Archive for September, 2011

Dominick Cruz remains underexposed

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UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz (left), a 135-pound dynamo who fights Saturday on Versus, continues to suffer from an exposure problem.

At least Dominick Cruz is making the best of it. At least the UFC bantamweight champion is looking at Saturday night’s title fight on the cable TV backwaters of Versus and choosing to look at it as a glass half full. What else can he do, when you think about it?

“What the UFC is doing is they’re putting me on free TV,” Cruz said on MMAFighting.com’s MMA Hour recently. “I can [make it] known to the casual fan the champion [who] I am, go out there and have an outstanding performance on TV and really I get myself out there and represent the 135-pound division to a wider audience for free.”

In theory, sure. That makes sense. In practice, it feels a little bit more like a punt by the UFC, which still isn’t quite sure what to do with its smaller fighters.

The old conventional wisdom used to be that, below the 155-pound mark, Urijah Faber was the one and only proven, promotable commodity. If his name was on the poster, it would move pay-per-views. If it wasn’t, you had a problem.

That explains why Cruz’s last title defense — a decision win over Faber — was good enough to main event UFC 132, while this next one against challenger Demetrious Johnson gets stuck on Versus. The UFC just doesn’t think fans will pay to see Cruz, and maybe it’s right. But whose fault is that, anyway?

In a more just world, Cruz would be a huge draw. His indefatigable style is the perfect antidote to heavyweights who punch themselves into wheezing fits inside of one round. Watching him fight always reminds me of one of those robots in The Jetsons that would occasionally go haywire and do something horrible to poor, long-suffering George. He flies around the cage, a blur of appendages and takedowns, and it never seems like even he knows what he’s going to do next. It’s so fun to watch, I almost don’t care that he never seems to finish fights.

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  • Published On Sep 28, 2011
  • Getting to know … Sergio Martinez

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    Argentine southpaw Sergio Martinez (above) has twice defended the lineal middleweight title since winning it from Kelly Pavlik in April 2010. (AP)

    Widely regarded as the world’s No. 3 pound-for-pound boxer after Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, lineal middleweight champion Sergio Martinez returns to action Saturday against England’s Darren Barker in Atlantic City (10 p.m. ET, HBO). SI.com caught up with the 36-year-old Argentine southpaw, who finds himself at an improbable career peak at an age when most fighters are thinking about retirement.

    Age started fighting?

    20.

    What’s your first boxing memory?

    Watching Duran vs. Leonard on TV. I was so impressed and excited.

    Who’s your favorite all-time fighter?

    Muhammad Ali.

    What’s the greatest fight you ever saw?

    Tyson vs. Holyfield and Leonard vs. Hagler.

    Who was the toughest opponent you ever fought?

    Kelly Pavlik.

    What was your favorite subject in school?

    Math.

    What’s on your iPod?

    System of a Down, Calle 13 and a mixture of Argentine music.

    What is your favorite movie?

    Midnight Run with Robert De Niro and The Usual Suspects with Kevin Spacey.

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  • Published On Sep 28, 2011
  • Martinez draws for Times Square workout

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    Sergio Martinez defends his middleweight championship Saturday against England's Darren Barker on HBO. (Ed Diller/DiBella Entertainment)

    NEW YORK — The best pound-for-pound boxer in the world not named Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquaio is middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, who returns to action Saturday against England’s Darren Barker at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall (10 p.m. ET, HBO).

    The 36-year-old Martinez held an open workout Tuesday at Modell’s Sporting Goods in Times Square, jumping rope, shadowboxing and working the pads with trainer Pablo Sarmiento before as many as 100 boxing fans and curious passers-by walking 42nd St. during lunch hour. Notables in attendance ranged from Kery Davis, senior vice president in charge of programming at HBO, to adult film actress Lisa Ann (of Who’s Naylin’ Paylin? renown).

    Martinez captured the WBC and Ring magazine 160-pound titles from Kelly Pavlik in April 2010 and defended them with a savage one-punch knockout of Paul Williams in November — a highlight-reel finish that landed him consensus Fighter and Knockout of the Year honors while propelling him to No. 3 in most pound-for-pound tables.

