participate in some semblence of a unification. A loss puts him in the back of the line for a while.

3. Wladimir Klitschko, Ukraine (Last month #3) If ever there was a crossroads fight, his title shot at Byrd is it. A loss almost undoubtedly would mean that he will join his brother in retirement. A win means he will have pay-per-view dollars (or Euros) floating his way in the tens of millions. He destroyed Byrd in their first meeting but that was a long time ago. At his best, this would not be a high hurdle. Who knows if he’ll show up with all the confidence necessary to capture victory. You can bet that Byrd won’t be the least bit affected by the location, the name, or the hype. Time to answer the lingering questions Wlad.

4. Chris Byrd, USA– IBF Champion (Last month #5) April is THE big month for Byrd. A win against Klitschko – against the odds I suspect – means he will finally realize some tremendous paydays as some of the other titlists seek to unify the division. He is a man who has defied the odds before.

5. Calvin Brock, USA (Last month #6) He returns in June against tough Timor Ibragimov. Okay Calvin, now you’re talking. My suspicion is that Brock has the goods. This fight can prove it.

6. Samuel Peter, Nigeria (Last month #7) If you want to know how big a chance Wladimir Klitschko took by fighting Peter just look at how all the other so-called elite of the division are doing everything they can to avoid the big hitter. Peter faces journeyman 7-footer Julius “Towering Inferno” Long in April. Keeping active will prove his key to a second chance at a big name.

7. James Toney, USA (Last month #4) I’ll say it: James Toney is done being a significant force in the heavyweight division. We’ve passed the mirage. Some will whine that he should not drop in the rankings after scoring a draw with the number one man. Unfortunately for them I actually saw the fight. Although he was once more skilled than guys like Rahman, it seems size really does matter. Toney landed right hands with all his might but when he hit a true, in-shape big man he had zero effect --- and Rahman does not have the best chin in the division. Toney will continue and he will win some lesser fights. He’ll even get another title shot. He will not, however, gain a belt in the division. No one should forget that as a heavyweight he is now 3-0-1 with 1 no-contest (following a positive steroid test) and not a single win against a top ten heavyweight. Also worth noting is that his only stoppage win came over the 40-something Evander Holyfield.

8. Danny Williams, England (Last month #8) Not sure why, but he has apparently signed to have another go at Matt Skelton. What does he have to prove with such a match? Maybe the money is big. In any case he has to be on at least one of the belt holders’ shortlist.

9. Nicolay Valuev, Russia – WBA Champion (Last month #9) He’s likely to defend his portion of the alphabet title in June in Germany. He has more talent than the American pundits might believe. American television outlets will pickup on the clear drawing power of this giant someday if he can hold onto the belt for a while. That is a big question mark.

10. John Ruiz, USA (Last month #10) He’s waiting for what he hopes is a decision by the WBA to order a rematch with Valuev. Don’t be surprised by just such an outcome. Ruiz has lost his title before, only to have it returned without a fight. If that can happen anything can.

11. Audley Harrison, England (Last month #12) I’m astonished by how many detractors this man attracts. A single loss and his anti-fans are ready to throw him under the bus. His upcoming April date with Dominick Guinn represents, if nothing else, his willingness to get right back in there with someone who can be competitive.

12. Sultan Ibragimov, Russia (Last month #13) With his cousin Timor striking gold with an upcoming match with highly ranked Calvin Brock, it can’t be too long before this more acclaimed slugger gets his chance at a name in the top ten.

13. Oleg Maskaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #14) The Big O is licking his chops. He saw those right hands connecting over and over on the chin of Rahman and he wants his shot. The WBC says that no WBC heavyweight title fight can occur without Maskaev in it. Don’t bet on it. He was the number one contender only to see the then- number five Toney leap-frog him for a “mandatory” shot. Don’t be surprised if an “emergency” meeting is convened and a Toney-Rahman rematch is ordered. Maskaev is way past his best days but unlike Toney he can hit with power and he sent Rahman into the first row in their first meeting before. The money and the easier fight for Rahman is Toney.

14. Shannon Briggs, USA (Last month #15) He stopped Dickie Ryan to capture a boatload of meaningless trinket belts. More importantly, he remains the busiest heavyweight contender on the scene. He’s due for an important fight.

15. Monte Barrett, USA (Last month #11) He’s beginning the slow descent in the ratings by being inactive since his decision loss to Hasim Rahman.

