Envisioning 2006 boxing with optimism, hedging

Jan 10, 2006 3:53 AM

The second week into the new year and there’s a break in the action.

There won’t be too many others as the first quarter of 2006 is shaping up to be, if not a banner year for boxing, a profitable one for betting. We already have "leans."

Unlike that tower in Pisa, most are not very strong. I am probably most famous in some circles for changing my mind at the last second as in going off Sugar Ray Leonard for Marvelous Marvin Hagler the night before the big upset. I criticize fighters for not having "character." I should look in a mirror, but with a kisser like mine, that’s cruel and inhuman punishment.

So to the futures board!

”¡ It looks like Manny Pacquiao, who lost the first time round, will emerge as a slight favorite over Erik Morales in their rematch Jan. 21 at the Thomas & Mack. The lean is toward the Pac-Man, not because El Terrible looked lost against Zahir Raheem in his last appearance (he’ll rebound into top form, I’m sure). I think Manny has more room to grow from their terrific bout last year when all three judges had it 115-113 for the Mexican star.

”¡ Whatever the line is, Arturo Gatti should be a lock against Thomas Damgaard on Jan. 28 from Atlantic City. Damgaard may be undefeated and a southpaw, but he’s 34 and has been kept safely away from live fighters his whole career. His Danish promoters are cashing in on him. A Gatti victory could set up a match against Ricky Hatton, a bout the American Medical Association would just love to see. Funny thing is, I would give Arturo a shot at 147 pounds against the Manchurian Devil.

”¡ Jose Luis Castillo will be about 2-1, I figure, in the rubber match Feb. 4 with Diego (Chico) Corrales. I hate betting against Chico, though I have done so in the past (most notably, with Floyd Mayweather Jr., Joel Casamayor in both fights and Castillo in the epic first meeting, but of course, not in the second). I probably will sit it out because I have too much respect for Corrales, though I think three fights in eight months against Castillo can’t be good for his health, career or record.

”¡ After another week’s break, Antonio Margarito will be an off-the-board favorite to beat Manny Gomez. The "over" should be a very interesting proposition.

”¡ On Feb. 25, the lean right now is to Sugar Shane Mosley over Fernando Vargas in a battle of big names with little left. The loser should retire. Joe Calzaghe will have the home-ring advantage against Jeff Lacey, even if it’s in Manchester, England, not Wales. That and his good left hand are all he has against Lacey, who is growing into one of my favorites. Being on the road should give us a better price on the Florida wrecking ball.

”¡ There’s a good chance the scheduled March 11 rematch between Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins — a mere 13 years after their boring first meeting — will have to be moved. Hopefully, for esthetic reasons, it will be rescheduled for the trash bin. If it does happen — and if I were a betting man, I’d probably take 6-5 that it doesn’t — I think Roy is just too big for B-Hop.

”¡ I’m leaning towards Hasim Rahman against James Toney, but the Rock will have to correct the nasty tendency he has to fall in after he jabs. That would put the fight on the inside, where Toney’s superior hand speed and smarts would give him a huge advantage. It’s too close to call right now. Let me think more on this one.

”¡ I am hoping that the Marco Antonio Barrera March 25 date is against Jesus Chavez, which would be a terrific fight. Chavez is considerably bigger, leveling the playing field a lot. The temptation is to go with the underdog against the guy I list No. 3 on my pound-for-pound list (behind only Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Winky Wright, in case you were wondering).

”¡ I’m hoping Zab Judah (even with his surprising loss this past Saturday to Carlos Baldomir) gets to face Floyd Mayweather Jr. in what could be one of the highlights of 2006. The lean is toward Mayweather, but this too bears further inspection.

”¡ Not much is etched in stone after that one. I’ll believe Oscar de la Hoya will fight Ricardo Mayorga on May 6 after I see the Golden Boy get in the ring. If he does, he’d better be careful. He should win handily, but Mayorga is dangerous and the memory of what de la Hoya used to be can be deceiving as to what he remains.

”¡ If and when they meet, I like Winky Wright to outbox Jermain Taylor. If and when they meet, in Germany, I think that Chris Byrd at a price has a good shot at avenging an earlier loss to Wladimir Klitschko. If and when they meet, Nicolai Valuev will beat TBA (to be announced).

I can always change my mind, of course.