    But despite matinee-idol looks and a compelling backstory — a product of one of Argentina’s toughest barrios, Martinez sought careers in soccer and cycling before taking up boxing at 20 — the late-blooming southpaw’s improbable success has yet to translate to box-office appeal and crossover recognition. (“Is he a UFC guy?” asked one Valley-girl type who wandered in to see what the crowd was for; “No, he’s the middleweight champion of the world,” Martinez promoter Lou DiBella bemusedly corrected.)

    Martinez looked sharp throughout the half-hour session and is widely expected to walk through 9-to-1 underdog Barker, who is undefeated but underexperienced. Beyond that, who knows. Before moving from the storefront to sign autographs for the fans downstairs, Martinez expressed interest in boiling down to face either Pacquiao or Mayweather at a catchweight of 150. “At 160 there are no opponents available to me,” he said through translator Sampson Lewkowicz. “I want to prove I’m pound-for-pound the best.” A noble cause, but whether he’ll be able to transcend the moderate fame of a successful boxer depends largely on whether Floyd or Manny steps to the plate in 2012.

    – Bryan Armen Graham

    As many as 100 boxing fans and curious passers-by watched middleweight champion Sergio Martinez at a public workout Tuesday at the Modell's Sporting Goods in Times Square. (Bryan Armen Graham/SI)


  • Published On Sep 27, 2011
  • Super Six final rescheduled for Dec. 17

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    The Super Six final between Andre Ward and Carl Froch has been rescheduled for Dec. 17 in Atlantic City, an industry source told SI.com.

    The fight was originally scheduled for Oct. 29 at Boardwalk Hall. An injury to Ward during training last week — a cut above his right eye that needed seven stitches to close — forced the postponement.

    – Chris Mannix


  • Published On Sep 27, 2011
  • Ortiz embarrasses self with conference call

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    Victor Ortiz is taking aim at a rematch with Floyd Mayweather when he should be eyeing a return bout with Andre Berto. (Barry Sweet/ZUMAPRESS.com)

    When a fighter loses in a controversial manner, some sour grapes are to be expected. When those gripes are delivered at a post-fight press conference they are, to most, understandable. When they are delivered via conference call more than a week later they are, to everyone, embarrassing.

    On Monday, Victor Ortiz — along with his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya and manager, Rolando Arellano — held a call to discuss his Sept. 17 knockout loss to Floyd Mayweather. And it didn’t take long for the call to spin out of control.

    Some of the (low)lights:

    • Ortiz claimed that his head butt of Mayweather — as overt, unsportsmanlike and illegal a shot as you will see in boxing — was prompted by Mayweather’s incessant elbowing, something Ortiz says he had repeatedly warned referee Joe Cortez about before the fight. “He released the elbow on me,” said Ortiz. “I released the head butt.”

    • De La Hoya, whose feuding with Mayweather has escalated in recent months, claimed that none of his past opponents would have delivered the kind of cheap shots that Mayweather knocked Ortiz out with. “Not even a [Ricardo] Mayorga would have done that,” De La Hoya said. “Not even a Fernando Vargas. That’s a new technique that must be taught in boxing.”

    • Despite losing eight of the nine rounds scored by the three judges — and being shut out on many ringside media cards as well — Ortiz claimed he was in control of the fight. “I was dictating,” Ortiz said.

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  • Published On Sep 26, 2011
  • Stock Watch: UFC 135

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    Jon Jones (above) made his first defense of the UFC light heavyweight title on Saturday, dispensing of Quinton Jackson. (Hector Acevedo/ZUMAPRESS.com)

    As expected, 24-year-old phenom Jon Jones is still the man after UFC 135. In the first defense of his title, he beat an in-shape and motivated Quinton “Rampage” Jackson to keep his strap, six months after he throttled Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to become the youngest champ in the UFC’s modern era.

    Like all of Jones’ fights in the octagon, the fight was one-sided. At no point was there imminent danger and at no point was Jackson able, as he’d hoped, to test the champ’s untested chin.

