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Call me masochistic,
but I’m up for 8!

Dec 9, 2003 6:56 AM

There was a time, in the late Seventies, when casinos first invaded Atlantic City and used boxing as an enticement for the networks to give them free air time, that I thought I was the white line down the Garden State Parkway.

And, I know a lot of you probably wouldn’t mind seeing me as road kill after writing off Manny Pacquiao’s chances against Marco Antonio Barrera! It just proves again, don’t believe everything you read.

It also proved I needed a vacation. Now refreshed and ready to ride again, I’m off to Don King’s Atlantic City Marathon, a masochists’ convention in eight 12-round plays and, last I heard, one four-round prelim.

Eight "title" fights are on the schedule Dec. 13, probably at least two or three actual "title" bouts. It doesn’t matter. King, acting as if more is not enough, seems to have gone out of his way to give his large stable of workers a last payday before Christmas. Good for him. Good for addicts who like their fixes in the jumbo economy size.

Good, but not great for gamblers.

Only four of the "title" fights were listed on the board in Vegas. Just one of those had a line of less than 2-1 man to man. That was the WBA "interim" title fight between two former belt-holders who, in an age of reality TV, demonstrate that almost anyone can become heavyweight champion. Hasim Rahman was minus $1.60, down from $1.80, against John Ruiz, who has had some mild action in going from plus $1.50 to $1.30.

Now, let me ask a question: Who among you would admit to voluntarily betting on either of these guys? Okay, maybe if one was a heavy underdog to another of the many bums in this division. But at these odds, never.

Sure, Rahman is clearly the more talented, the more fluid boxer, and the more versatile. Ruiz, on the other hand, at least usually comes to fight ”” though he quickly was discouraged by Roy Jones Jr. Despite that 19-second knockout by David Tua, Ruiz probably has the better chin. Heart and chin could overcome the talent gap, but I wouldn’t bet on this bout with your bank account.

The next closest battle, according to the odds, is the welterweight unification fight between the wild and wooly Ricardo Mayorga and Leon’s kid, Cory Spinks. Mayorga, who knocked out previously undefeated title-holders, Six Heads Lewis and Vernon Forrest, to win his two belts, is a surpisingly modest favorite at minus $3.60. The light-hitting Spinks may have the bloodlines of champions, but he doesn’t have the power and he’s plus $2.80.

This would seem to indicate some "smart" money is on the southpaw Spinks. His father upset Muhammad Ali and his Uncle Michael upset Larry Holmes. Dad and Uncle will be in his corner, but unless this is tag-team boxing, there is no Spinks Jinx to hold off the wild-charging Mayorga. Cory Spinks is a slick southpaw ”” aren’t all southpaws slick? ”” and of course he can outbox the Nicaraguan, who is next expected to meet Sugar Shane Mosley in March. Leon Spinks was one of my favorite fighters, but I can’t see how his kid can spoil Mosley-Mayorga.

Zab Judah is minus $6.50 to keep his phony WBO 140-pound belt against someone named Jaime Rangel, who is plus $4.50. Kostya Tszyu is the junior welterweight champion, remember Zab? I don’t know enough about Rangel to offer an intelligent opinion, but that won’t stop me from giving this advice: Skip this.

The real middleweight champion comes out of hiding and becomes the biggest listed favorite in Vegas. Bernard Hopkins, reunited with his longtime trainer, Bouie Fischer, is minus $8.50 against a two-time former WBA title-holder, William Joppy, who is plus $5.50.

Sorry, but I can’t play the chalk in this one. Hopkins’s obstinate toughness and clever boxing enabled him to virtually play with Felix Trinidad Jr., who went through Joppy like a juggernaut. Looking at the Trinidad fights, one would think Hopkins should be 100-1.

But the Executioner is 37 and though he keeps in terrific shape, sometimes older fighters should NOT train as long and as hard as he does. It’s been more than two years since he’s been in a real fight (Trinidad). And Joppy, since fighting the wrong fight against Tito, had a real scrape with the talented Brit, Howard Eastman, gaining a close decision.

Joppy was always a decent boxer and, although he too may be on the wrong side of the mountain, chances are he’s going to be a "live" underdog. No, I’m not saying Joppy is going to upset Hopkins, but if he did, I wouldn’t be shocked. I mean, if I had to bet on this fight, I’d probably take a flyer on Joppy.

I don’t have to bet on this fight. I can go shopping instead.