Sometimes home hurts

Jun 27, 2006 3:21 AM

Home cooking is not always healthy, or attractive.

I remember a friend mentioning that his mother used to cook meat "until all that red stuff is gone." My dear old mom spoiled me with stuffed cabbage, ruggalach (Jewish cookies), fried matzoh with maple syrup and anything that could have chicken fat (schmaltz) added. She’s been gone almost a quarter-century, but the rich background has kept me overweight all these years.

In boxing, it’s not that Jose Luis Castillo eats too much at home. It’s more like Cory Spinks or Zab Judah fighting there. It is perhaps informative that Judah beat Spinks in St. Louis, then went home to New York and lost his newly gained title to Carlos Baldomir.

Spinks returns to the city of the great Pujols next month. St. Louis might be better for him as a challenger to Roman Karmazin, than as a champion. He came into the ring for his rematch with Judah all pumped up from the adoring crowd. Spinks wore a Cardinals cap (a reason I like Leon’s kid) but pitched more like Mark Mulder. There can be little doubt that his competitive edge was compromised by the prefight adulation of being the hometown hero.

Same with Judah. He blasted out Spinks very impressively, but then blamed Don King for setting up too many interviews and promotional stunts for his unfocused performance at Madison Square Garden’s Theater, across the East River from his Brooklyn roots. The pressure of family and friends (and not only begging for extra tickets) can be very unsettling.

Yes, there are many advantages to being the home team. As the late great trainer Freddie Brown (Why he isn’t in Canastota baffles me?) used to say, "When you’re out of town, you’re out of town." Judges, who might ordinarily really be neutral, hear the crowd reaction when Homey lands a punch that was in fact picked off. That was probably the main reason Jermain Taylor was able to survive a draw against Winky Wright.

All this, of course, is a clever buildup to the featured bout next weekend - Sunday, July 2 if you’re on Bataan — Saturday, July 1 if you’re near a USA pay-per-view channel. Manny Pacquiao, the biggest star in the Philippines (and we’re not just talking boxing) faces the dangerous Oscar Larios in Manila.

This is a payback to all his Filipino fans, a chance to see the third best fighter in the world (according to my pound-for-pound list), in a strange sort of "tuneup" fight for his November rubber match with Erik Morales.

Strange also because Larios is hardly a pushover, a 122-pound titlist, Though this fight is for whatever suspenders the Pac Man wears at 130, it should never be forgotten that the Filipino fury began his pro career as a flyweight. His advantage is not size. Punching power and speed should suffice. This would be an "out" bet if it were, say, in Las Vegas or even Mexico City.

But Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s astute trainer, is frankly worried. All that home cooking, a movie premiere (Pac, the film star, is bigger than Tom Cruise in Manila, well, hell, everybody is), domestic problems and disputes inside the camp management are all conspiring to keep the brilliant southpaw from focusing, according to Roach. The trainer says he is not happy with the way Pacquiao has been sparring for this one.

It sounds very suspiciously like this could be the biggest upset in a year that has already had its fair share.

No, I do not recommend finding your friendly neighborhood candy store bookmaker and seeking odds of 4-1 or higher on Larios. In Manila, it would probably take putting Pacquiao into a coma in order to win by knockout, and then you might run the risk of a disqualification.

Either way, it appears to be a worthwhile buy.