Saturday, June 28, 2008

Youth is Served

Young Champion Kelly Pavlik took a break from the ring and lined up a pool shot before he took apart Gary Lockett in Atlantic City.

A couple of events took place within the last week that have served to illustrate the point that boxing is a young man's game.

Last Saturday night, Enzo Calzaghe had a good chance to get an up close and personal look at Kelly Pavlik in Atlantic City. He must not have liked what he saw. Pavlik made short work of the Enzo Calzaghe trained Gary Lockett and "The Ghost" took care of Lockett as easily as he would take care of bringing the trash out to the curb.

But it still came as somewhat of a surprise when word made it to American shores from Wales that Enzo's son, Joe Calzaghe, now has no intentions of fighting Kelly Pavlik. Pavlik's promoter Bob Arum and Calzaghe's promoter Frank Warren seemed to be moving forward and all reports were that they were close to an October deal for a Pavlik vs. Calzaghe fight. But yesterday all hopes of seeing that fight were dashed.

Joe Calzaghe suddenly announced that he wanted no part of Pavlik and would instead pursue a fight with Roy Jones, Jr. And you've got to think that Joe got a look at Lockett's face when he returned home and that he heard Enzo tell a horrible tale of what happened on the Jersey shore.

Against Lockett, the youthful Pavlik, who is only 26, turned in one of the most dominant performances of any middleweight champion in years. What is somewhat interesting is that a suddenly skittish Calzaghe didn't even wait a few weeks before making it known that he wants no part of Youngstown's favorite son.

If you think about it, the most sane course for Calzaghe to take is to pursue Jones. And for Pavlik it makes sense for him to continue cleaning out the division where he seems best suited and most sharp. Jones is nearing 40-years old and Calzage is 36 so that match makes dollars and it makes sense. It's another "Seniors Tour" match-up that will pull in big numbers in the United Kingdom. For Calzaghe it's a low risk/high reward match and it affords him the opportunity to go out a winner in what could be his last fight - against a guy who is more his own age.

Speaking of Young Guys, More on Mora

Sergio Mora (left) lands a shot on Vernon Forrest and wins the WBC 154-pound title.

One win can change everything. Vernon Forrest found that out when he beat Shane Mosley for the first time back in 2002. And on Saturday night, Sergio Mora found out the same thing when he beat Vernon Forrest.

It now appears as though Sergio Mora will end up getting his big chance against Shane Mosley, too. But more on that later.

It was interesting to watch the happenings unfold at the Mohegan Sun Casino last Saturday night. I watched from a few feet away as Sergio Mora upset Vernon Forrest for the WBC Super Welterweight title. Viewing the fight from the Showtime "press row" scoring table I tabbed it 115-113 for Mora, and I thought he eked out the win by taking six of he last seven rounds on my ballot.

I viewed the fight simply: It all boiled down to the fact that Mora was younger, had more vigour, wanted it more and he took advantage of a Vernon Forrest who walked up the steps to the ring and just didn't have it. To these eyes it appeared as though nice-guy Forrest fell victim to one of the most famous axioms in boxing: "He got old overnight."

And Vernon Forrest is not new to these eyes. I also watched from a few feet away when Forrest knocked out Italy's Michele Piccirillo in the eleventh round at Foxwoods back in December. The Forrest that I saw that night was a much sharper fighter who had a lot more in the tank than the one I saw last weekend.

But all kudos must go to Sergio Mora who, after dropping most of the early rounds on my card, rallied down the stretch and really went deep into the "Forrest" to chop a path to the title. It was one of the best displays of why they call boxing "a young man's game" and it's the reason why Bernard Hopkins recently said that he really has no interest in fighting anybody "under the age of 35."

In boxing, youth can often be the great equalizer, as Sergio proved against Forrest who is a decade older. Mora is a young 27 and he really doesn't have many miles on his fistic odometer. Sergio has a tremendous upside and despite winning 'The Contender' reality show championship three years ago, the victory over Forrest is really his breakout fight. Mora's window of opportunity is now wide-open.

The young titlist enjoys his victory on Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.

The Mora vs. Forrest post-fight press conference was held in a cramped back room at the Mohegan Sun that was no bigger than a broom closet. Everybody was packed in there like sardines in a can as they listened to boxing's newest champ ruminate about his future.

Mora went on to say, "I'll fight anybody" and in his rather subdued conference with the press he said he'd be willing to take on everyone from Kelly Pavlik to Jermain Taylor to Oscar De La Hoya to any of the other 154-pound titlists. He even said he'd be willing to go and fight in Germany if the money was right.

