Friday, December 30, 2011

Top Ten Boxers I'm Glad Won Titles (1-5)

(See Boxers #6-10 and a description of this list here).

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5. David Diaz (Lightweight, 36-4-1, 17 KOs)

Hey, remember when folks were wondering whether 135 lbs was just too high for Manny Pacquiao? David Diaz does. Part of the trifecta of Diaz's (the others were Juan and Julio) who possessed lightweight titles, David Diaz was seen as the weakest of the three when he was picked as the opponent for Pac-Man's experiment with higher weight classes. In retrospect, that's probably unfair (I think his career stacks up quite well against Julio Diaz). But anyway, I get ahead of myself.

Diaz is the sort of guy who's always performed above expectations. He earned a spot on the 1996 Olympic team by upsetting far more heralded Zab Judah, losing in the second round to eventual silver medalist Oktay Urkal. Diaz started his professional campaign 26-0 before being knocked out by Kendall Holt (see below). A year later, Diaz won the interim WBC lightweight title by defeating Jose Armando Santa Cruz, then, after being elevated to full titlist, defended against what was thought to be a long-faded Erik Morales in a win that looks much better in hindsight.

That paved the way for the payday against Pacquaio, who wowed the boxing world by destroying Diaz over the course of nine rounds. That set up Pacquiao's mega-fight with Oscar De La Hoya, and the rest, as they say, is history. Though I do like to point out that Diaz gave Pacquiao more of a challenge than either De La Hoya or Ricky Hatton. Diaz lost in his attempt to get his old title back from Humberto Soto, and then was knocked out in a hellacious war this past year versus prospect Hank Lundy.

4. Luis Collazo (Welterweight, 31-5, 16 KOs)

A skilled southpaw fighter from Brooklyn, Luis Collazo has been on the short end of several close decisions where he was the short money -- something that I imagine would be particularly gnawed at him had he never managed to hoist a belt. But fortunately, that wasn't the case, as he won the WBA welterweight title in 2005 against Jose Antonio Rivera, and defended it once against Miguel Gonzalez before accepting a challenge from undefeated Junior Welterweight star Ricky Hatton, who was moving up in weight and looking to establish himself as a superstar.

Collazo lost a unanimous decision in a fight many thought he won, but in which a Collazo victory stood to lose various boxing promoters massive sums of money (it would have, for example, derailed Hatton's ability to become a viable opponent for Pacquaio and Mayweather). Collazo lost more clearly to Shane Mosley before challenging HBO blessed-son Andre Berto for his WBC belt. In a life-or-death struggle that could have gone either way, Berto escaped with an exceedingly narrow unanimous decision win.

Since then, Collazo fell virtually off the map, winning a bounceback fight immediately after the Berto loss, then taking a nearly-two year layoff. Upon his return, he lost a disappointing decision to fringe contender Freddy Hernandez (whom Berto had earlier starched in one), which may have spelled the end of Collazo's run as an elite contender.

3. Kendall Holt (Jr. Welterweight, 27-5, 15 KOs)

Kendall Holt is nicknamed "Rated R", but he might as well be nicknamed "Enigma". I'm not sure I've ever seen a fighter in as many different varieties of fights as the Patterson, New Jersey-based fighter. Sometimes he unleashes devastating, one-punch KOTY candidates like against Julio Diaz. Sometimes he wanders aimlessly around the ring and is lethargically outboxed, like against Danny Garcia. Sometimes he's involved in all-action slugfests that last round after thrilling round, like against Ricardo Torres. Sometimes, he's involved in all-action slugfasts that don't last past the first round, like against Ricardo Torres in the rematch (or Thomas Davis).

Sometimes, all these qualities manage to come together within the space of a single fight, like against Timothy Bradley. There, he alternated between being utterly dominant (knocking Bradley down twice in the first and twelfth rounds) and utterly disinterested (most of the rest of the fight). To my eyes, it looked as if Holt was thoroughly in control for any part of the fight where his head was actually in the bout -- unfortunately, that consisted of a bare handful of rounds.

And that, in a nutshell, is the Kendall Holt story. The athleticism is there. The power is there. The head is most certainly not there. The upshot is a wildly inconsistent fighter who did manage to lift the WBO Jr. Welterweight title and hold it for one defense in 2008.