    Jackson had posited Jones would crumble to exhaustion in later rounds. Instead, it was he who crumbled and quit, overwhelmed in the fourth by a relentless procession of kicks, punches, and elbows. He tapped to a choke in that championship frame. But it was an afterthought; he checked out at the end of the third when he started clock-watching.

    So begins the Jon Jones era. Or does it? A crew like The Usual Suspects is just waiting to cut the kid from his perch and take his gold loot. So far, he’s given us no reason to believe he won’t parallel, and perhaps eclipse, the rise of welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre. There are significant threats, but at the moment, Jones’ 84-and-a-half-inch wingspan casts a long shadow over the division.

    Let’s take a brief look at the murderer’s row:

    Rashad Evans: The former champ, who’s next in line, is in his physical prime and has the speed to get inside and do damage with quick hands. With his wrestling, he could be the first person to put Jones on his back. Moreover, he could keep the champ there. It’s the foundation of Evans’ confidence leading into the yet-unscheduled bout, a do-over from a ill-fated meeting at UFC 133 that fractured the camp in which both trained. What happened under Greg Jackson’s roof when they sparred, before Evans accused Jones of betrayal and flew the coop, is a truth that will only be uncovered if walls talk. Evans says he made Jones quit. Jones says he could have handled Evans had he gone full speed. Training partners won’t break the code of silence endemic to MMA gyms, at least for now. So we’re left to what we’ve seen thus far from Evans. And if that’s any indication of the damage he could do to Jones, he could make things interesting.

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  • Published On Sep 26, 2011
  • Froch left to scramble after Ward backs out

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    Carl Froch

    Carl Froch is looking for a new opponent now that Andre Ward has backed out. (Tom Mihalek/AP)

    So, now what?

    That’s the question super middleweight titlist Carl Froch and Showtime executive Ken Hershman are asking themselves after Andre Ward announced Friday that he has to postpone his Oct. 29 Super Six fight due to a cut over his right eye, the latest hiccup in the network’s 168-pound tournament.

    While Froch is obviously frustrated, he has to move on. It’s uncertain the fight with Ward will be rescheduled before the end of the year — the combination of the cut, which required seven stitches to close, and the slim number of available dates make it questionable — and Froch’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, wants to keep his 34-year old fighter busy.

    The options, however, are limited. Froch is not going to seek out a top opponent, as a loss would claim his alphabet title along with much of the buzz of the tournament final. Besides, most of the name opponents in the division (Lucian Bute, Mikkel Kessler and Robert Stieglitz) are locked into fights anyway.

    More likely, Froch will look for a manageable opponent to bring to the U.K., where he has not fought since outpointing Andre Dirrell in 2009. Sakio Bika, Librado Andrade or Noe Gonzalez come to mind. Rising middleweight prospect George Groves — who has a December date with Paul Smith — would do big business in England, though it’s unlikely Groves’s promoter would put Groves, 23, in with Froch this early in his career.

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  • Published On Sep 23, 2011
  • Newsmagazine investigates Gatti’s death

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    The conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Arturo Gatti have only grown in number and volume since the three-division boxing champion allegedly killed himself in 2009.

    It’s a compelling story 48 Hours Mystery is taking on Saturday in the season premiere (10 p.m. ET/PT, CBS), the “true crime” franchise of CBS’ well-known newsmagazine.

    Correspondent Erin Moriarty spent time in Brazil and interviewed many of the personalities involved in the case, among them Gatti’s widow Amanda Rodrigues (in her first television interview); Micky Ward, with whom Gatti had one of the greatest trilogies in boxing history; and Gatti’s brother Joe, who has split with his family over the case.

    For those unsatisfied with the conclusions established by the Brazilian authorities — who arrested Rodrigues on suspicion of murder but released her after 18 days — Saturday’s segment is a must-watch.

    Rodrigues, 25, is currently facing a civil suit brought by Gatti’s family in Montreal centering on the boxer’s estate.