16. Ruslan Chagaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #19) Chagaev won a majority 12-round decision over the previously undefeated Vladimir Virchis. The win represents a significant jump in competition. His record to date includes a group largely made up of American journeymen. Now is the time for him to step up to a highly-ranked foe.

17. David Tua, New Zealand (Last month #16) He has apparently stalled in his latest comeback tour. He last fought in October and nothing is scheduled. What are you waiting for Tuaman?

18. DaVarryl Williamson, USA (Last month #17) He has nothing on the boards since signing with Don King. No one apparently knows what’s next for “Touch of Sleep.”

19. Ray Austin, USA (Last month #18) Ray you are squandering the chance at the big time you gave yourself by beating Owen Beck and getting a high rating (at least in the eyes of one of the sanctioning bodies). That win was six months ago. At 35 you can’t wait too much longer.

20. Serguei Lyakhovich, Belarus (Last month #20) By the time some of you read this you’ll know if he is suddenly a major player on the heavyweight world stage.

21. Matt Skelton, England (Last month #21) Returns to action in April against stay-busy opponent Armenian Suren Kalachyan and is already signed to face Williams in a July rematch. He has a lot on the line and is very fortunate to get Williams again so soon. Better not overlook Kalachyan.

22. Fres Oquendo, USA (Last month #22) Sure to be back in action soon after a recent win that followed a long layoff. He will get a big chance again. It’s just a matter of time.

23. Luan Krasniqi, Germany (Last month #23) Scheduled to take on American David Bostice in April. It looks like he’s going back to the club circuit in order to regain a major ranking. Did he not learn anything from his drubbing at the hands of Brewster? If you want to be the best, you have to fight the best.

24. Jameel McCline, USA (Last month #24) Three wins in the last five months since his embarrassing decision loss to Zuri Lawrence. He also has a bout scheduled against club circuit king Rob Calloway in April. It’s true that none of the opponents in this current campaign are remotely close to being rated fighters, but keeping a full schedule will ensure that the big man gets at least one more major payday.

25. Juan Carlos Gomez, Cuba (living in Germany) (Last month #25) He has apparently been released from his Universum contract – don’t know who wants to touch him right now.

Prospects, fringe contenders, and others who need mentioning listed in no particular order. Don’t read the fact that they are listed here as an indication a ranking is imminent:

Joe Mesi, USA – He will likely gain his 30th win, with no losses, on April Fool’s Day following a two-year enforced layoff. A brain injury is nothing to fool with but it is apparent that he understands the risks involved.

Chazz Witherspoon, USA – The youngster moved to 10-0 in March. If he really has the goods inside the ropes he will be world famous. Now is the time to be an American heavyweight with real talent.

Roman Greenburg, Israel – I don’t know if this guy can fight or not but he has moved to 22-0 (15 KOs) with a win over Alex Vassilev in March. He hasn’t beaten anyone you likely know so we’ll just have to keep an eye on the 23 year old for now.

Alexander Dimitrenko, Ukraine –He goes from fighting Vaughn Bean in a bout that represented an upgrade in opponent to an April date with 35 year old Fernely Feliz. Why the downturn? Does his management team have some doubts?

Jean Francois Bergeron, Canada – This guy is 23-0 against a slew of also-rans. He’s also 32 years old. Where has he been hiding? Who knows what he can do?

Timor Ibragimov, Uzbekistan – The cousin of the more accomplished Sultan, this undefeated fighter goes from fighting Kenny Craven in March to Calvin Brock in June. Talk about a major jump in competition. A win would give him a title shot on a platter. A loss means a quick return to anyonimty.

Tye Fields, USA – How can a giant (6’9”) battler with a 36-1 (33 KOs) record, riding a 19 fight win streak, be so invisible?

John Chapman, USA – This big (6’6”) 23 year old Arkansan moved to 21-0 (19 KOs) with a win on the Shannon Briggs undercard in March. He has yet to meet anyone you’ve ever seen in action.

Malik Scott, USA – Now 24-0, this 25 year-old is moving along. He doesn’t appear to be a big hitter. He has only one knockout in his last nine fights.

Gonzalo Omar Basile, Argentina – Another big man (6’6”) on a win streak (18 since a loss in his debut). If he ever leaves Argentina or at least faces someone known to the outside world we’ll find out if he can compete.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Etienne convicted, lengthy sentence expected

Former fringe heavyweight contender Cliff Etienne was convicted last week in a Louisiana court on charges stemming from a botched armed robbery. Now he faces up to 64 years in prison at sentencing.