2. Cristobal Cruz (Featherweight, 39-12-3, 23 KOs)

Cristobal Cruz turned pro in 1992 at age 14, winning his debut by second round knockout. His record began to reflect that of a Mexican fighter with no serious promotional backing who turned pro at 14, and in 2007 when he faced a comebacking Zahir Raheem, he sported a fugly 34-10-1.

The Raheem fight was ugly, as Zahir Raheem fights often are, but in my opinion Cruz acquitted himself quite well -- I scored the fight a draw. The judges all gave the fight to Raheem by shutout or near-shutout, which is what happens when you're a 34-10-1 fighter against a former champion in an ugly fight. And that figured to be the Cristobal Cruz story -- a journeyman guy who got on ESPN2 once as a comeback opponent, did better than expected, and was firmly not rewarded for it by judges who weren't paying attention.

But by stroke of luck, the powers-that-be brought in Cruz as opponent for Thomas Mashaba as the latter geared up for a title shot. Cruz and Mashaba went to war in an incredible fight that saw Cruz break the Compubox record for most punches thrown in a fight. But it was a tight fight, and nobody knew how the scorecards would read. As it happened, Cruz managed to squeak out the upset majority decision victory, and the title shot that would have gone to Mashaba instead was handed to Cruz.

Cruz met Orlando Salido for the vacant IBF featherweight title, in a rematch of a fight Salido had won. In an exciting match, Cruz won by split decision and approved his record to 37-11-1 in the process. Cruz defended his title three times, including a spirited match against Jorge Solis which featured new and exciting innovations in fouling, before losing it to (who else) Salido in the 2010 rubber match.

A twenty-year pro now at age 34, Cruz is still going strong, scheduled to fight Juan Carlos Burgos in February 2012.

1. Nate Campbell (Lightweight, 34-9-1, 25 KOs)

Nate Campbell is number one on my list for several reasons. He's a genuinely nice guy, and he won his titles (three at once) in a pretty sizable upset. But most importantly, Campbell tops this list because of what he would have been remembered for if he hadn't managed to finally, at age 36, win the title that had eluded him for so long.

Campbell got a late start to boxing, originally inspired to try the sport after shadow-boxing to stay awake during late shifts at his job. His career started off with 23 straight wins before losing to Joel Casamayor in a closely contested bout. But it was his next big shot, an IBF title eliminator against Robbie Peden, that nearly defined his legacy. Well ahead on the scorecards going into the 5th round, Campbell stuck his chin out, daring Peden to hit him ... and proceeding to get himself knocked out. He was knocked out again in a rematch with Peden for the IBF Junior Lightweight title, then lost again to Francisco Lorenzo. Career momentum that was regained after an upset victory over undefeated Kid Diamond seemed arrested when he lost a split decision in a title eliminator to Isaac Hlatshwayo.

Going back into the trenches, Campbell kept at it, winning another eliminator against Matt Zegan and then (because this is boxing) yet another eliminator by thoroughly beating up Ricky Quiles. This made him the mandatory for IBF lightweight champ Julio Diaz, but his shot was delayed to make way for a (Julio) Diaz vs. (Juan) Diaz unification match. The latter, younger Diaz won, and Campbell was the decided underdog against the undefeated "Baby Bull" -- a charismatic Mexican-American fighter who now held the IBF, WBA, and WBO lights and that many were heralding as the next big thing. Campbell, for his part, never blinked -- I still remember Dan Raphael describing "The Galaxxy Warrior" as "supremely confident" in the months leading up to the fight.

And he backed it up. Campbell came out aggressive and put unprecedented pressure on Diaz. A cut caused by an accidental headbutt seemed to rattle the young champion, and Campbell kept on him. Most observers thought Campbell had won, but hearts stopped when the announcer declared it a split-decision. But in the end, the right guy had his hand raised, and Nate Campbell had the victory he had been searching for his entire career.

