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Boxing needs big finish to post victory

Jul 8, 2003 4:38 AM

The year went to the half in 49 and change, not very fast, so if 2003 is going to go down as vintage in boxing, the second half must pick up the pace.

The time, of course, is arbitrary, based on the belief that the boxing year to date has been more disappointing than fulfilling. Nevertheless, these are my ratings.

For Exhibit A, I give you the Lennox Lewis-Vitali Klitschko fight. That ended in disappointment because it didn’t have a chance to fulfill its wild and promising start. What is really promising, however, is that there is an excellent chance that the second half of the year will see Lewis and Klitschko fight to a more satisfying finish.

There were marvelous moments, starting last January with the third-round knockout of undefeated Vernon Forrest by Nicaragua’s Ricardo Mayorga. These guys will do it again this Saturday at the New Orleans Arena on a Don King card that has two other title bouts and two 12-round "eliminators." On paper, this is finest top-to-bottom card in recent years.

There were other upsets early on. Rafael Marquez took undefeated Timmy Austin’s best shots and rallied to win the bantamweight title. A couple of hot 140-pound prospects, Ricardo Williams and Muhammad Abdullaev, were knocked off by Juan Valenzuela and Emmanuel Clottey, respectively.

Perhaps the biggest shocker, though, was Klitschko’s little brother Wladimir being buried by Corrie Sanders, a 37-year-old semiretired South African, within two rounds.

And as exciting as Lewis-Klitschko, Mayorga-Forrest, Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward III and Paul Spadafora-Leo Dorin may have been, the first six months of 2003 were marked more by inactivity. There may be better candidates for a non-fighter of the year award than for the fighter of the half-year.

Prince Naseem Hamed, of course, has retired the Vive la France Non-Fighter of the Year Award, but there was much competition. You can’t call Oscar de la Hoya’s appearance against Yory Boy Campas a fight, and for that matter, Bernard Hopkins was idle save for a typical French nonfighter, Morrade Hakkar.

Also, Sugar Shane Mosley was held to four rounds because of a clash of heads with Raul Marquez. Mike Tyson had all of 49 seconds with Clifford Etienne. Chris Byrd and Fernando Vargas, for different reasons (no one would challenge the former, the latter was on suspension) had less.

Fighter of the Year for the first six months? At first, I thought Roy Jones Jr. had it all but locked with his dazzling performance against John Ruiz, but don’t you have to be in a real fight to be fighter of the year? If that’s the case, I lean toward Mayorga, the brash welterweight champion, over James Toney, Sanders and the Marquez brothers, Juan Manuel and Rafael for winning titles a couple of weeks apart.

I vote for no manager of the year, nor for any adviser of the year.

Trainer of the year could be Nacho Beristain (Marquez bros.), but here’s a vote for Florida’s Roy Jones Sr., who is the real developer of Roy Jones Jr. The Pensacola-based trainer also sent out three other kids to become world champions (Derrick Gainer, Vince Phillips and Arthur Williams).

The punch of the year so far has to be Lewis’s right hand early in the third round which turned Klitschko’s left eyelid into a mini Grand Canyon and thereby saved the heavyweight championship.

Fight of the year? There are many candidates, showing that 2003 has not been a wasteland. Besides Lewis-Klitschko and Mayorga-Forrest, and the annual Gatti-Ward tempest, there were Toney-Vassily Jirov and one of the best, another prematurely stopped bout, the less than two rounds of Joe Calzaghe and Byron Mitchell.

Mismatch of the year has to be Scott Harrison’s torture of brave Wayne McCullough, though there have been some unworthy contenders. We’ll start with most guys promoter Bob Arum has put in with Miguel Cotto. Hopkins-Hakkar and de la Hoya-Campas were pretty bad, also.

What we should be optimistic about is the second half, which starts big time next weekend with Mayorga-Forrest II. Later, de la Hoya meets Mosley again, Vargas returns and it’ll be Lewis vs. either Vitali Klitschko or Roy Jones. Byrd will at least get some action, even if it’s only Fres Oquendo. Evander Holyfield, always fun, faces Toney. There’s even the best women’s matchup of all time, Laila Ali vs. Christy Martin.

There’ll be disappointments, of course. But I’ve got a hunch that some day my grandchildren are going to look back at 2003 and say . . . hell, what do I know?