    – Bryan Armen Graham


  • Published On Sep 23, 2011
  • Ward hurt, Super Six final postponed

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    Carl Froch (left) and Andre Ward (right), shown here promoting the final in England, will likely meet in early 2012. (Andrew Couldridge/ZUMAPRESS.com)

    It’s been nearly two years since the launch of Showtime’s ambitious Super Six World Boxing Classic, a made-for-TV tournament designed to crown a “true” champion of the 168-pound division.

    What’s a few months more?

    The super middleweight title unification fight between WBA champ Andre Ward and WBC beltholder Carl Froch, set for Oct. 29 in Atlantic City, N.J., has been postponed after Ward suffered a cut above his right eye Thursday during a sparring session.

    The announcement was made jointly today by Ward’s promoter, Dan Goossen of Goossen Tutor Promotions, Froch’s promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport, and Showtime Sports general manager (and tournament architect) Ken Hershman.

    “I’m extremely disappointed about this cut,” Ward said in a statement. “We used every precaution, including headgear with a face bar and it was just a fluke situation. My sparring partner and I were involved in an exchange inside and the next thing I knew, I was bleeding. That is the most frustrating thing about this — I don’t have an explanation for how it happened.

    “This is very frustrating for my camp and I, and I knew that if the shoe was on the other foot and Froch suffered an injury, I would be extremely disappointed.”

    “This is absurd and unprofessional. Ward needs to get his act together,” Froch said, upon hearing the news. “Of course, you’ve got to take the medical advice seriously, but for a cut to put you out of a fight a full five weeks before the event is ludicrous. If it were two weeks out from the fight, maybe I’d understand. But he’s got 35 days to deal with it.  To me, he’s showing his weakness. Nothing changes for me.  I’ll be ready if and when he shows up.”

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  • Published On Sep 23, 2011
  • Jones heads UFC’s charge into mainstream

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    The UFC is banking on the dynamic athleticism of light heavyweight champ Jon Jones to help take the organization to the next level. (Greg Nelson/SI)

    Is the sports world ready for Jon Jones?

    This is not a question that will be answered in the main event of Saturday night’s UFC 135 in Denver, a fight in which the 24-year-old will put his shiny new UFC light heavyweight championship belt on the line for the first time against Quinton Jackson. This is not a question about “Bones” the fighter.

    OK, sure, what Jones does in the octagon does ultimately matter. This young man who breezed from phenom to champion in about the time it takes him to wheel through a spinning backfist could, with a loss or even an ordinary performance, instantly lose his mojo. But let’s not even go there. At this point, the mixed martial arts world is utterly transfixed by Jones, whose presence transcends his skills in striking and grappling. We’re going to assume, for the sake of argument, that that does not change this weekend.

    But when we investigate the readiness of the sports world to latch onto the star of Jones, we’re not talking about the MMA world. We’re looking at the bigger picture, the sports world splashed across flat screens 24/7 showing enough flavors of sports channels to make Baskin-Robbins jealous. The UFC has been creeping onto that stage for a while now — a highlight clip here and a quick Q&A there. But emergence into the sports mainstream shifts into high gear in November when the Dana White Athletic Club makes its network TV debut on Fox.

    Even though he’s fighting this weekend, not on the UFC on Fox 1 card Nov. 12 in Anaheim, Calif., Jon Jones is a big part of the push into the hearts and souls of the sporting public. He is an athlete unlike any who have come before in his sport. He’s not merely a skilled, dangerous fighter. You watch him perform in the cage and you get the feeling he just as well could be excelling on a basketball court or football field, as do both his older brother, who plays in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, and his younger bro, who plays college ball at Syracuse. Heck, he’s from upstate New York, so hockey isn’t out of the question. Nor is baseball, really, with Cooperstown being a couple hours’ drive from where he grew up.

    It’s not that Bones has demonstrated an aptitude for any of those sports. In fact, at a fan’s suggestion on Twitter that he’s got the body and athleticism to play wide receiver, Jones responded, “Haha I can’t catch.” But that’s OK. He doesn’t have to catch. He just has to perform and carry himself like enough of an athlete to be measured alongside the stars who shine in all of the other prominent sports venues.

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  • Published On Sep 23, 2011


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