After the Diaz fight, Campbell's characteristic bad luck reasserted itself and his career spiraled downward with astounding celerity. A big payday against Joan Guzman fell through when the latter came in grossly overweight and refused to fight. Campbell declared bankruptcy, then lost his belts on the scale in a fight against Ali Funeka. The Funeka fight was Campbell's last great hurrah, seemingly battling father time as much as the South African, seemingly falling behind the fight only to surge back on the strength of 2nd and 11th round knockdowns. His majority decision victory was the last major triumph of Campbell's career -- he was being thoroughly dominated by Tim Bradley before that fight was stopped (it was later ruled a no contest), then lost to Victor Ortiz. A defeat to journeyman Walter Estrada led Campbell to announce his retirement, but he came back to lose to Danny Garcia and Khabib Allakhverdiev.

Still, I know of not a single person in the boxing community who does not consider themselves a Nate Campbell fan. Brash and occasionally foolhardy as he may be, he just seemed to exude a likeability and professionalism that won him admirers across the sport. And while most of us wish he'd end his career, we also hope he stays in the game as an announcer (for which he's shown natural talent). And all of us remember that great day in Mexico, March 8th, 2008, when he upset an unbeaten star to finally put those belts -- those belts which fans dismiss and commentators deride, those belts which cheapen the sport and drive away new viewers, those belts which Campbell had been pursuing fruitlessly for 8 years -- around his waist.

Top Ten Boxers I'm Glad Won Titles (6-10)

One of the most common complaints about the contemporary boxing landscape is the proliferation of "world titles". The WBC, WBA, WBO, and IBF all are considered "major" sanctioning organizations, each with their own champion (sometimes more -- the WBA has been known to have three in a single weight class). Add that to the legitimate Ring Magazine lineal title, and, well, that's a lot of folks who get to stroll around calling themselves "champ".

I don't necessarily disagree with this critique, but I tend to be a little more muted about it. In part, this is because the belts do sometimes (sometimes) accomplish useful things, forcing mandatories or elevating a talented but somewhat obscure fighter (often from Europe or Asia) to global prominence. But in part it's because the fighters care about them. It matters to them a great deal to be able to say they were "world champion", and I'm not from the sidelines willing to dismiss an institution that clearly means so much to the guys actually duking it out in the ring.

In this top ten (split into two posts), I give a list of ten people (in the recent past -- I only became a boxing fan in the last decade) whom I'm glad managed to win a title. Generally, this means folks who barely got over that hump -- for whom winning a title gives their career meaning it would have otherwise lacked, and legitimacy that I think their talent and dedication deserves. It's not that I'm sad Oscar de la Hoya won a title, it's just that it was never really touch-and-go for him -- he was a multi-division champ and international superstar. I'm talking about folks who scraped and clawed at the edges and, finally -- if only briefly -- managed to reach the top of the mountain. But when they retire, and talk to their grandkids, they'll be able say not "I once was a contender", but "I once was world champion".

10. Corrie Sanders (Heavyweight, 42-4, 31 KOs)

Essentially a fringe contender for his entire career, Sanders with a South African southpaw with fast hands and a vulnerable chin. He had amassed a solid 38-2 record prior to challenging Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight title, but was seen as a major underdog, with both of his two losses coming by stoppage and with Klitschko having the deserved reputation as a titanic puncher. Sanders also was 37 years old and had fought a mere 3 rounds in the past 2 years. Yet instead of the walkover many expected, Sanders dropped Klitshcko twice at the close of round 1 and twice at the start of round 2 to score the colossal upset. The iconic image here is a tie between Sanders screaming at Klitschko to get up after the first round knockdowns, and his trainer jumping into his arms after the fight was stopped.

Sanders immediately vacated his belt to challenge Vitali Klitschko for the WBC title, and was knocked out in 8. He never challenged for a title again, and last fought in 2008, a first round knockout loss to Osborne Machimana.

9. Carlos Quintana (Welterweight, 28-3, 21 KOs)

Despite a solid amateur background that included being a member of the Puerto Rican Olympic team, Carlos Quintana never really seemed to be in the conversation as a potential elite fighter. He first rose to prominence on an HBO card where he was intended to be the B-side showcasing far more hyped prospect Joel "The Love Child" Julio (who never did win a title). Despite suffering a flash knockdown in round one, Quintana thoroughly out-boxing Julio to win the fight and earn a shot at Miguel Cotto's 147 lbs belt. It was a competitive fight, but Cotto eventually overwhelmed Quintana with his power, knocking the younger Puerto Rican down with two painful body shots in the 5th (Quintana retired in his corner after the round).