Tournament of Contenders promoter Jeff Wald, in an eyebrow raising comment, claimed that Bob Arum "wouldn't make the fight" against Kelly Pavlik because Arum was fearful that Kelly would get beat. Huh?

Whatever the case, rumblings within the game are that Mora will next face-off against Shane Mosley at a site to be determined on HBO PPV in the fall. It's certainly a marquee fight for Mora and one that I would make him the favorite in. Mosley turns 37 in September and he lost in his last fight out against Miguel Cotto. Mora said, "I can't make it all the way down to 147" so Shane will definitely have to come up to 154 in order to make the fight happen.

However, Mora is being pulled in a plethora of directions by competing factions. The WBC has ruled that Mora, if he is to keep his newly won title, must commence negotiations with new #1 Contender Sergio Martinez (see below) within 30 days. There is also the issue of Vernon Forrest wanting to excercise the immediate rematch clause that was in the contract with Mora.

But if the Mosley fight does indeed happen, I think that Mora is capable of beating Shane. I'll leave you with these words from hall of fame trainer Gil Clancy: "When a guy wins a title, he immediately becomes better by at least twenty-five percent."

At a youthful 27, "The Latin Snake" has shed his skin and is just now growing his true fangs.

Behind the Scenes

Showtime Championship Boxing commentator Al Bernstein is a professional through and through and has been calling the fights for over 25 years.

Watching Showtime broadcast partners Al Bernstein and Steve Albert interact with each other while off camera tells you that the two guys have developed into pretty good friends over the years. It's clear that both guys love what they do and they have fun doing it.

One of the members of Showtime's production crew yelled out "15 seconds" or some-such before they hit the air live on Saturday night. Albert got up close to the monitor, pointed at it and said to Bernstein, "Look, Al, that's you." And Al chuckled and replied, "Yeah, you're right, that's me, there I am." And then the show was on.

One of the many points that HBO should take some notes on is that any more than two guys calling a fight is a crowd. In my humble opinion, two voices are sufficient and even one will do. I've always said that the pairing of Tim Ryan and Gil Clancy was the best ever, but Albert and Bernstein are rapidly closing in on that dynamic duo. Both Albert and Bernstein are consummate pros who never have a "house" fighter they root for, nor do they cheer from their ringside seats. They are "just the facts man" type of guys who bring intelligence, calm and a sense of dignity to the fistic proceedings. I'd say they're far and away the best there is right now.

Talk About Leverage

Don't tell me that Gary Shaw doesn't have some serious juice when it comes to influence within the world of Showtime Boxing. Shaw is the President of Live Events and a Director at Elite Xtreme Combat, which of course is where the latest rage - Kimbo Slice - hangs his hat. The Elite XC show on May 31st featuring Kimbo pulled down huge ratings numbers for CBS when they televised their premier show and Showtime is in the same Viacom family as CBS. At the Mora-Forrest post fight presser I was watching and listening to Shaw at the front of the room, and then I spied Ken Hershman, Showtime’s Senior Vice President and GM for Sports and Event Programming seated quietly at the back of the room. It got me to thinking that Shaw's golden touch with how he has handled Elite XC must make him "King Midas" at Showtime. It's all about the ratings - and Shaw has delivered- to the tune of over six million. So don't tell me that if Shaw wanted to make a fight or get one of his fighters on Showtime that he'll encounter much resistance. I'd go so far as saying that right now at Showtime, Gary Shaw would get anything he damn well pleases.

The Other Sergio

On the non-televised undercard at the Mohegan Sun the other night there was another Sergio that put on a pretty good show. His name is Sergio Martinez, and with an impressive seventh round stoppage of Archak TerMeliksetian he moved into the #1 Contender slot to Sergio Mora's newly won WBC title. Martinez is from Madrid, Spain and has a record of 43-1-1 (23)KO's. He's not a big puncher but he's consistent and he has a great variety of punches. He's busy, has great footwork and seems to have lots of energy. Martinez has only ever lost to Antonio Margarito and that was eight years ago on the Morales vs. Barrera I undercard. At 5'11" tall, Martinez is a southpaw who has good looks and is a happy performer in the mode of Manny Pacquiao. The only real weakness I see is his defense, as he seems a little lackadaisical at what's coming back at him and he takes chances that he doesn't have to take. Martinez has that little hop in his step that reminds me of the young Roberto Duran and he really connected with the fans the other night as he stood on the apron of the ring after stopping "The Shark" and soaked up the adulation of the crowd. Lou DiBella, Martinez' promoter, was glowing and could be heard telling anybody that would listen, "That's my next world champion." Lou could be right.

June 2008

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