WAIL! BACK ISSUES . . . THE CBZ JOURNAL May 2001
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Some Thoughts on Boxing
by James McDonnell


Naz vs.V Tapia? Naz and Tapia in talks
A comeback or the end of the line?

It was recently announced that the two familial managers of Johhny Tapia and Naseem Hamed, Theresa (Johnny's wife) and Riath (Hamed's brother), have been in talks trying to negotiate a fight between the two former champs.

The negotiations are taking place for a matchup at the 126 pound featherweight limit. This is a step up in weight for Tapia, but he has had a history of struggling to make weight at the bantamweight limit, his last fight against paulie Ayala was not for a title, as Tapia failed to make weight.

This is a dangerous fight for both men.

Tapia though not undefeated, has a good reputation as a fighter, having only lost to one man, the same said Paulie Ayala, both of which were close and somewhat controversial decisions. Aside from those defeats, his record is faultless, and he has beaten some good former champs along the way. Tapia is keen to lure Ayala back into the ring to avenge what he saw in both instances as robberies, though in truth the second fight was a close call. If he beats Hamed then he will add to his own marquee value, though obviously not as much as a victory over Hamed while still unbeaten would have done.

Hamed also is at something of a crossroads in his career. Should he win against Tapia, then he is back on the road to world title showdowns, and possibly a lucrative rematch with Barerra, though one would hope he has a few more tuneup bouts beforehand, and possibly a change of trainer.Should Tapia lose, the stakes for him are a little lower, he is not as much of a draw as Hamed, who has set the lower weights alight with his mixture of bravado and explosive power.

Should Hamed lose, then big questions will be asked about his true credentials. Following his loss to Barerra, many boxing pundits have been quick to write Hamed off as nothing more than an over-hyped and overprotected flash-in-the-pan, who met with defeat the minute he was matched with a hungry, skillful fighter still at, or yet to reach his peak.

Personally, I think this more than a little unjust. It's worth remembering that Hamed has lost only one fight, and that against a legend in the making. Barerra was the more experienced of the two, and on the night came with a strategy that virtually no-one outside of his own training camp would have expected. Known as something of a face-first brawler, with tremendous heart, conditioning and above all boxing skills, Barerra foxed Hamed by turning sharp counterpuncher on the night.

It is worth Bearing in mind too, that many had written Barerra off as a spent force in the Bantamweight class, after two back to back losses against light-hitting Junior Jones, himself considered no more than a faded star at the time. Barerra bounced back from those defeats, and eventually worked his way back to a title unifcation with Eric Morales, losing a highly controversial decision.

Those who write Hamed off at this stage forget that he has destroyed some good if not great fighters on his way to the title, and defended it with a destruct and destroy attitude reminiscent of Marvin Hagler in his prime.

Naseem won his title by destroying the highly durable, if somewhat mediocre Steve Robinson, going to his opponents home-town of Cardiff, and destroying him in eight rounds. Along the way Hamed has beaten the likes of Manuel Medina, Vuyuni Bungu, Tom Johnson, Kevin Kelly, Cesar Soto, Paul Ingle, Wayne McCulloch et al. These are hardly hand picked nobodies.

Hamed is not without pedigree, and though it is true that facing Barerra represented a big step up in class, nobody could level the accusation that he has shielded from adversity like so many British fighters before him.

What of the proposed matchup? Who Will win?

The answer I think will largely lie in Naseems mental and physical preparation and the extent of his recovery from his last defeat.

Naseem's previous seemingly unshakable self-belief, has always been one of his biggest assets. To presume that he has emerged psychologically unscathed after such an abject defeat against Barerra is unthinkable. Hamed is after all, only human, as he showed us with his dignity in defeat.

The Barerra fight showed that Naseem was not mentally or strategically prepared for a fighter of Barerra's calibre, and while Tapia is perhaps a little short of Barerra's class, there is little in it. Tapia is an intense and skiful fighter, he has never been stopped, and most worryingly for Hamed, he is something of a defensive wizard. Like Barerra was for the Hamed fight, Tapia is a master counterpuncher, capable of making his opponents pay when they miss.

Naseems skills have to my mind been in decline for quite some time now, co-inciding (though no coincidence) with his departure from Brendan Ingle's stable, and the spur to his ego provided by his journey into American big time boxing. Against Barerra, and also against Kevin Kelly, Tom Johnson, and Augie Sanchez, Hamed relied on brute force to turn the tide of fights when in trouble. While this tactic works with fellow brawlers, none of whom have the devastating power of Hamed, against a smart boxer this is unlikely to work.

The one saving grace for Hamed, is that Tapia has nowhere near his, or even Barerra's power. Barerra landed fusilades of shots to Hamed's chin, and while late in the fight he had him in serious trouble momentarily, he never dropped him. Tapia's shots will be scoring shots, but it is very unlikely he will be able to hurt Hamed.