Prior to his professional boxing career Etienne, 34, served 10 years in prison for other violent offenses.

He turned pro at the age of 26 in 1998. His seven-year career was highlighted with a victory over current WBO titlist Lamon Brewster, a draw with one-time IBF titlist Frans Botha, and a victory over then-prospect Lawrence Clay-Bey.

Of course he’ll likely be remembered for his one round blowout loss to Mike Tyson in 2003, in what may turn out to be “Iron Mike’s” last victory.

In May 2005, the Russian Nicolay Valuev stopped Etienne in three rounds. Etienne has not fought since.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Miranda earns a spot on the world stage, stops Eastman

By JE Grant

HOLLYWOOD, FLA. --- Colombian Edison Miranda, 26-0 (23 KOs), 159, scored by far the biggest win of his suddenly red hot career, by stopping veteran Howard Eastman, 40-4 (34 KOs), England, 159, in 7 rounds of a scheduled 12.

The power-hitting Miranda met his first world-class opponent in Eastman who figured to test his mettle over the long haul.

Eastman, never stopped in his previous 43 bouts, started very slowly, circling Miranda in the opening frame but throwing almost nothing. Miranda opened big, throwing hard shots but missing often.

In round two the action picked up slightly with the wily Eastman coming alive. Miranda continued to press and outworked the two-time title challenger.

Eastman began to land with authority on the charging Miranda in round three. As Miranda dropped his left, Eastman deftly placed right hands and, using his vast boxing experience, allowed his opponent to fall into traps making him pay with sharp counters.

Miranda again outworked Eastman in round four setting the stage for a near knockdown in round five. A stunning right hand over the top of Eastman’s pawing left jab buckled his knees and exposed him to several more hard shots.

As he slipped behind in the scoring, Eastman pulled out some tricks in round six with well placed right hands that made Miranda wobbly. A right at the end of the round came very close to dropping the Colombian as Eastman seemingly found his range and began to take charge of the contest.

It was not to be. Miranda, ever the confident hitter, chased Eastman throughout round seven landing hurting right hands and left hooks despite the fact that many of his punches did not land flush.

A punishing left hook drove Eastman to the corner and Miranda powered home a follow-up right hand. Miranda continued to press the attack and, although Eastman had his hands up and seemed fully aware of his surroundings, referee Brian Gary stepped in at 2:33 of the round to award the fight to Miranda.

It was clear that Eastman had been staggered but the bout was stopped earlier than one would have expected given that the fight was ostensibly a world title eliminator.

Nevertheless, Miranda proved himself strong and resourceful despite having a frustrating and cagey opponent in front of him. He also battled back well after clearly being hurt twice in the round prior to the stoppage.

JEBoxing had the bout 58-56 after six rounds for Miranda.

As the winner, Miranda is supposedly next in line to face belt-holder Arthur Abraham. Obviously the division’s true champion is Jermain Taylor, but Abraham is well regarded by most boxing observers and is justifiably a top five middleweight.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Brewster-Lyakhovich Preview: Another heavyweight title up for grabs

By JE Grant

When Lamon Brewster enters the ring on April Fool’s day he will assume the risk of looking the part of the fool against an unsung but talented Seguei Lyakhovich.

Starting with his improbable stoppage of one-time wunderkind Wladimir Klitschko in 2004, Brewster not only rejuvenated a seemingly stagnant career, he established firm credentials as the division’s most exciting fighter. He also showed a resilience rarely seen in the heavyweight division by both the other beltholders and would-be contenders alike.

Brewster, perhaps boxing’s most personable fighter wearing a title belt – it’s up to you if you want to call him “champion” – will once again take a chance against a big, strong eastern European.

Like his last challenger, German resident (via Kosovo) Luan Krasniqi, the opponent Lyakhovich is largely unknown in American boxing circles, but the people who do know him understand that he is no pushover for Brewster to feast upon.

In that fight (unfortunately not seen on television in the U.S.), Brewster followed the quick-fisted Krasniqi and was peppered with sharp punches falling far behind. His confidence and persistent attack allowed him to connect hard on Krasniqi, dropping him in round eight. Buoyed by the success, Brewster pounded on Krasniqi in the next round, forcing the former European titlist to quit.

Likewise, in a defense that many thought would result in Poland’s Andrew Golota finally being crowned with a world title, “Relentless” pounded the Pole to the canvas three times in the opening frame to score a stunning stoppage at only 52 seconds of the round.