That was the fight everyone remembered when Quintana signed to challenge unbeaten Paul "The Punisher" Williams. Williams had earned the moniker of the most-avoided fighter in boxing with his freakish, 6 foot tall frame, incessant activity, and surprisingly good inside presence, and had just won the biggest fight of his career in a slugfest against Antonio Margarito. Yet Quintana seemed to be in charge throughout the whole fight, brilliantly using his jab to control distance and keep Williams at bay. As Max Kellerman memorably put it, the story of the fight was "Carlos Quintana punches Paul Williams in the face". Yet Quintana's slick style and underdog status had people worried that a robbery was coming, and everyone was on edge when the scores were read. No need: Quintana won by unanimous decision to hand Williams his first defeat and lift the WBO welterweight crown.

The very next fight, of course, Williams knocked Quintana out in the very first round of their rematch to win the title back. Quintana then won two more fights against middling opposition before challenging Andre Berto for his title and getting knocked out in the 8th. He fought just one time in 2011, a win over journeyman Yoryi Estrella.

8. Cornelius Bundrage (Jr. Middleweight, 31-4, 18 KOs)

Cornelius "K9" Bundrage first was displayed to American boxing eyes against Sechew Powell in one of the wildest (and shortest) fights ever broadcast on ShoBox. It featured a double knockdown four seconds into the fight, followed by the Bundrage being knocked out seventeen seconds later (a confused Bundrage remarked in his corner: "I got knocked out that quick?").

Bundrage then became a contestant on Season 3 of The Contender, and was the final fighter picked to join a team. Boldly declaring that "the last shall be first", Bundrage was impressive in the tournament, beating Michael Clark, Walter Wright, and Norberto Bravo while losing to Steve Forbes and taking the bronze.

Still, Bundrage wasn't really considered to be a true contender for a title. A knockout loss to Joel Julio seemed to verify this, as Julio himself was really considered only a B+ fighter. His victory over Kassim Ouma (see below) was seen more as proof of how far Ouma had fallen, and a loss to Contender winner Grady Brewer was just icing on a bitter cake. But an upset knockout victory over previously unbeaten Zaurbek Baysangurov in Germany put Bundrage back on the IBF charts, and he was slated to face Yuri Foreman (see below) in a title eliminator. That fight ended in a no-contest due to a headbutt, but in my estimation Foreman seemed to be in charge early. Foreman elected to pursue a shot against WBA titlist Daniel Santos, which handed Bundrage a fight against reigning champ Cory Spinks in Spinks' hometown of St. Louis.

Even though Spinks was considered quite faded, Bundrage wasn't really considered an elite challenger. But he proved the skeptics wrong, knocking out Spinks in 5 (something previously done only by Zab Judah) and handing Bundrage the IBF 154 lbs title.

Bundrage is actually the only reigning titlist on this list, and has already made one successful defense of his belt. And who was his opponent? Why, none other than Sechew Powell, who had KO'd Bundrage in 21 seconds in that wild Showtime fight, so many years ago.

7. Kassim Ouma (Jr. Middleweight, 27-8-1, 17 KOs)

In a sport filled with tough stories, Ouma's may rank as among the worst. Born in Uganda, Ouma was pressed into service as a child soldier at age 6 in Uganda's civil war. He eventually left the army and joined the Ugandan national boxing team, defecting to the United States in the late 1990s (an act for which his father was killed by the government in retaliation). Despite never being wounded in his time a soldier, Ouma was shot twice in drive-by shootings upon arriving in Florida.

Ouma won his belt in 2004 against tough Verno Phillips, defending once against Kofi Jantuah before losing his crown to Roman Karmazin. Since then, Ouma has specialized in the "brave, losing effort", a skid that began in a near-suicidal performance against then-middleweight champion Jermain Taylor (albeit one that established him as among my personal favorite fighters). This wasn't actually considered to be a major hiccup, as Ouma was considered too small to be a true middleweight and was excused for his ill-advised jump up a weight class.