In addition to this, is the fact that Tapia is fighting way above the fighting weight in which he had the most success, super-flyweight. Althought Tapia has always struggled with weight over the last few years fighting as a bantamweight, a move up to the featherweight limit is a big jump for man who is in essence a blown up flyweight at his prime fighting weight. As Tapia has never been regarded as a power puncherat any weight, this risks robbing him of what little power he has.

Furthermore, the fact that Tapia is a little past his best now, at the age of 34, means he could suddenly look shot in the ring with Hamed, whose fists have brought far younger, harder hitting natural featherweights to the canvas.

However, Tapia aside for a moment, the real key to the fight for Hamed is combination punching, and defensive smarts. Tapia is far too ring savvy to be caught by any of the wild lunges he tried against Barerra, and even a light puncher should not be treated with disdain. Tapia is capable of beating Hamed, simply by outworking him over 12 rounds, and relying on the knockout to reverse this, is likely to bring Hamed another defeat.

The question remains as to whom (if anyone) is going to step into the vacuum left by Emmanuel Steward's departure. Oscar Suarez may be able to knock Hamed into shape, but the Hamed camp will need to come with a gameplan against Tapia if Hamed is to avoid another blemish on his record. Hamed needs to get some better people around him, if he is going to have a serious crack at the pound for pound ratings, and truly intends to retire as a legend, rather than a product of hype.

Should Hamed get by Tapia, what next? Where is there left for Hamed to go, other than his dream rematch with Barerra?

In his own division, there are the current champs to consider, Eric Morales, Derrek Gainer, Frankie Toledo and the WBO champion Koko Kovacs. Of these the biggest fight would obviously be against Morales, but at this stage it is possibly asking too much for Naseem to face a dangerous, aggresive banger like Morales. Frankie Toledo is another possibililty, but he is a strictly second string champion, who won a decision from Botile to gain the title. Koko Kovacs sought a matchup with Hamed before, but he is virtually unknown in the states, and it is not a fight that would set the imagination alight. Kovacs is a snoozesome safety-first technical fighter, and even in losing against Hamed could make him look very bad. Derrek Gainer is a possibility, though he is advancing in age, and it would not be as major a scalp as the likes of Morales or Barerra.

Ultimately there is one matchup aside from Barerra that would really catch the boxing world's attentions, and that would be a fight against the current king of the super featherweights, Floyd Mayweather. Mayweather is currently climbing the pound-for-pound rankings, but looks set to leave the super-featherweight division soon, as he has complained about making the weight. Hamed certainly isn't ready yet to face the likes of Mayweather, who is a veritable will-o-the-wisp in the ring, but with a better training setup and a couple of wins against top-flight opposition, who knows what Hamed could achieve? The question remains though whether Mayweather will have already moved up a division, or even two, by the time Hamed is in a position to fight him.

Whatever happens, Hamed must get past Tapia first, presuming the fight is made. Whatever happens, it is likely to be an interesting fight, and the outcome could have long term repercussions on the shape of the lower weight divisions. Should Hamed lose, then one of it's brightest stars of more recent years, may begin a downward spiral into contender status, while Tapia may get some big money fights, and another shot at Ayala.

Let's not write off Hamed just yet, nor Tapia, as both fighters may yet have some highlights to add to their careers.

New piece of heavyweight scene.

Rahman to fight Izon, the plot Thickens.... Heavyweight machincations create more angles than Pythagoras.

The courtroom permitting, Hasim Rahman will now fight david Izon instead of Brian Nielsen. There is something of an irony here, the two journeymen who were scheduled to fight the two former Champs in Tyson and Lewis, now face one another for the heavyweight title.

Izon has had numerous scheduled fights with Tyson cancelled to the extent that he has now had a hiatus since last November when he faced Mike Sedillo.

Tyson had postponed the bout serveral times, and their scheduled bout in June was cancelled following the fall-out from the Rahman V Lewis fight. Tyson began angling for a shot at Rahman, and chose to cancel his proposed date with Izon, thinking he had staged himself a coup. This of course turned out to be a short lived one, as the master machinator Don King gazumped Iron Mike, Lewis, Kushner, HBO and Showtime, in one grand piece of prestidigitation.

Now not only has Mike Tyson been frozen out of the picture by Don King's manouevers his opponent now stands to make six figure sums, and potentially garner the heavyweight championship of the world into the bargain. Iron Mike must be positively fuming with rage.

King has signed Izon in a coup which it seems may be designed not only to lock up another heavyweight contender in King's stable, but also to further convince Mike that the only route left open to him now to profit from the twilight of his career, is to sign once more with Don King.

Don King as already begun making siren-like overtures to Mike Tyson, trying to turn him around and get him back on side.

This is not politics, this is sports," King said. "Let's take politics out of this. ... I have no problem with Mike Tyson. Mike Tyson thinks he has a problem with me because that's what someone is telling him."

The old ear bender is at it again, trying to convince Mike that his opinion of King is something he has been hookwinked into believing by sinister advisers, and that Mike's best opportunities lie with King.

The complicated proceedings following Lewis' loss of the title, is beginning to throw up some interesting shapes. Perversely, Some good things appear to be coming out of this situation.