Only in his first defense, a dreadful 12 round decision over unheralded and very limited Kali Meehan, did he fail to excite. He appeared vulnerable and at times confused. Nevertheless he fought hard to pull out a split decision to retain the belt.

Brewster will give up a couple of years, three inches in height, and about 10-15 pounds in weight to Lyakhovich which is about what he gave up to Klitschko.

Whatever physical advantages Lyakhovich may possess, he enters the ring with many question marks.

While Lyakhovich comes to the bout with a slate 22-1 (14 KOs), it is that one loss that is troubling. A 9th round stoppage to journeyman Maurice Harris in 2002 did little to inspire confidence in the then-prospect.

He claims to have learned plenty from that fight; a fight in which he was overconfident. Harris, long seen as a talented though uninspired heavyweight, removed the veneer of invincibility that Lyakhovich apparently wrapped himself in.

Since that loss, the big – 6’4”, 240 pound – battler has garnered six straight victories topped by a clear points win over the enigmatic one-time hot prospect Dominick Guinn.

Of course the only problem with that win is that it took place in December 2004. A series of injuries, cancelled bouts (including a proposed title bout with Chris Byrd), and stars falling out of alignment, resulted in no fights for almost 15 months.

Coupled with that, the subsequent lack-luster performances by Guinn (D10 Friday Ahunanya and L12 James Toney) makes one wonder about the true pedigree he brought into his bout with Lyakhovich.

Certainly it is true that Lyakhovich from Belarus but now residing in Arizona, is not someone who has hidden away fighting European also-rans by the bushel. All but his first three contests have been in the U.S. --- largely against American also-rans.

Does that, however, still help him understand the very American style that he will face against Brewster?

Brewster himself has had tremendous success in his tour of eastern European stylists. Does that give him the true advantage?

This bout will likely come down to grit.

Neither fighter boxes beautifully. Perhaps Lyakhovich has a slight edge in overall skills and can mount a respectable attack led by a jab.

Brewster, however, can land a booming left hook and when he does chins can crumble. Lyakhovich probably can withstand a fair amount of punishment.

Lyakhovich also has above average power but Brewster has proven he can fight through adversity and big hitters; Klitshcko hit him solidly throughout their meeting.

Still, beyond the stat sheet lies the intangibles. When faced with extreme adversity, Brewster came through big. Only Harris has tested Lyakhovich big and he did not measure up.

Did Lyakhovich learn his lesson? Can he adjust when he is crunched by a looping left?

My suspicion is that Brewster will lay such questions upon the chin of Lyakhovich early and often. The bigger man will be pounced upon by the tiger Brewster from the opening bell and will have to respond in kind or find himself overwhelmed.

He will indeed respond and likely hold his ground against the busy titlist. Where he will come up short is in his ability to sustain an attack necessary to slow Brewster and negate his big shots.

I won’t be surprised to see Lyakhovich make it a distance fight and win several rounds. He does have some talent and can put more than one punch at a time on an opponent as open as Brewster. No one really knows if he can keep it up for a long stretch. Look for him to fade as the bout wears on.

This could be a solid contest and it is good to see a challenger who has a real chance to win --- but he won’t do it on this night.

PREDICTION: Brewster by a relatively close 12 round decision.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Rahman rules over Toney but gains only a draw in AC

By JE Grant

ATLANTIC CITY --- Hasim Rahman, 41-5-2 (33 KOs), Baltimore, 238, clearly out worked and out punched perennial boxing master James Toney, 69-4-3, 1 NC (43 KOs), Los Angeles, 237, only to see the bout end in a controversial 12-round draw allowing him to retain one version of the heavyweight title.

From the opening bell, Rahman peppered the slow and lumbering Toney whether in the middle of the ring or along the ropes – his supposed domain.

Toney was able to land his sharp, countering right hand to the head of Rahman as the bigger man pressed forward but he never slowed the bigger and stronger titlist.

When not landing his jab, Rahman was satisfied with pounding through any opening Toney provided. Toney rolled and leaned away from Rahman negating some of the power of the big man but “Lights Out’s” vaunted counters were of the one-shot-at-a-time variety.

In no aspect of the fight did Toney dominate or even demonstrate an edge. His customary combinations were not in evidence.

Even by Atlantic City standards the scoring was strange to say the least. Tom Kaczmarek and Nobuaki Uratani scored the bout 114-114, while John Stewart had it 117-111 for Rahman.

JEBoxing scored the bout 117-111 for Rahman. HBO’s Harold Lederman scored it 116-112 for Rahman.

