Our Happy New Year gifts: Top bouts

Jan 4, 2005 4:42 AM

Happy New Year.

It will take a while, but 2005 promises to have as much action as a good 2004 season in boxing. Good fights breed more good fights. This year’s schedule already has a bunch lined up, mostly rematches of 2004 epics. I’ve already got some strong leans.

One of the first betting fights of the year will be a Feb. 5 rematch between welterweight champion Cory Spinks and the flashy Zab Judah. It’ll take place in St. Louis, Spinks’s town, but home-ring advantage is not as important as the champion’s decided edge in character.

Judah, as he showed in the last half-minute when one punch almost knocked Spinks out, is dangerous. However, he always seems to lose focus in big bouts. Leon’s kid, on the other hand, fights intelligently. Spinks had dropped Judah in the 11th round, giving a performance nearly matching the brilliance of his victory over a much more dangerous Ricardo Mayorga. My lean for now: SPINKS.

There’s no word yet on whether Marco Antonio Barrera will get it on a fourth time with Erik Morales. However, Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez on Feb. 26 (probably) should give that winner access to Barrera, Morales or both in finding the ultimate surviver of this featherweight tournament. I reserve the right to change my mind closer to fight time. My lean for now: PACQUIAO.

There’s a good chance that the big fight which concluded 2004 — Glen Johnson’s upset of Antonio Tarver — will get a reprise. Not just because there’s a rematch clause, but the fact there is really is no one else to fight at 175 pounds. I thought Tarver deserved the decision the first time. My lean for now: TARVER.

Good fights breed more good fights than just rematches. Winky Wright, after beating Sugar Shane Mosley twice in 2004, may be getting Felix Trinidad Jr. in 2005. This is a tough call because I have too much respect for Wright. However, the 160 weight is a disadvantage. My lean for now, TRINIDAD.

Jose Luis Castillo and Diego (Chico) Corrales have set up a major lightweight fight March 5 by their work in 2005. Each beat Joel Casamayor, which is not easy. Castillo thrashed Juan Lazcano and Corrales embarrassed Acelino Freitas into quitting. I have a feeling by fight time, I will have made leans in both directions so frequently that I’ll be feeling like a yo-yo. This is truly a fight to anticipate. My lean for now: CASTILLO.

There’s another one at, believe it or not, cruiserweight. The Feb. 19 bout is a title unification matchup between Wayne Braithwaite and Jean-Marc Mormeck. There may not be much action "on" this fight, but there will be tons of action "in" it. Mormeck is a French tank, while Braithwaite is a hard-hitting Guyana native now fighting out of New York. Braithwaite’s chin may be suspect. My lean for now: MORMECK.

The year will start slowly. January is typically reserved for football, so boxing promoters have long been wise against planning a major fight in the first month. Besides, there is no lead-up time for a big promotion due to the holidays. But, on Jan. 21, there’s a nice card (no betting, perhaps) on ShoBox. The headliners are a couple of good young welterweights, Dave Estrada and Chris Smith. Estrada could be Angelo Dundee’s last good man. There probably won’t be much of a line at the bookmakers. My lean for now: SMITH.

On a lesser note

Floyd Mayweather Jr. returns from a lost 2004 (only one fight) against the way overmatched Henry Bruseles on Jan. 22. The idea is he’s supposed to fight the winner of the following weekend’s Arturo Gatti-Jesse James Leija junior welter scrap in June. Gatti is no sure thing against the wily Leija, and even less of a sure thing to get in the ring with Little Floyd. Mayweather would surely embarrass the brave Gatti.

Bernard Hopkins, the only man I rank above Little Floyd on my pound-for-pound list, has only a slightly more difficult assignment for his 2005 debut against Britain’s capable Howard Eastman on Feb. 19. It may be difficult for Hopkins to duplicate his 2004 success because it doesn’t appear there are any Oscar de la Hoyas out there willing to tackle him. (Well, Winky if he gets by Trinidad).

The heavyweights, though in the worst funk perhaps in history, could at least make some interesting matches. I’m looking forward to Vitali Klitschko’s mandatory defense against Hasim Rahman, who has the style, and punch, to knock the Ukrainian off his HBO throne.

No, I am not looking forward to seeing John Ruiz fight anyone, but I would like to see Chris Byrd take on James Toney.

The Byrd-Toney bout would be good because we’re talking blownup middleweights here, not pathetic heavyweights. We might get to see Lamon Brewster defend his WBO trinket in March against Andrew (Foul Pole) Golota.

That’s fair warning to get the spouse and kids to the Riviera in time to ignore that one.

I repeat, Happy New Year.