Unfortunately, upon dropping back to 154, he then lost what was supposed to be a bounceback fight against Saul Roman and another to Cornelius Bundrage. Then, after a win over journeyman Martinus Clay, dropped a split decision to Gabriel Rosado and a UD to prospect Vanes Martirosyan -- the last of which, in Ouma's defense, very well could have been a brave, winning effort (he dropped Martirosyan in the 9th and one could have very easily scored the fight for Ouma). This past year, he challenged emerging star Gennady Golovkin for his WBA middleweight belt, but lost in (what else) a brave effort.

6. Yuri Foreman (Jr. Middleweight, 28-2, 8 KOs)

Ah, the "Kosher Krusher". Yori Foreman was part of a trio of Jewish boxing "contenders" that most real boxing fans viewed more as marketing ploys. Roman Greenberg was knocked out by Cedric Boswell, and Dmitry Salita was annihilated in one round by Amir Khan. And Foreman -- a slick boxer who wishes he had Paulie Malignaggi's pop -- wasn't really seen as any better. He had managed to eke out split-decision victories over Anthony Thompson and Andrey Tsurkan -- both decent gatekeeper types, but neither the sort that a true title contender should be struggling with. And though he looked decent against Cornelius Bundrage before that fight was prematurely stopped on a headbutt, few -- myself included -- gave him much of a shot when he stepped up to challenge reigning WBA titlist Daniel Santos.

Boy were we in for a surprise. Not only did Foreman dominate the fight, he actually put Santos on the canvas twice (in the 2nd and 12th rounds) to win the bout handily and earn the title of world champion.

In his next fight, Foreman was matched against Miguel Cotto as the latter attempted to bounce back from his loss to Manny Pacquiao. The fight was the headliner in the first boxing match at the new Yankee stadium, and early on Foreman had decent success with his stick-and-move strategy. Unfortunately, Foreman's knee gave out in the 7th -- bad for any fighter, but disastrous for a guy like Foreman who depends on lateral movement and who has no power to speak of.

Yet Foreman bravely carried on, trying to stand in the pocket and trade with Cotto despite (a) Cotto being one of the best body punchers in the sport and (b) Foreman not having any power even when he can put weight on both legs. The result was predictable: Yankees fans were treated to an extraordinary display of boxing courage, and Foreman was treated to having the crap kicked out of him before the fight was finally stopped in the 9th. Foreman fought just won more time, losing by corner retirement in the 6th round to Pawel Wolak.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Champagne in Champaign

Going back to Champaign today, after a lovely trip to Minnesota. And then tomorrow, a bunch of college friends of ours are coming out for New Year's celebration (Champagne in Champaign, 2011-12. Clever, right?). So the streak of good days is looking to continue.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Are You Calling Me a Racist!?!?!?!

Ta-Nehisi Coates really gets at the heart of the phenomenon:
As an aside, I think there's an essay to be written about why any accusation of a racial offense is so often reduced to "Are you a racist?" It would be as if my wife said, "You forgot to check Samori's homework" and I responded, "I'm not a bad father."

That. Times a thousand.

It's Always Funny in Philadelphia

Former Senator Arlen Specter (R, then D-PA) tries his hand at stand-up comedy. And I'll be honest -- he's surprisingly funny. My favorite:
“I called [Bill] Clinton up on his 65th birthday and said, ‘Bill, congratulations on being 65. How do you feel?’ He said, ‘Oh, I feel like a teenager, the problem is I can’t find one.”

Solid stuff, particularly given that Specter is nearly 82 years old.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pryor Restraint, Part II

What is going on in Birmingham? I just wrote a post about how Judge Bill Pryor, known as one of the more conservative judges on the 11th Circuit, keeps on joining surprisingly liberal opinions (I attributed this to the presence of a friend of mine who is currently clerking for him). And here is another one, perhaps the most shocking of all, since it flatly reverses an opinion by the same panel.

The case is one I commented on before, centering around whether calling a Black employee "boy" is evidence of racial animus in an employment discrimination case. The 11th Circuit had previously ruled "no", and was reversed by the Supreme Court. Then on remand, it answered "no" again (with respect to the facts of this case), and remanding the case for a new trial. And now, the trial having been completed again, with another verdict for the plaintiff, the 11th Circuit has finally caved, vacating its last opinion and upholding the verdict (save for the punitive damage award).