Without question a review of the scoring is in order.

Toney entered the ring Saturday a full 80 pounds more than he did when he knocked out Michael Nunn in 1991 to capture his first world crown. The 237-pound version of Toney was also 37 years old and exceeded in every way physically measurable against a real hitter in Rahman – height, wingspan, age, even weight.

Having achieved legendary status by going on to add super-middleweight and cruiserweight belts to his collection, Toney’s roller coaster career seemed at a pinnacle when he outfoxed John Ruiz to seemingly win a version of the heavyweight title.

Toney used all the acumen garnered in the 74 bouts that preceded his jump into the heavyweight ranks to overwhelm Ruiz. Unfortunately he also used steroids according to the New York State Athletic Commission and in a flash his title was stripped.

After a suspension he returned against formerly hot prospect Dominick Guinn last October, scoring a lopsided decision and vaulting himself back into contention.

At least in the eyes of the WBC that is.

The WBC somehow viewed the then-number five-ranked Toney as the next “mandatory” challenger to Rahman. You will recall that Rahman ascended to the throne with the retirement of titlist Vitali Klitschko.

Strangely, only one month after Toney beat Guinn, Oleg Maskaev, ranked number two, easily conquered the number one-ranked Sinan Samil Sam in a WBC eliminator --- ostensibly for the right to become that organization’s mandatory challenger.

While it is easy to deride the WBC for rating either Sam or Maskaev anywhere in the top ten, it is equally easy to see that even the organization itself does not take its rankings seriously.

Nonetheless, most boxing fans undoubtedly saw Toney as a more viable threat to the Rahman (and yes we’re all aware of Maskaev’s thorough whipping of Rahman in 1999 – the years have been kinder to Rahman’s body).

In fact, it was Rahman, the titlist, who entered the ring as the underdog.

Many cannot forget his flop against John Ruiz, his fat man draw with David Tua, or that he dropped a knot head technical decision to old man Evander Holyfield.

Indeed, his six-fight win streak has not included a host of major leaguers. Only Monte Barrett was deserving of a top ten rating. Kali Meehan was perhaps a fringe player. The others were clearly also-rans.

What was important, however, was that Rahman progressively improved his fitness and seemed to recover some of the natural skills that were occasionally in evidence earlier in his career.

The Sonny Liston-like left jab and the overall body strength that continues to have no equal helped him to impose his will over the hapless and the elite alike even when he was not at his best, as was the case against Barrett.

That jab appeared to give him a clear edge in Atlantic City. In this instance a strong titlist did what he needed to do against a crafty veteran.

Unfortunately the dubious decision represents one more black eye for boxing and for a heavyweight division, already derided for its muddled state.

Hasim Rahman can, however, hold his head high. He thoroughly beat a grizzled ex-champion --- and he should move on to the other belt holders.

James Toney’s day has come and is gone. He can win some more fights in the division, but his days as a force in the division are over.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Boxing Brief: Chagaev marches forward

By JE Grant

One heavyweight boxing clash that will go into the books with little fanfare in the U.S. is the Ruslan Chagaev – Vladimir Virchis match that took place in Hamburg, Germany March 11th.

Chagaev, 20-0-1 (16 KOs), took a majority 12-round decision from the previously undefeated Virchis, 20-1 (17 KOs). More importantly the 27 year-old Uzbeki native Chagaev took a significant step forward in his development.

Virchis, from Ukraine, brought size, 6’4”, 240-plus pounds, and a recent win against the capable journeyman, England’s Michael Sprott.

It will prove interesting to see if the 230-plus pound Chagaev will continue on the path of fighting increasingly capable boxing luminaries in the heavyweight division (if they exist) in the coming months. His record to date includes a group largely made up of American also-rans --- but a group who fight in the style that he will see on the elite level of the sport.

Most of us in the U.S. did not get a chance to see the bout (yet – the Internet offers at least the possibility of catching a glimpse at some later date). We suspect that soon enough we’ll see HBO or Showtime knocking on his door.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Calzaghe shuts out Lacy, A king is born

By JE Grant

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND --- In one sterling performance, Welshman Joe Calzaghe wiped away years of criticism and frustration by dominating virtually every minute of every round against Jeff Lacy to unify the super-middleweight world championship.

The bout, fought at 2:00 a.m. in the M.E.N. Arena, was to have been the defining fight that Calzaghe and Lacy sought – though both could have easily continued fighting WBO and IBF mandatories without ever crossing paths.