King is not tied to any exclusive deals with any networks now, as he had been in the 90's and therefore is operating entirely as an independent promoter. This means that King is able to promote bouts that otherwise would not happen due to network conflicts. As "The Don" himself put it so sincerely.

"I wanted to get the television networks out of the promoting of boxing and back into the business of broadcasting,"

This in turn is forcing HBO and showtime to collaborate, and the result of this is the supposed preliminary talks currently underway between Lewis and Tyson's people trying to make the matchup. This represents a cessation of hostilities between the two networks which the people of Jerusalem could take hope in.

This of course isn't an act of Altruism on Don King's part, he has his own agenda to carry out and his own seeds to propogate, it just so happens that in doing so, we are going to be provided with some interesting matchups we might never otherwise have seen.

Rahman vs. Izon, is surely a better prospect than Rahman V Nielsen, and although it appears that the fight fell through partly due to a slowdown in contractual negotiations between King and Nielsen's people, there is probably some truth in the fact that Rahman claims he wants to fight decent opponents.

"I want to fight real fighters, not just guys I'm going to blow out in one round or two," Rahman said.

Certainly, some credit is due to Rahman for fighting Izon, a fighter who was in a very similar position to himself, in terms of position in the rankings and opportunity mere weeks ago. Any gulf in ability between the two is relatively small, certainly when compared to the perceived gulf between Lewis and Rahman prior to their bout. Izon will be the underdog, but there is unlikely to be great deal in it in the betting stakes. Izon has a real chance of dethroning Rahman. For Izon this is a gilt-edged opportunity, to not only get paid in spades for his night's work, but to potentially gain the heavyweight crown.

"My dream is coming true because Rahman is fighting me," said Izon.

It was looking increasingly likely also, that Lewis and Tyson would face one another in something of a dream matchup. A winner may yet find himself in line for a title shot, and it would seem inevitable that the loser will be toppled finally from the top of the heavyweight earnings tree, though of course there is always the chance for Tyson to earn big money it seems no matter what. King is likely to be willing to stage a bout between the winners of Luiz V Holyfield and Rahman V Izon, against either Tyson or Lewis, provided of course he has exclusive promotional rights on the event.

So now we are faced with a brace of Heavyweight title bouts and prospective title eliminators. Holyfield Ruiz III in Beijing, possibly being the least interesting of these. We will then peversely have the unified belts on the undercard (go figure) almost as an afterthought to King's original promotion plan.

The result of Rahman V Izon, may determine whether Tyson or Lewis ever get a shot. Rahman does seem at least in prinicple intent on facing Lewis again, and would undoubtedly relish the huge figures a Tyson fight would present, Tyson's refusal to fight on a King promotion not withstanding. Should Izon win, then we are again in the unknown, except of course that he has signed a promotional deal with King, and will be guided by his own avarice.

Since then however there have been further developments, Lewis has stated that he has no intention of fighting Tyson.

"There have been press reports to the effect that I have authorized negotiations for a fight with Mike Tyson. I want to make clear that there have been absolutely no such negotiations by my camp, and I have rejected any effort by anyone to deter me from immediately regaining my championship. It is true that, on numerous occasions, I have made clear my great desire to fight Mike Tyson. However, I have continuously stated since April 21 and instructed my business manager, Adrian Ogun, and my attorney, Judd Burstein, to state that I will only fight Mike Tyson after I fight Hasim Rahman. Put simply, the only time I plan to fight Mike Tyson is in the context of defending my world championship." (Courtesy of Kronkgym.com)

This is of course partly just a case of Lewis, his legal, managerial and promotional team, trumpeting loudly that their litigation is not going to go away, and that they have not reconciled themselves to the fact that Rahman is going to be fighting Izon next.

Whatever the outcome of the court case, it is likely that Rahman will already have fought before the issue is resolved.

Of course, there may be reparations to be made to the Lewis camp, although it seems that their supposed watertight contractual arrangement is not likely to be upheld in a court of law, especially in the light of the Muhammed Ali acts being instituted. Furthermore Kushner appears to have hoist himself by his own petard, in not handing over the measley sum of $75,000 to Rahman, to renew his contract, so sure must he have been that Rahman would lose to Lewis.

In the meantime, it seems unlikely that Lewis or Tyson will be able to resist the money and kudos that would be attached to a clash between the two heavyweight legends. Now that Holyfield is no longer the force he was, Tyson and Lewis remain the last two of the old guard of Heavyweight champions of the 90's who can mount a credible claim to be the best heavyweight in the world.

It would be wise of Lewis especially, not to take his statement to Rahman to heart, because should Rahman lose, Lewis may find himself even further from a title shot than he is now. In the meantime, a win over Tyson would certainly go a long way to enhancing his reputation with the boxing fraternity, who are now dubious following a second one punch KO defeat as champion.

Time will tell us soon which heavyweights have had their day, and whether Rahman has any potential as a future champion. But undoubtedly Don King has cemented his position even further in signing Izon.

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Johnny Tapia
Hasim Rahman
Naseem Hamed

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