The baseball lull is here. While pitching coaches and managers traipse endlessly to the mound, boxing always steps aside, not wanting to interfere with all that action. It happens every October.
So after Holyfield-Toney, the next major fight doesn’t take place until Nov. 1, whether the World Series is over or not. That’ll be up in Grand Rapids, where I once visited the grave of the great Stanley Ketchel, between that town’s latest ring hero, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and a tough if primitive South African slugger, Philip N’Dou.
Also on that card is a much better betting proposition, if it doesn’t fall through again, between a couple of the featherweight champions, Juan Manuel Marquez and Derrick (Smoke) Gainer. Marquez figures to be the heavy favorite, but he once had trouble with another southpaw who moved a lot, Freddie Norwood, and unlike Norwood, Gainer can punch. Unless Norwood, though, he doesn’t take the best shot.
The saying in boxing is "where there’s Smoke, there’s Roy Jones Jr." Gainer is a protege and buddy of the great Pensacola artist. I would bet that if Jones has a Nov. 8 date in Las Vegas against Antonio Tarver, he’ll still stop off in Grand Rapids to root for Gainer.
Right now, that’s a big "if." Contracts for Tarver-Jones (the champion’s name comes first and this is for the light-heavyweight belts owned now by Tarver) have not been signed. There’s trouble. But if it gets worked out, Jones will be about a 7-1 favorite against his first quality 175-pound opponent in years. They’ve dubbed the fight, "This Time It’s Personal," because there is real animosity between the two Floridians and it’s not just because Tarver, from Orlando, called out Jones at the post-fight press conference following Roy’s artistic dethroning of John Ruiz.
The following week, Nov. 15, another of boxing’s best returns to action. Marco Antonio Barrera, now promoted by Oscar de la Hoya, faces the talented Filipino Manny Pacquiao, probably in San Antonio.
On Nov. 22, sticking to Texas but this time in Houston, two of Shelly Finkel’s bright young stars will be in action on Showtime. Rocky Juarez, the featherweight contender, faces former world champ Willie Jorrin and Fransisco (Panchito) Bojada gets to meet the guy who upset him earlier, Juan Carlos Rubio.
Now if the powers that be won’t go up against playoff baseball, they certainly would not want to try for attention against an even greater American tradition, Thanksgiving, so there will be a short hiatus again until there’s a doctor in the house. The doctor is Vitali Klitschko, the house probably will be Madison Square Garden, and the patient is Kirk Johnson, and therein lies some ironies.
Lennox Lewis - you remember him, tall guy with a funny accent? - was supposed to fight Johnson in March as a tuneup for meeting Klitschko on Dec. 6. Klitschko was supposed to fight an undefeated and untested 34-year-old prospect, Cedric Boswell, on the Lewis-Johnson card in Los Angeles. A funny thing happened. Johnson got injured (and I only got my money back on my big bet on him against Lewis), Klitschko moved into to oppose Lewis and made a big stir by being ahead, four rounds to two, on everyone’s cards when the bout had to be stopped because there was a hole in the doctor’s head.
I am convinced that Johnson, who never was allowed to find his rhythm against John Ruiz because of oppressive refereeing by the usually reliable Joe Cortez, would have beaten the Lewis that showed up in the Staples Center that night. Easily.
It looked as if Lewis would still make his Dec. 6 date against Klitschko, this time calling it a deserved rematch. However, the world’s true heavyweight champion is in virtual retirement. He decided six rounds was enough this year and said he would not fight again until 2004 at the earliest. So replacing him is Kirk Johnson. Isn’t life wonderful?
While I believed the quick-handed Johnson was ready to surprise against Lewis, Klitschko is another matter, one thankfully that need not be addressed at the current moment.
Anyway, the year ends with a long bang Dec. 13 with one of those Don King marathons from Atlantic City that could bring out everyone from Ricardo Mayorga to Bernard Hopkins, though not against each other.
Mayorga seemingly has been given headline status by the world’s greatest promoter. The wild and wooly and wonderful Nicaraguan faces another welterweight champion, Cory Spinks (son of Leon) in the final unification of the 147-pound division. Hopkins, who was threatening to become nonfighter of the year, defends against one of the better middleweights out there, William Joppy, but that will not excite too many folks because of how easily Felix Trinidad handled Joppy on the way to getting blown out by the Executioner.
But wait, it’s not over. With Roy Jones moving back down to 175 pounds, the WBA in its infinite wisdom, or greed, has sanctioned an "interim" heavyweight title bout for Hasim Rahman and David Tua. It would be the third meeting of the two and the endings are usually better than the fights. But Tua is going through some turmoil and whether he chooses to accept the assignment was still not known.
So let me be among the first to wish you Happy New Year 2004 and maybe boxing will end the controversies by important some French figure-skating judges.