For Calzaghe, 41-0 (31 KOs), Wales, 168, finding definition was critical. He entered the boxing ring just shy of 34 years old, and with an avalanche of naysayers (this writer included) claiming that he had until this moment always found a way to avoid the big fights.

The younger, ostensibly stronger, Lacy, 21-1, 1 NC (17 KOs), St. Petersburg, Fla., 167, intended to use this fight as the cornerstone of what many (this writer included) thought would become a special career.

On this early English morning it was Calzaghe who solidified his stake, not only as the premiere super-middleweight but as a top pound-for-pound champion.

Early in round one Calzaghe set the tenor landing snapping straight right jabs from his southpaw stance; finding a home for strong left uppercuts; and consistently pulling “Left Hook” out of position.

Fighting from the outside Calzaghe landed with authority. Fighting from the inside, Calzaghe out-speeded and out fought the powerhouse Lacy.

Rounds 1 through 11 were almost Xerox copies. In every facet of the game, from boxing to power hitting, it was Calzaghe who came out on top of every encounter. He tied up Lacy when necessary – which was relatively rarely.

Importantly, Calzaghe never appeared to be simply the speedy boxer who avoided the puncher. He stood and fought at times of his choosing. He never ran.

On the contrary. Calzaghe pursued and threw the stronger and more telling blows in every round.

In round 12 Calzaghe elected to fight instead of trying to kill the clock. Showing a determination to end the fight if possible, he continued to rumble. He scored a knockdown that did not appear to be from a punch, nevertheless it had no effect on the outcome.

It was purely a Calzaghe fight. Period.

Lacy seemed to agree.

“He fought remarkable tonight,” said Lacy to Showtime’s Jim Gray in a post-fight interview. “He fought a perfect fight.”

Calzaghe appeared humble in his post-fight appearance, but nevertheless is looking to the future.

“I want in big fights,” he said.

Although commonly used as a platform for self-aggrandizement, Calzaghe’s post-fight interview was as perfectly gentlemanly as if he had just presented a paper at an academic convention.

“I’m over the moon,” he said softly to Gray without a hint of boastfulness.

Certainly the world will see Joe Calzaghe in a different light. The criticism will almost instantly melt away – and the talk of all-time greatness will emerge.

His chance for giant paydays is at hand.

As for Lacy, he is young and strong. Despite a thorough shellacking, he did not take a devastating beating. Working on boxing’s finer points could very well get him back into a title picture very soon.

Scoring of the bout by judges: Nelson Vazquez 119-105; Roy Francis and Adelaide Byrd 119-107. JEBoxing also scored the bout 119-107. Calzaghe had a point deducted in round 11 for holding.

Say hello to boxing’s “new” king, Joe Calzaghe. Long live the king.

Friday, March 03, 2006

‘Other’ Hopkins gains belt, cruises past Ramos

By JE Grant

PHILADELPHIA --- With his uncle, all-time great Bernard looking on, boxing’s most famous fighting nephew, Demetrius Hopkins, 23-0-1 (9 KOs), North Philadelphia, 140, dominated light-hitting Mario Ramos 16-2-1 (3 KOs), Phoenix, Ariz., 138 ½, over 12 rounds to capture the vacant USBA junior welterweight title.

The awkward southpaw Ramos, who was riding an 11-bout win streak coming into the fight, puzzled Hopkins early but was unable throughout the bout to mount an attack of his own. Hopkins, normally reliant on a popping left jab, seemed hesitant to launch except with his right hand.

As the fight progressed, Hopkins mixed in effective left hooks – though not nearly as often as he could or should have. Most rounds were replicas of each other, with Hopkins landing the right, an occasional hook and body shots that took the fight out of Ramos.

Ramos, while not exactly a reluctant warrior, never threatened Hopkins in any sense. The very few punches he was able to land had almost no effect on the 25 year-old Hopkins.

Only in rounds 11 and 12 did the fight seem on the verge of ending before the final bell as Hopkins landed flush right hands on his demoralized opponent.

Hopkins is ready for a serious move to top 15 opponents and leaves this boxing match with the confidence that he can work for 12 rounds. Ramos is clearly not a world-class contender but his solid chin and overall sturdiness provided solid work. Clearly Hopkins' management team is on the ball in opponent selection.

JEBoxing and all three ringside judges scored the bout 119-108. Hopkins had a point deducted in round 8 for low blows but never came close to losing a round.
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