The New York Times observes that the opinion of the court reads more than a little begrudging (Pryor did not author this opinion), taking it upon itself to chastise an amicus brief by a group of civil rights leaders and concluding that the "verdict could have gone either way, and it went Hithon's way." But still, wow. It's rare to see a panel reverse itself like this, and a serious pattern with Pryor is emerging.

The question is whether it will continue without my secret agent in his chambers. Only time will tell.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

New Year's Resolutions 2012

It's a Debate Link tradition: New Year's Resolutions! Here are my previous resolutions for 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007. But first, we appraise my performance on last year's resolutions:

Met: 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15.

Missed: 2 (through no lack of effort, unfortunately), 3, 10, 11, 14.

Pick 'em: 1, 4, 5.

And now, to 2012!

(1) Get at least one scholarly article published.

(2) Recover my copy of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.

(3) Successfully move to Minneapolis.

(4) Don't embarrass myself as a law clerk.

(5) Create more crossword puzzles.

(6) Go to a University of Illinois sporting event.

(7) (Continue to?) succeed as a teacher.

(8) Solidify post-clerkship plans.

(9) Visit Carleton.

(10) Find a new television show to watch.

(11) Be more Jewish with Jill, wherever we are.

(!2) Use my punching bag (or otherwise exercise) more.

(13) Try to get some writing done while clerking (aside from that which is professionally required, of course).

(14) Read more books.

(15) Take this blog's upcoming involuntary sabbatical with grace and poise.

That last one, of course, needs some explanation (unless I already made this announcement, in which case, sorry, I forgot). Once I start my clerkship, the canons of judicial ethics will severely circumscribe my ability to comment publicly on legal or political issues -- i.e., do much of what this blog does. Hence, I will in effect have to take a sabbatical from blogging.

This won't happen until right before I start in Minnesota (and I'll announce it in a proper goodbye post). And I still haven't quite decided on the logistics -- I might simply refrain from posting (or perhaps only on completely safe topics like boxing), or I might make the site "private" (password-protected). But regardless, this is quite bittersweet. The blog will celebrate its 8th birthday in June, which, when you think about it, is a very impressive run. It's been a very important part of my life for (wow) almost a third of my life, and it will be no small thing to not be able to write anymore. It really feels like I'm losing something very special.

You'll note that I'm calling this a "sabbatical", and I hope that makes clear my intention to return. Which is my intention, though of course a year long break can change many things. In any event, we still have quite a few months of posting before then. So no sense dwelling on it. In the meantime, happy holidays and happy new year!

The Parallels are Astounding

It's amazing how much the internal dynamics of Israel and the Palestinian Authority remind me of each other right now.

For example, one constant refrain about the PA is that it isn't a "partner for peace." Though there are Palestinian leaders who talk the talk, and may even be willing to walk the walk. the PA is internally divided, and many key members of Fatah and other constituent PA elements have no interest in pursuing a peace deal with Israel.

Now compare that to this article where Israeli FM Avigdor Lieberman declares that "now isn't the time" for negotiations with the Palestinian, versus this article from the same day where Netanyahu says he's willing to negotiate with Abbas "anytime, anywhere". Obviously, on one level this is yet another example of Lieberman being a massively destructive loose cannon. But on another, it's a symbol that the Israeli government, like its Palestinian counterparts, may be too fractured to be able to make a credible commitment to any serious peace agreement.

Meanwhile, in the Lieberman article he talks about how Israel doesn't need any lectures on how to deal with violent "price tag" settlers. And while I'm not sure I think they need a "lecture", again, Israel and Palestine seem to have a remarkable similarities in terms of how they deal with their homegrown terrorists. In both cases they'll capture them, sometimes, and hold them, sometimes, but not consistently or reliably, and their hearts don't really seem into it. And, surprise, surprise, that breeds mistrust amongst their counterparts.

Unfortunately, matching dysfunctions don't lead to a happy, productive relationship, so I don't expect any progress in the near-future.