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Mar 16, 2004 7:42 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hall of Fame boxing columnist Michael Katz correctly forecasted the Winky Wright upset of Sugar Shane Mosley in the 154-pound reunification title bout last Saturday bout at Mandalay Bay. This week Katz gazes at what’s ahead.

There is a brief respite from big fights, or at least the kind of big fights that provide us with action. So let’s refresh our wallets and catch our breaths before the heavyweight division, such as it is, at least gives us something to snicker at.

John Ruiz vs.Fres Oquendo? Never mind betting on it, could you watch it? Two rasslers with little technique and no saving grace power. It could be the ugliest fight since Ruiz-Hasim Rahman or Chris Byrd-Oquendo. Promoter Don King, who seems to be doing his best to stay out of heaven, is trying to add the Foul Pole, Andrew Golota, to his April 17 show at Madison Square Garden in a title shot at Byrd.

This should darken Broadway for years.

The week before this crap, which King is putting on pay-per-pew, there’s Wladimir Klitschko, the brother without the chin and thusly the confidence, who goes for one of the two vacant "titles" HBO feels is destined for the two doctors from Kiev. Nice guys, they are. Wladimir is the smoother, more fluid boxer. But he doesn’t hit like Vitali, according to Byrd, who has been punched by both. Byrd was shockingly stopped in two one-sided rounds last year by Corrie Sanders, a 37-year-old South African about to embark on a career in golf.

Since then, Dr. Wlad has had a couple of soft touches designed to promote confidence, but he still seems unsteady and may be an overpriced favorite April 10 at the Mandalay Bay when he faces Lamon Brewster. The WBO No.1 has been well-hidden, but he can punch a bit and may be worth a nice price.

At least, there’s Spinks

    In any case, King is offering a terrific main event and I don’t care if it goes before or after the bout for the vacant WBO heavyweight title. Cory Spinks, fresh off his brilliant upset of Ricardo Mayorga, defends his unified welterweight title against Zab Judah, who is stepping up from junior welter. I can’t wait to miscalculate this dilly.

     On April 24 the other Klitschko, who quit against Byrd but not against Lennox Lewis, the one who blew out Kirk Johnson in two rounds, puts his "heir apparentcy" on the line against the aforementioned Sanders to fill the WBC vacancy created when Lewis retired. Sanders has not fought in more than a year. An old story. Sanders fights maybe once a year anyway. I don’t have to think very long or hard about this one. It should be over within two rounds.

     In fact, both Brewster, who has also been sidelined for more than a year, and Sanders should not be allowed in title fights according to the Muhammad Ali Act. This act directs the Association of Boxing Commissioners and individual state commissions to in effect not allow the sanctioning bodies to get away with such nonsense.

      What the hey. Oquendo is coming off a loss, albeit disputed against Byrd. Plus, Golota is coming off a career of foul play and quit jobs. He is every bit as much the Fowl Pole for the way he ran out of the ring against Mike Tyson three years ago. George Foreman is coming back? Can Max Schmeling be far behind?

Class after heavies

After the heavyweight nonsense, though, the action will be a lot classier. On May 8, it appears Manny Pacquiao, coming off his shockingly easy domination of Marco Antonio Barrera, will try to put another Mexican feather in his cap by challenging Juan Manuel Marquez. That’s a "don’t misser."

The following weekend, Roy Jones Jr. returns to 175 pounds to give Antonio Tarver the well-deserved rematch. And if he’s not in jail, the following week has been donated by HBO to the guy who could be Jones’s successor as best pound-for-pound, Floyd Mayweather Jr., though the kid is so good in the ring no one wants to fight him.

Paul Spadafora turned down $750,000 and Leonard Dorin $800,000. As good as he is in the ring, Mayweather seems to be the opposite outside and faces a multitude of charges.

On June 5, Oscar de la Hoya and Bernard Hopkins engage questionable opposition as part of an infomercial to set up their Sept. 18 meeting.

Tune-up or setup, that’s how the busy spring calendar commences March 27 on HBO. It’s the usual buildups of young talent when Jermain Taylor and Dominick Guinn, two of the brightest prospects in the game get some home cooking in Little Rock, where they both grew up.
Taylor, who has been called the eventual successor to Hopkins at middleweight, continues his strange journey through blown-up welterweights and junior middleweights with Alfred Bunema.

As much as I’ve liked Taylor from the start of his pro career following the 2000 Olympics, I’m beginning to wonder if his handlers know something we don’t.

I’m less confused about Guinn, whom Larry Merchant flatly calls the best American heavyweight since Riddick Bowe. Guinn gets Monte Barrett, who held Baby Joe Mesi to a majority decision last Dec. 6, so there’s a chance to show how much more advanced he is than Baby Steps.
At least, the heavyweights are busy. Fights make fights and somewhere out of all this mess, we may get a showdown for a real champion.

In the meantime, we’d better concentrate on the lower weights and hope they stay out of jail.